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Morgan v. United States

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Eastern Division

June 4, 2015

CHICO UNTRAS MORGAN, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent.

RECOMMENDATION OF THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE

WALLACE CAPEL, Jr., Magistrate Judge.

Federal inmate Chico Untras Morgan ("Morgan") is before the court on a pro se motion to vacate, set aside, or correct sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. He challenges the 240-month sentence imposed in January 2010 after he pled guilty to distributing 50 or more grams of cocaine base, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1).

I. BACKGROUND

Morgan pled guilty under a plea agreement on October 8, 2009. Before Morgan entered his guilty plea, the government filed an information under 21 U.S.C. § 851 establishing that Morgan had a prior conviction for a felony drug offense, increasing the statutory minimum sentence for Morgan's offense of conviction from 10 years of imprisonment to 20 years of imprisonment. See 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(A).[1] On January 21, 2010, the district court sentenced Morgan to 20 years imprisonment based on the mandatory minimum created by 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(A).[2]

Morgan appealed, arguing that his guilty plea was not knowing and voluntary because he relied upon his trial counsel's erroneous representations that his prior felony drug conviction would not increase his mandatory minimum sentence to 20 years. On October 1, 2010, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed his conviction and sentence. United States v. Morgan, 398 F.Appx. 497 (11th Cir. 2010). Morgan did not seek certiorari review in the United States Supreme Court.

On February 14, 2014, Morgan filed this § 2255 motion in which he argues that Alleyne v. United States, ___ U.S. ___, 133 S.Ct. 2151 (2013), where the Supreme Court held that "[a]ny fact that, by law, increases the penalty for a crime is an element' that must be submitted to the jury, " 133 S.Ct. at 2155, requires that his sentence be vacated because his mandatory minimum sentence was increased to 20 years under § 841(b)(1)(A) based on judicial findings that he committed a prior drug felony. Doc. No. 2. According to Morgan, these findings should have been made by a jury, not the sentencing judge, and consequently his sentence is unlawful. Id.

The government argues that Morgan's reliance on Alleyne is unavailing because Alleyne did not address prior-conviction sentencing enhancements and thus does not affect Morgan's sentence. Doc. No. 6 at 16-19. The government further argues that even if Alleyne applied to Morgan, he has failed to assert his claim within the one-year limitation period in 28 U.S.C. § 2255(f) and his claim should therefore be denied as untimely. Id. at 19-22.

After consideration of the § 2255 motion, the submissions supporting and opposing the motion, and the record, the court concludes that an evidentiary hearing is not required and that the motion should be denied.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Morgan's Alleyne claim is without merit.

Morgan contends that his sentence is unlawful under Alleyne because his mandatory minimum sentence was increased to 20 years under § 841(b)(1)(A) based on judicial findings that he committed a prior drug felony. Doc. No. 2 at 1-6. He argues that Alleyne requires such findings to be made by a jury, not the sentencing judge. Id. at 1-2.

Morgan's argument is foreclosed by Almendarez-Torres v. United States, 523 U.S. 224 (1998). In Almendarez-Torres, the Supreme Court held that, for sentencing enhancement purposes, a defendant's prior conviction does not have to be alleged in the indictment or submitted to a jury and proven beyond a reasonable doubt. 523 U.S. at 226-27, 239-40. Notably, Alleyne did not overrule Almendarez-Torres. See Alleyne, 133 S.Ct. at 2160 n.1 (noting that "[i]n Almendarez-Torres v. United States , ... we recognized a narrow exception to this general rule for the fact of a prior conviction. Because the parties do not contest that decision's vitality, we do not revisit it for purposes of our decision today.").

The Eleventh Circuit has rejected a claim similar to Morgan's relating to a sentencing court's finding predicate convictions to enhance a defendant's sentence under the Armed Career Criminal Act ("ACCA"). United States v. Flowers, 531 F.Appx. 975 (11th Cir. 2013). In Flowers, the court explained:

Flowers's reliance on Alleyne is unavailing. Alleyne did not address prior-conviction sentencing enhancements. Instead, Alleyne merely extended the rationale of Apprendi [ v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000)], which itself noted that the Sixth Amendment did not require "the fact of a prior conviction" to be submitted to a jury and proved beyond a reasonable doubt. See Apprendi, 530 U.S. at 490, 120 S.Ct. at 2362-63 ("Other than the fact of a prior conviction, any fact that increases the penalty for a crime beyond the prescribed statutory maximum must be submitted to a jury, and proved beyond a reasonable doubt." (emphasis added)); see also Almendarez-Torrez v. United States, 523 U.S. 224, 247, 118 S.Ct. 1219, 1233, 140 L.Ed.2d 350 (1998) (holding that, for sentencing enhancement purposes, a defendant's prior conviction need not be alleged in the indictment or submitted to the jury and proved beyond a reasonable doubt). In fact, the Alleyne Court explicitly stated that it was not ...

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