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United States v. Sanders

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

December 3, 2018

United States of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
Vickie L. Sanders, Defendant-Appellant.

          Argued November 8, 2018

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Illinois. No. 17-cr-40043 - J. Phil Gilbert, Judge.

          Before Flaum, Manion, and St. Eve, Circuit Judges.

          FLAUM, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         Vickie Sanders pleaded guilty to a federal drug offense. About twenty years earlier, she was convicted of a felony drug offense in California, and therefore, the government sought to impose a ten-year mandatory minimum term of imprisonment pursuant to a recidivist enhancement provision, 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(B). After her guilty plea, but before sentencing, a California state court reclassified Sanders's state drug offense as a misdemeanor pursuant to Proposition 47, Cal. Penal Code § 1170.18. Nevertheless, the district court still imposed the ten-year mandatory minimum. We affirm.

         I. Background

         On July 12, 2017, the government charged Vickie Sanders with conspiracy to manufacture fifty grams or more of methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), 841(b)(1)(B), and 846 (Count 1); attempting to manufacture methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), 841(b)(1)(C), and 846 (Count 2); and possession of pseudoephedrine knowing it would be used to manufacture methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(c)(2) (Counts 3, 4, 5, and 6).

         Over twenty years earlier, in 1996, a California state court convicted Sanders of felony possession of a controlled substance in violation of Cal. Health & Safety Code § 11350(a). That conviction became final in 1998. On September 20, 2017, the government filed an information to establish that Sanders had been previously convicted of a felony drug offense in California. A prior state felony conviction triggers the § 841(b)(1)(B) recidivist enhancement, which raised the mandatory minimum term of imprisonment on Count 1 from five to ten years. On October 6, 2017, Sanders pleaded guilty to all charges and indicated she understood her prior drug conviction impacted the applicable sentencing range. On December 7, 2017, the probation office prepared a Presentence Investigation Report. It determined that Sanders's advisory Guidelines range was 87-108 months' imprisonment for Counts 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6. For Count 1, due to the ten-year statutory minimum, the Guidelines term of imprisonment was 120 months.

         On January 11, 2018, Sanders filed a motion to continue her sentencing hearing. Eleven days later, a California state court reclassified her 1996 felony drug conviction as a misdemeanor pursuant to California Proposition 47, Cal. Penal Code § 1170.18. Then, on February 8, Sanders objected to the § 841(b)(1)(B) enhancement for a prior felony drug conviction, emphasizing her prior state conviction was no longer a felony. On April 27, the district court overruled Sanders's objection.

         On May 9, the district court sentenced Sanders to concurrent sentences of 120 months' imprisonment on Count 1 and 87 months' imprisonment on Counts 2 through 6. It imposed an eight-year term of supervised release on Count 1, a six-year term of supervised release on Count 2, and a three-year term of supervised release on Counts 3 through 6, all to run concurrently. The court also imposed a $300 fine and $600 special assessment. This appeal followed.

         II. Discussion

         Sanders argues that because a California court reclassified her prior conviction as a misdemeanor, the district court improperly imposed a ten-year mandatory minimum prison term under § 841(b)(1)(B), or alternatively, did so in violation of the Constitution. We review questions of statutory interpretation and constitutionality de novo. Arreola-Castillo v. United States, 889 F.3d 378, 384 (7th Cir. 2018); United States v. Morris, 821 F.3d 877, 879 (7th Cir. 2016).

         A. Statutory Framework

         1. 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(B)

         "Section 841(b) outlines the penalties for federal drug crimes based upon the quantity of drugs involved and the number of prior drug convictions." Arreola-Castillo, 889 F.3d at 384. Relevant here, "[i]f any person commits [a federal drug offense] after a prior conviction for a felony drug offense has become final/' that individual faces a mandatory minimum of ten years' imprisonment. 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(B).

         "To impose a recidivism penalty under § 841, the government must follow the procedures in 21 U.S.C. § 851." Arreola-Castillo, 889 F.3d at 384. First, the government "must file an information with the sentencing court stating the previous convictions to be relied upon." Id. (citing 21 U.S.C. § 851(a)). Then, the defendant can file a written response either to deny the allegation of the prior conviction or to assert that the alleged conviction is invalid. Id. (citing 21 U.S.C. ยง 851(c)). If the defendant files a response, the ...


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