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Collins v. United States

United States District Court, D. Maryland

November 1, 2019

VERNON ALLEN COLLINS, # 529-762 Petitioner
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA Respondent

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          CATHERINE C. BLAKE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Pending is Vernon Collins's Petition for Writ of Error Coram Nobis pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1651, seeking vacatur often years of the twenty-year sentence imposed after his conviction as a felon in possession of a firearm. (Pet. for Writ of Error Coram Nobis at 11, ECF No. I).[1]'[2] The government filed a response in opposition. (ECF No. 5). Collins filed a reply, and thereafter filed a "supplement" to the petition and to the reply. (ECF No. 7).[3] No. hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2018). For the following reasons, the petition will be denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On October 9, 1987, Collins was found guilty by a jury of one count of conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute heroin, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846; one count of possession with intent to distribute heroin, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1); and one count of employing a minor to possess with intent to distribute heroin, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 845(a)(1) (now codified at 21 U.S.C. § 861) (Counts One, Two, and Three). See United States v. Taylor, 857 F.2d 210, 212 (4th Cir. 1988) (affirming, on direct appeal, the convictions of Collins and his codefendant). Collins was also found guilty of two counts of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) (Counts Four and Five). Id. Collins was subject to enhanced punishment under the Armed Career Criminal Act ("ACCA"), 18 U.S.C. § 924(e). He faced a mandatory minimum sentence of fifteen years' imprisonment on Counts Four and Five, based on three prior qualifying convictions: a July 26, 1966, robbery conviction; an October 19, 1972, assault with intent to murder conviction; and a May 2, 1973, assault conviction. (Superseding Notice of Enhanced Penalties, No. CCB-87-338, ECF No. 116-1).

         On November 24, 1987, the court sentenced Collins to fifteen years on Counts One, Two, and Three, and twenty years without parole on Counts Four and Five, for a total sentence of thirty-five years. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed the judgment of conviction on September 13, 1988. Taylor, 857 F.2d at 215.

         On January 4, 2016, Collins filed a "Motion to Correct an Illegal Sentence Pursuant to Former Rule 35(a) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure," which the court construed as a Motion to Vacate under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. (No. CCB-87-338, ECF Nos. 116, 117). Collins argued that, pursuant to the Supreme Court's decision in Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551, 2557 (2015), the sentence on his § 922(g) conviction[4] was improperly enhanced under the ACCA's residual clause. (Motion to Correct at 1-2, No. CCB-87-338, ECF No. 116). In its response, the government stated that Collins's presentence report (PSR) showed, in addition to the three convictions originally used to classify Collins as an Armed Career Criminal, three other qualifying offenses. (Gov. Resp. at 3, No. CCB-87-338, ECF No. 121). On this basis, the government argued that the Johnson ruling did not change Collins's status as an Armed Career Criminal. (Id.).

         On July 7, 2016, the court denied Collins's § 2255 motion because he had completed his federal sentence, noting that in 2005, he was released to a detainer to begin serving a New Jersey State sentence. (No. CCB-87-338, ECF No. 127).[5] Collins's appeal of this decision was denied on January 5, 2017. United States v. Collins, 672 Fed.Appx. 302, 303 (4th Cir. 2017). On October 2, 2017, the Supreme Court denied his Petition for Writ of Certiorari. Collins v. United States, 138 S.Ct. 63, 2017 WL 1134351, at *1 (2017).

         On April 6, 2017, Collins filed this Petition for Writ of Error Coram Nobis to challenge his "illegal enhanced sentence that continues to subject him to remain on federal parole until 2022 and causes or prevents his New Jersey State enhanced sentence of life imprisonment with twenty-five years parole ineligibility to commence from 2001." (Pet. at 4, ECF No. 1).

         II. DISCUSSION

         The writ of error coram nobis is an extraordinary remedy that may be used to correct a fundamental error in a criminal conviction "presenting circumstances compelling its use to achieve justice." United States v. Denedo, 556 U.S. 904, 911 (2009) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also United States v. Akinsade, 686 F.3d 248, 252 (4th Cir. 2012). Relief is limited to petitioners who are no longer in custody pursuant to their convictions and for whom relief is no longer available by way of an alternative remedy, such as habeas corpus. See Denedo, 556 U.S. at 911; Akinsade, 686 F.3d at 252. Coram nobis is available only to remedy "factual errors material to the validity and regularity of the legal proceeding itself[.]" Carlisle v. United States, 517 U.S. 416, 429 (1996) (quoting United States v. Mayer, 235 U.S. 55, 67-68 (1914)) (internal quotation marks omitted). Although federal courts may grant relief from a conviction by issuing a writ of coram nobis after a petitioner has completed his sentence, see 28. U.S.C. § 1651 (2006); United States v. Morgan, 346 U.S. 502, 512-13 (1954), the Supreme Court has stated that "it is difficult to conceive of a situation in a federal criminal case today where a writ of coram nobis would be necessary or appropriate." Carlisle, 517 U.S. at 429 (internal quotation omitted).

         To be entitled to coram nobis relief, a petitioner must demonstrate that "(1) a more usual remedy is not available; (2) valid reasons exist for not attacking the conviction earlier; (3) adverse consequences exist from the conviction sufficient to satisfy the case or controversy requirement of Article III; and (4) the error is of the most fundamental character." United States v. Bazuaye, 399 Fed.Appx. 822, 824 (4th Cir. 2010) (citing Hirabayashi v. United States, 828 F.2d 591, 604 (9th Cir. 1987));[6] see also Withanachchi v. United States, 803 F.Supp.2d 360, 364 (D. Md. 2011). When reviewing a petition for a writ of coram nobis, the court presumes that the underlying proceedings were correct, and the burden of showing otherwise rests on the petitioner. See Morgan, 346 U.S. at 512.

         Collins has met the first requirement for coram nobis relief, as he is no longer in federal custody and cannot seek relief under the typical remedies for a direct appeal or collateral challenge to his federal sentence. However, Collins cannot meet the second requirement. He baldly asserts that he has met his burden to overcome the presumption that his conviction was correct, [7] but provides no reason for not challenging the sentence earlier. (Pet. at 9-10, ECF No. 1).

         To meet the third requirement for coram nobis relief, Collins must demonstrate that "adverse consequences exist from the conviction sufficient to satisfy the case or controversy requirement of Article III." Bazuaye, 399 Fed.Appx. at 824. Specifically, Collins must show that "his claim is ripe and he is currently suffering a concrete injury as a result of his ACCA sentence." Withcmachchi, 803 F.Supp.2d at 368. Collins argues that, but for his enhanced federal sentence, he would have been released with good conduct time upon mandatory release from federal custody in 2001. (Pet. at 10, ECF No. 1). Collins provides no evidence to substantiate this allegation.

         Collins's claim of "adverse consequences" is premised on a Certificate of Parole, dated November 8, 2000, which states that he was to be paroled on July 10, 1993, and was to "remain within the limits of to and including July 10, 2022." (Certificate of Parole, ECF No. 1-4). The government disputes Collins's interpretation of his federal parole, (Gov. Resp. at 3 n.4, ECF No. 5), and has provided a copy of the United States Parole Commission ("USPC") Certificate of Mandatory Release, dated May 24, 2005, (Gov. Resp. Ex. 1, ECF No. 5-1). The Certificate of Mandatory Release states that upon release on June 20, 2005, Collins was to remain under USPC jurisdiction "as if on parole" until January 10, 2013. (Id.).[8] Collins counters that the later-issued document, the Certificate of Mandatory Release, is not an ...


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