Coats v. United States of America
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge Virginia Emerson Hopkins on 5/30/2014. (JLC)
2014 May-30 PM 01:19
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
ROBERT JAMES COATS, JR,
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
) Case No.: 7:13-CV-8049-VEH
Petitioner, Robert James Coats, Jr., has filed a motion to vacate, set aside or
correct his sentence, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 2255. (Doc. 1). The Government has
responded (doc. 3) and Petitioner has replied (docs. 5 & 6). Therefore, the matter is
fully developed. An evidentiary hearing is not needed. Having fully considered all
relevant pleadings in this case, and in the related criminal case (United States v.
Robert James Coats, Jr., 7:11-cr-68-VEH-HGD), the undersigned finds that
Petitioner’s 2255 motion is due to be dismissed as time-barred pursuant to 28
On January 28, 2011, a grand jury sitting in the Northern District of
Alabama returned a four-count indictment against Robert James Coats, Jr. and
Vincent Gene Lawrence, Jr., charging the defendants with Conspiracy to Distribute
Cocaine Base and Distribution of Cocaine Base, in violation of Title 21, United
States Code, Sections 846, 841(a)(1) , and (b)(1)(B), respectively. (Doc. 1).
Coats, along with his retained counsel, Brett L. Wadsworth, appeared at
arraignment on March 11, 2011, and entered pleas of not guilty. (Court Entry
On April 6, 2011, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §851, the Government filed a
Notice of Prior Felony Drug Conviction to enhance the penalties applicable to the
pending charges against Coats. (Doc. 18).
On April 20, 2011, Coats entered guilty pleas to Counts One and Four of the
indictment, and the matter was continued for sentencing. (Court Entry 4/20/2011).
Coats filed with the court a signed Guilty Plea Advice of Rights Certification (doc.
24) and a signed Plea Agreement (doc. 25). In the Plea Agreement, the maximum
punishment is set out as follows.
All references to the record in this portion of this Opinion are to the related
criminal case, 7:11-cr-68-VEH-HGD, unless otherwise indicated.
I. MAXIMUM PUNISHMENT
The defendant understands that the maximum statutory
punishment that may be imposed for the crimes of Conspiracy to
Distribution of a Controlled Substance, i.e. 28 grams or more of a
mixture and substance containing a detectable amount of “crack”
cocaine in Count One, and Distribution of 28 grams or more of
“crack” cocaine in Count Four, in violation of Title 21 United States
Code, Sections 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(B), as charged in COUNTS ONE
and FOUR, are:
Imprisonment for not less than 5 years and
not more than 40 years;
A fine of not more than $2,000,000, or,
Both (a and b);
Supervised release of at least 4 years; and
Special Assessment Fee of $200.
With one prior felony drug offense, imprisonment for not less
than 10 years and a fine of not more than $4,000,000. If there is a
prior conviction, the supervised release term is not less than 8 years.
(Doc. 25 at 2)(emphasis in original).
At the April 20, 2011, plea hearing, the court specifically noted that a § 851
Notice of Prior Felony Drug Conviction had been filed by the Government. (Doc.
48, Transcript of plea hearing, at p. 2, lines 9 - 12). Accordingly, at such hearing,
the court advised Coats of the enhanced penalties applicable to him.
Do you understand that the maximum penalties include, as to Counts
1 and 4, a fine of not more than $4 million each count, custody of not less
than ten years and not more than life imprisonment each count, followed by
a supervised -- any custodial term followed by a supervised release term of
not less than eight years. There can be no probation or suspension of your
sentence. There is a denial of specific federal benefits pursuant to 21 United
States Code section 862.
Community restitution does not apply to Count 1, but it does apply to
Count 4. There is an assessment fee of $100 for each count. And the
guidelines, although advisory, also apply. Also, in light of the United States
Supreme Court's decision in the case of Kentucky v. Padilla, I need to
inform you that if it is determined that you are not a United States citizen,
you may be subject to deportation because of the plea of guilty that you are
in the process of entering. This is true whether you're in the United States
legally or illegally. However, if you are a United States citizen, you do not
need to be worried about deportation.
Mr. Coats, do you understand the maximum penalties I have just
THE DEFENDANT: Yes, ma'am.
(Doc. 48 at p. 10, lines 3 - 24).
The Presentence Report (“PSR”) was disclosed on June 29, 2011. Coats’s
offense level was enhanced, under U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1, based on his prior criminal
history, as a career offender. Specifically, the PSR reported that Coats had
previously been convicted of Shooting into an Occupied Dwelling (crime of
violence) and Unlawful Distribution of a Controlled Substance2 (controlled
substance offense). The instant offense was a controlled substance offense, and
Coats was 18 years or older at the time of the instant offense. Accordingly, the
career offender enhancement applied.
This controlled substance offense was the basis for the §851 Notice of
Prior Felony Drug Conviction which resulted in the court advising Coats, at the
plea hearing, of the enhanced penalties applicable to him.
Neither the Government nor Coats filed an objection to the PSR, nor was
any objection raised orally at the sentencing hearing. On July 18, 2012, the
undersigned sentenced Coats to a custodial term of 168 months.
Following the imposition of sentence, Coats did not pursue a direct appeal.
On November 6, 2013, Coats filed the habeas motion now pending before
the court. Coats remains in custody at this time. (Doc. 47.)
THE LIMITATIONS PERIOD
The Anti–Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”)
was enacted on April 24, 1996, and, pertinent to this case, added a new subdivision
to 28 U.S.C. 2255 providing for a one-year period of limitations within which
federal prisoners must file their motions to vacate pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 2255.
Akins v. United States, 204 F.3d 1086, 1089 (11th Cir.), cert. denied, 531 U.S. 971,
121 S.Ct. 410, 148 L.Ed.2d 316 (2000).
A 1–year period of limitation shall apply to a motion under this
section. The limitation period shall run from the latest of—
(1) the date on which the judgment of conviction becomes final;
(2) the date on which the impediment to making a motion created by
governmental action in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United
States is removed, if the movant was prevented from making a motion by
such governmental action;
(3) the date on which the right asserted was initially recognized by the
Supreme Court, if the right has been newly recognized by the Supreme
Court and made retroactively applicable to cases on collateral review; or
(4) the date on which the facts supporting the claim or claims presented
could have been discovered through the exercise of due diligence.
28 U.S.C. 2255(f).
In the typical case, a petitioner interposes no argument in favor of
application of subsections (2), (3), and (4) of 2255(f), such that the timeliness of a
motion to vacate, set aside or correct a sentence becomes relatively easy to
calculate under 2255(f)(1) based upon the date on which a petitioner's judgment of
conviction became final. In this case, the undersigned entered its Judgment of
Conviction on July 18, 2012. (Doc. 46, case no.7:11:cr-68-VEH-HGD). Coats did
not appeal, and therefore his conviction became final on July 28, 2012. FED. R.
APP. P. 4(b). See Akins v. United States, 204 F.3d 1086. Thus, unless the pending
petition raises an issue that is not subject to this one-year limitation period, the
petition is time-barred.
THE 2255 PETITION3
In his Petition, Coats asserts five “grounds” for granting his petition. The
first ground is that “the facts on the face of the information were too vague to
satisfy the Sixth Amendment Guarantee to be informed of a Specific Transaction
All references to the record in this portion of this Opinion are to the filings
in this §2255 proceeding, unless otherwise indicated.
Claimed to be Fraudulent to allow a Defense or a Future claim of Double
Jeopardy.” (Doc. 1, p. 3, also pp. 3 - 5). The second ground is that “Plea
Agreements are Subject to Jurisdictional and Constitutional Errors and Procedures
which result in a Miscarriage of Justice.” (Id., p. 5, also pp. 5 - 9). The third ground
is “Violation of the Sixth Amendment Rights to Effective Assistance of Counsel.”
(Id., p. 9, also pp. 9 - 12). The fourth ground is “Counsel Ineffective Due to
Conflict of Interest in Violation of the Sixth Amendment.” (Id., p. 12, also pp. 12 13). The fifth ground is “Sixth Amendment and Due Process Violation.” (Id., p. 13,
also pp. 13 - 23). Only the fifth ground is asserted as not being time-barred.
Therefore, the court will only address the fifth ground.
Timeliness Contentions Based on Alleyne
Coats contends that his 2255 motion is timely under 28 U.S.C. 2255(f)(3)
because it was filed within one year of the date the Supreme Court decided Alleyne
v. United States, ___ U.S. ____, 133 S.Ct. 2151, 186 L.Ed.2d 314 (2013) and this
court should decide that Alleyne is retroactive to cases on collateral review, see
Dodd v. United States, 365 F.3d 1273, 1278 (11th Cir.2004) (“As a panel of this
Court noted, every circuit to consider this issue has held that a court other than the
Supreme Court can make the retroactivity decision for purposes of 2255(3).”),
aff'd, 545 U.S. 353, 125 S.Ct. 2478, 162 L.Ed.2d 343 (2005).
Coats argues that Alleyne stated a “right has been newly recognized by the
Supreme Court and made retroactively applicable to cases on collateral review [.]”
28 U.S.C. § 2255(f)(3). A new rule of constitutional law must be made retroactive
to cases on collateral review in order to benefit from § 2255(f)(3). See Dodd v.
United States, 545 U.S. at 358. Coats simply declares that Alleyne announces a
newly recognized right which should be declared retroactively applicable. (Doc.
No. 1, pp. 14-22). Such a declaration is without merit.
The Supreme Court did not declare that the new rule in Alleyne is retroactive
on collateral review, nor is it likely to do so. “Alleyne is an extension of
Apprendi”,4 a case which the Eleventh Circuit has consistently determined is not
retroactively applicable to cases on collateral review. See Varela v. United States,
400 F.3d 864, 868 (11th Cir.2005) (holding Booker an extension of Apprendi and
not retroactively applicable on collateral review because it was therefore
procedural (as opposed to substantive) and because Booker was not “one of those
rare ‘watershed rules of criminal procedure implicating the fundamental fairness
and accuracy of the criminal proceeding.’” (quoting Schriro v. Summerlin, 542
U.S. 348, 124 S.Ct. 2519, 159 L.Ed.2d 442 (2004)). See also United States v.
Shaw, ___ F. App'x ____, No. 12–16468, 2014 WL 1282295, 3 (11th Cir. Apr.1,
United States v. McKinley, 732 F.3d 1291, 1295 (11th Cir.2013).
2014) (unpublished) (“Because Alleyne represents an extension of Apprendi, we
have held that the same framework for review applies.”) (citing United States v.
McKinley, 732 F.3d at 1295)). See also Chester v. Warden, ___ F. App'x ____, No.
12–15119, 2014 WL 104150 at *3 (11th Cir. Jan.13, 2014) (unpublished) (holding
that the petitioner's “only available avenue for collateral relief in a § 2241 petition
[was] through § 2255(e)'s savings clause.”) (citation omitted). In Chester, the
Eleventh Circuit explained, “because it is based on the Apprendi rule, Alleyne's rule
does not apply retroactively on collateral review.” Id. at *4 (citation omitted); see
also United States v. Harris, 741 F.3d 1245 at 1250 n. 3 (11th Cir.2014) (citation
omitted) (“the Supreme Court itself has not expressly declared Alleyne to be
retroactive on collateral review ... [a]nd Alleyne has not been made retroactive
through any combination of cases that necessarily dictate retroactivity.”); Bennett
v. Warden, FCI Jessup, 508 Fed. App’x. 929, 930 (11th Cir. 2013) (unpublished)
(“The district court denied [Bennett's 2255] motion because Apprendi was not
retroactively applicable to cases on collateral review. We denied Bennett a
certificate of appealability, and the Supreme Court denied Bennett's petition for a
writ of certiorari.”). Inasmuch as the Eleventh Circuit has declined to find Alleyne
retroactively applicable to cases on collateral review, Coat’s invitation to this Court
to chart such path is rejected. Accordingly, Alleyne does not save Coats's untimely
section 2255 motion.
Merits Contentions Based on Alleyne
Further, Alleyne’s holding, if applied, would not have any impact on Coats’s
sentence. In Alleyne, the Supreme Court overruled Harris v. United States, 536
U.S. 545, 122 S.Ct. 2406, 153 L.Ed.2d 524 (2000) “and held that any fact that
increases a defendant's mandatory minimum sentence is an element of the offense
that must be submitted to the jury and proved beyond a reasonable doubt.” United
States v. McKinley, 732 F.3d 1295. However, Alleyne was an extension of the
Constitutionally-protected rights of a defendant at sentencing as articulated in
Apprendi. Specifically, as the Eleventh Circuit has explained:
In Apprendi, the Supreme Court held that, “[o]ther 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.” Subsequently, the Supreme Court held in
Harris that a fact increasing a defendant's mandatory minimum sentence, ...
was not subject to the Apprendi rule and could be found by a sentencing
judge rather than a jury. As noted, the Supreme Court overruled Harris in
Alleyne, concluding that the “distinction between facts that increase the
statutory maximum and facts that increase only the mandatory minimum”
was inconsistent with Apprendi. Instead, the Court held that “any fact that
increases the mandatory minimum is an ‘element’ that must be submitted to
U.S. v. McKinley, 732 F.3d at 1296 (internal citations omitted)(emphasis supplied).
The Alleyne decision itself, and Eleventh Circuit binding authority applying
that decision, make clear that the facts reserved to a jury for sentencing
enhancements do not include proof of prior convictions.
Alleyne did not address the specific question at issue in this case,
which is whether a sentence can be increased because of prior
convictions without a jury finding the fact of those convictions. That
question continues to be governed by Almendarez–Torres v. United
States, 523 U.S. 224, 226–27, 118 S.Ct. 1219, 1222, 140 L.Ed.2d 350
(1998), where the Court determined that the fact of a prior conviction
is not an “element” that must be found by a jury. Indeed, the Alleyne
Court specifically recognized that, under Almendarez–Torres, prior
convictions are excepted from the general rule that a jury must find
any fact that will increase the penalty for an offense. Alleyne, 133
S.Ct. at 2160 n. 1. The Alleyne Court declined to “revisit
[Almendarez–Torres] for purposes of our decision today” because
“the parties d[id] not contest that decision's vitality.” Id.; see also
Descamps v. United States, ___ U.S. ____, 133 S.Ct. 2276, 2288, 186
L.Ed.2d 438 (2013) (observing that an increase in the maximum
statutory sentence based on judicial factfinding that “went beyond
merely identifying a prior conviction” would “raise serious Sixth
United States v. Harris, 741 F.3d 1245, 1249 -1250 (11th Cir.2014). See also, U.S.
v. Rivas, ___ Fed. App'x ____, No. 13–13141, 2014 WL 486723 (11th Cir. Feb.7,
2014) (unpublished) (“Alleyne, however, did not address prior-conviction
sentencing enhancements. Instead, the Supreme Court explicitly stated that it was
not revisiting the “narrow exception to this general rule for the fact of a prior
conviction.” (citing Alleyne at 2160 n. 1.)).
Coats misunderstands Apprendi and accordingly misunderstands Alleyne. In
Alleyne, the Supreme Court reiterated the meaning of “facts” for purposes of the
Constitutional right to a jury determination as follows. “The touchstone for
determining whether a fact must be found by a jury beyond a reasonable doubt is
whether the fact constitutes an ‘element’ or ‘ingredient’ of the charged offense.”
Alleyne, 133 S.Ct. at 2158 (internal citations omitted)(emphasis supplied). As
recognized in Apprendi, however, --- and unaffected by Alleyne --- a defendant’s
Constitutional right to a jury determination of the facts of the charged offense does
not extend to a determination of the facts of any prior convictions. See also, U.S. v.
Booker, 543 U.S. 220, 244, 125 S.Ct. 738, 756 (2005) (“Accordingly, we reaffirm
our holding in Apprendi: Any fact (other than a prior conviction) which is
necessary to support a sentence exceeding the maximum authorized by the facts
established by a plea of guilty or a jury verdict must be admitted by the defendant
or proved to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt.”(emphasis supplied)).5
The court notes that it specifically asked Coats, at the sentencing hearing,
whether he had any objections to the PSR. Coats replied that he did not. At that
same hearing, the court reminded Coats of the § 851 Notice that had been filed in
his case, that the court had told Coats at his plea hearing of the implications of that
Notice for his sentence, and asked him whether he affirmed or denied that he had
been previously convicted as alleged in that Notice. Coats affirmed that he had
been previously convicted as alleged in that Notice. The court further specifically
asked Coats whether he understood that any challenge to a prior conviction had to
be made before the court imposed his sentence or it could not later be raised to
attack or appeal the sentence imposed, and Coats replied that he understood. See
Doc. 3 in related criminal case, 7:11-cr-68-VEH-HGD, Transcript of Sentencing
Hearing, p. 3, lines 1 - 25.
The facts which increased Coats’s minimum mandatory sentence were his
prior convictions. Thus, application of the increased mandatory minimum to Coats
did not violate Apprendi or Alleyne. Accordingly, the only portion of his petition
which he even argues is not time-barred (the fifth “ground”) is, in fact, time-barred.
In his Memorandum of Law (doc. 6) Coats argues, for the first time, that he
is entitled to equitable tolling of the limitations period. In sum, he argues that, prior
to Alleyne, he lacked a credible § 2255 claim.”6 Because, as explained above,
Alleyne had no impact on Coats’s sentencing enhancement based on his prior
convictions, Coats’s equitable tolling argument necessarily fails as well.
Accordingly, his 2255 motion is due to be dismissed.
DENIAL OF CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY
Pursuant to Rule 11(a) of the Rules Governing 2255 Proceedings, the court
finds that a certificate of appealability in this case is not well-founded, and any
application for one is due to be denied. 28 U.S.C. foll. 2255, Rule 11(a) (“The
district court must issue or deny a certificate of appealability when it enters a final
order adverse to the applicant.”). The habeas corpus statute makes clear that an
applicant is entitled to appeal a district court's denial of his habeas corpus petition
Coats thus has admitted that the first four grounds in his petition, which he
does not even argue were impacted by Alleyne, are not “credible.”
only where a circuit justice or judge issues a certificate of appealability. 28 U.S.C.
2253(c)(1). A certificate of appealability may issue only where “the applicant has
made a substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right.” 28 U.S.C.
2243(c)(2). Where, as here, a habeas petition is being denied in its entirety on
procedural grounds without reaching the merits of an underlying constitutional
claim, “a COA should issue [only] when the prisoner shows ... that jurists of reason
would find it debatable whether the petition states a valid claim of the denial of a
constitutional right and that jurists of reason would find it debatable whether the
district court was correct in its procedural ruling.” Slack v. McDaniel, 529 U.S.
473, 484, 120 S .Ct. 1595, 1604, 146 L.Ed.2d 542 (2000). Given the applicability
of the one-year limitations period in this case, a reasonable jurist could not
conclude that this Court is in error for dismissing Coats’s motion to vacate, nor
could a reasonable jurist conclude that Coats should be allowed to proceed further
with respect to his claims. Id., 529 U.S. at 484, 120 S.Ct. at 1604 (“Where a plain
procedural bar is present and the district court is correct to invoke it to dispose of
the case, a reasonable jurist could not conclude either that the district court erred in
dismissing the petition or that the petitioner should be allowed to proceed
further.”). Accordingly, Coats is not entitled to a certificate of appealability.
The instant Motion is dismissed as time-barred pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
2255(f)(1). Alleyne does not apply retroactively. Even if it did, Alleyne did not
change the law regarding a sentence enhancement, such as Coats’s, which is based
on a prior conviction. Finally, at sentencing, Coats admitted his prior conviction.
Coats is not entitled to a certificate of appealability and, therefore, he is not entitled
to appeal in forma pauperis.
DONE and ORDERED this the 30th day of May, 2014.
VIRGINIA EMERSON HOPKINS
United States District Judge
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