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Watkins v. United States

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

April 24, 2018

Martell Davone Watkins, Movant,
v.
United States of America, Respondent.

          ORDER DENYING MOVANT'S MOTION TO VACATE, SET ASIDE, OR CORRECT SENTENCE [61]; DENYING MOVANT'S MOTION FOR JUDGMENT [67]; DENYING CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY

          Arthur J. Tarnow Senior United States District Judge.

         On June 9, 2015, Movant Martell Davone Watkins was charged via indictment [Dkt. 10] with two counts of Distribution of Controlled Substance, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1), Felon in Possession of a Firearm - Armed Career Criminal, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1), 924(e), and Possession of Firearms in Furtherance of a Drug Trafficking Crime, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c). Mr. Watkins entered a guilty plea to Count One of the indictment, distribution of heroin, on October 13, 2016. On January 31, 2017, the Court sentenced Mr. Watkins to 120 months' imprisonment and a three-year term of supervised release. Judgment [59] was entered on February 17, 2017.

         Mr. Watkins filed a Motion to Vacate Sentence under 22 U.S.C. § 2255 [61] on August 22, 2017. The Government responded to Mr. Watkins' motion on October 17, 2017 [66].

         10 days later, Mr. Watkins filed a Motion for Judgment [67], on the grounds that the Government's response to the § 2255 motion was 15 days late. The Government responded the same day [68].

         For the reasons explained in depth below, Mr. Watkins' Motion to Vacate Sentence under 22 U.S.C. § 2255 [61] and Motion for Judgment [67] are DENIED. Mr. Watkins is denied a certificate of appealability.

         Legal Standard

         To succeed on a motion to vacate, set aside, or correct sentence, a petitioner must allege: “(1) an error of constitutional magnitude; (2) a sentence imposed outside the statutory limits; or (3) an error of fact or law that was so fundamental as to render the entire proceeding invalid.” Pough v. United States, 442 F.3d 959, 964 (6th Cir. 2006) (quoting Mallett v. United States, 334 F.3d 491, 496-97 (6th Cir. 2003)). “To prevail on a claim of constitutional error, a prisoner ‘must demonstrate the existence of an error of constitutional magnitude which had asubstantial and injurious effect' on the proceedings.” Fairley v. United States, No. 12-CR-20786, 2017 WL 2535462, at *1 (E.D. Mich. June 12, 2017) (quoting Hamblen v. United States, 591 F.3d 471, 473 (6th Cir. 2009)).

         Analysis

         Mr. Watkins argues that, in light of Mathis v. United States, 136 S.Ct. 2243 (2016) and United States v. Hinkle, 832 F.3d 569 (5th Cir. 2016), the Court erred in classifying him as a career offender under the Guidelines. Specifically, Mr. Watkins claims that his previous conviction under M.C.L. § 333.7401 for delivery of a controlled substance is an improper career offender predicate. He submits that § 333.7401 is indivisible and “broader than the [ ] Guidelines definition for a controlled substance.” (Dkt. 69 at 8). He further contends that § 333.7401 is “ambiguous and uncertain” and that pursuant to the rule of lenity, the ambiguity should be resolved in his favor. Id. at 14.

         Mr. Watkins also raises an ineffective assistance of counsel claim. He maintains that had trial counsel properly researched the issue, he would have discovered that Mr. Watkins' prior conviction for cocaine delivery could not be used to establish Mr. Watkins are a career offender.

         I. Mr. Watkins' Career Offender Status

         The Guidelines provide for an increased sentence if the defendant is a career offender. U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1(a) states:

A defendant is a career offender if (1) the defendant was at least eighteen years old at the time the defendant committed the instant offense of conviction; (2) the instant offense of conviction is a felony that is either a crime of a violence or a controlled substance offense; and (3) the defendant has at least two prior felony convictions of either a crime of violence or a controlled substance offense.

         A “controlled substance offense” is “an offense . . . that prohibits the manufacture, import, export, distribution, or dispensing of a controlled substance (or a counterfeit substance) or the possession of a controlled substance (or a counterfeit substance) with intent to ...


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