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United States v. Watkins

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

January 17, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
ERRIC DEVOHN WATKINS, Defendant.

          ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO VACATE SENTENCE UNDER 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (ECF #73) AND GRANTING A LIMITED CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY

          MATTHEW F. LEITMAN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Defendant Erric Watkins has moved under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to vacate the sentence imposed upon him in this criminal case. (See Mot. to Vacate, ECF #73.) For the reasons explained below, Watkins' motion is DENIED, but the Court GRANTS a LIMITED CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY.

         I

         On January 23, 2014, a grand jury indicted Watkins on multiple drug and firearms charges. (See Indictment, ECF #7.) On October 8, 2015, Watkins entered into a Rule 11 Plea Agreement under which he agreed to plead guilty to Count Four of the Indictment. (See Plea Agreement, ECF #65 at Pg. ID 530.) That count charged Watkins with being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). (See Indictment, ECF #7 at Pg. ID 18.) Count Four further alleged that Watkins was subject to enhanced penalties under the Armed Career Criminal Act, 18 U.S.C. § 924(e) (the “ACCA”), because he had previously been convicted of three or more “serious drug offenses.”[1] (Id.)

         After some preliminary proceedings, Watkins decided to enter a guilty plea pursuant to a Rule 11 Plea Agreement. In Watkins' Plea Agreement, he admitted that he had “at least three prior felony convictions that are serious drug offenses or crimes of violence, under the [ACCA].” (Plea Agreement, ECF #65 at Pg. ID 531.) These ACCA predicate offenses were “listed on the [] worksheets” attached to the Plea Agreement. (Id.) On October 8, 2015, Watkins appeared before the Court and entered a guilty plea pursuant to his Rule 11 Plea Agreement.

         Prior to sentencing, the Probation Department prepared a presentence investigation report (the “PIR”). The PIR confirmed that, as Watkins acknowledged in the Plea Agreement, he had been convicted of three prior “serious drug offenses” and was thus subject to an enhanced sentence under the ACCA. (See PIR at ¶11.) The PIR identified the ACCA predicate offenses as:

(1) “Count 1, Delivery/Manufacture Less Than 50 Grams and Count 2, Conspiracy to Deliver[]/Manufacture Less Than 50 Grams in 16th Circuit Court, in Mount Clemens, Michigan, under Docket No.: 01-2325-FH” (id.);
(2) “Count 1, Delivery/Manufacture (Narcotic or Cocaine) Less Than 50 Grams, and Count 3, Delivery/Manufacture Marijuana in Third Circuit Court, in Detroit, Michigan, under Docket No.: 03-000182-01-FH” (id.); and
(3) “Counts 1 and 2, Delivery/Manufacturing Cocaine, Greater Than 50 Grams in 16th Circuit Court, Mt. Clemens, Michigan, under Docket No. 09-5833-FH.” (Id.)

         Watkins did not file any objections to the PIR. (See Id. at A-1.)

         Prior to sentencing, Watkins filed a Sentencing Memorandum with the Court. (See Watkins Sentencing Memorandum, ECF #71.) On the first page of that filing, Watkins acknowledged that “he [was] subject to a mandatory fifteen year minimum sentence under 18 U.S.C. § 924(e).” (Id. at Pg. ID 573.)

         Watkins appeared before the Court for sentencing on May 26, 2016. During the sentencing proceedings, he did not object to the determination in the PIR that he was subject to an enhanced sentence under the ACCA because he had three prior “serious drug offenses.” The Court ultimately adopted the PIR as written and concluded that Watkins had been convicted of the three prior “serious drug offenses” identified in the PIR. The Court sentenced Watkins to 180 months in custody - the mandatory minimum required by the ACCA. Watkins did not appeal his conviction or sentence.

         Watkins has now moved for relief from his sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. (See Mot. to Vacate, ECF #73.) He seeks relief on two grounds: first, that his prior convictions did not qualify as “serious drug offenses” under the ACCA, and, second, that his attorney was ineffective for failing to object to the Court's decision to treat the prior offenses as ...


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