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Cook v. United States

November 15, 2006

WALTER D. COOK, PETITIONER,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, RESPONDENT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Shirley Wohl Kram, Usdj

OPINION AND ORDER

Petitioner Walter D. Cook ("Cook") moves to vacate his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Cook contends that: (A) the Court erred in finding him responsible for over 100 kilograms of heroin; (B) his counsel provided ineffective assistance by failing to argue that the Court's upward departure for drug quantity violated the Ex Post Facto Clause; (C) his counsel provided ineffective assistance by failing to argue that section 2D1.5 of the United States Sentencing Guidelines (the "Guidelines") was unconstitutionally vague as applied to his case; (D) his indictment was not returned by a valid grand jury; and (E) he is entitled to resentencing pursuant to the Supreme Court's decision in United States v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220 (2005). For the reasons set forth below, the petition is partially granted and Cook will be resentenced in order to allow the Court to apply Amendment 503 to the Guidelines on resentencing.

I. BACKGROUND

Cook was indicted by a special grand jury convened on September 6, 1988. He was brought to trial on a superseding indictment filed on June 11, 1991. The evidence at trial established that Cook was a high-ranking member of a large, structured heroin organization run by George Rivera ("Rivera") in the South Bronx, New York (the "Rivera Organization"). The Rivera Organization distributed two major brands of heroin, known as "Sledge Hammer" and "Obsession." In the summer of 1988, after the Rivera Organization had already established itself as a major supplier of heroin on the streets of New York City, Cook, a high school friend of Rivera's, joined the conspiracy to oversee the Sledge Hammer line of heroin. Co-conspirators at trial testified as to the method by which the Rivera Organization distributed its heroin and Cook's role within the organization. In addition, the evidence at trial established that Cook carried a firearm, distributed firearms to his associates, and during the conspiracy brought firearms to a public park in order to protect his drug operation from a robbery. The Rivera Organization was brought down in May 1989, and Cook was arrested on September 27, 1990, in Florida.

Following a six-week jury trial in 1991, Cook was convicted on a number of counts: conspiracy to distribute, and possess with intent to distribute, heroin; conducting a continuing criminal enterprise ("CCE"); various substantive counts of distribution and possession; and two counts of using and carrying a firearm during and in relation to a drug trafficking crime in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c). Cook was sentenced on October 26, 1994, pursuant to the Guidelines in effect during his offense conduct. Cook's base offense level was calculated at 36 under the CCE provision of the Guidelines. The Court then applied a 4-point enhancement for over 100 kilograms of heroin atttributable to Cook and a 2-point enhancement for Cook's sanctioned use of violence. The Court, having determined that Cook possessed an adjusted offense level of 42 and a criminal history category of I, sentenced him to a term of life imprisonment, plus an additional 60 months on the § 924(c) counts to run consecutively.

Cook appealed the judgment, challenging, among other things: the propriety of his two § 924(c) convictions; the jury's finding that the distribution of Sledge Hammer and Obsession heroin constituted a single conspiracy; the quantity of heroin attributable to him at sentencing; the Court's application of an upward departure for the sanctioned use of violence; and the propriety of convicting him on both conspiracy and CCE counts. In a summary order dated June 21, 2000, the Second Circuit vacated the conspiracy count and one of the § 924(c) convictions, affirming the remainder of the convictions and the sentence. The Second Circuit later denied Cook's petition for rehearing, explaining that Cook's sentence was "not unconstitutional" under Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000). United States v. Rivera, 282 F.3d 74, 75 (2d Cir. 2000) (per curiam). Shortly after his petition for certiorari was denied, Cook filed the § 2255 petition currently under consideration.

II. DISCUSSION

In his § 2255 petition, Cook challenged: (A) the Court's finding that he was responsible for over 100 kilograms of heroin; (B) his counsel's failure to argue that the Court's upward departure for drug quantity violated the Ex Post Facto Clause; (C) his counsel's failure to argue that Guideline section 2D1.5 was unconstitutionally vague as applied to his case; and (D) the validity of his grand jury indictment. Shortly thereafter, the Court granted Cook's request that the grand jury commencement, extension, and termination orders be unsealed and disclosed to him. Cook later amended his petition to add: (E) a claim under Booker.

A. Cook's Responsibility for over 100 Kilograms of Heroin

Cook challenges the Court's finding that he was responsible for over 100 kilograms of heroin. He argues that Amendment 503 to the Guidelines clarified the operation of Guideline section 1B1.3 by stating that relevant conduct attributable to a conspirator "does not include the conduct of members of a conspiracy prior to the defendant joining the conspiracy, even if the defendant knows of that conduct." U.S. Sentencing Guidelines Manual ("U.S.S.G.") app. C amend. 503 (1994). Thus, he contends that the Court misconstrued the meaning of section 1B1.3 when it found him responsible for heroin that was distributed by the Rivera Organization before he joined the conspiracy. Alternatively, Cook argues that there was insufficient evidence to support a finding that he was responsible for over 100 kilograms of heroin.

1. Applicability of Guidelines Amendment 503

Cook's first argument implicates several important doctrines pertaining to a defendant's collateral attack of his sentence: (i) as a threshold matter, whether Amendment 503 may be applied retroactively; (ii) whether clarifying amendments may be raised for the first time on collateral attack; and (iii) whether a § 2255 petitioner has made an adequate showing to obtain relief for a non-constitutional claim that he failed to raise on appeal. After careful deliberation, the Court concludes that Amendment 503, which clarifies the operation of section 1B1.3, may be applied retroactively; the amendment is properly raised on Cook's collateral attack of his sentence; and he has made an adequate showing of cause and prejudice for failing to raise his claim on appeal. Consequently, the Court must vacate his sentence and resentence him after reconsidering the appropriate drug quantity for which he is responsible.

i. Amendment 503 Clarifies the Operation of Section 1B1.3 and thus May Be Applied Retroactively

Cook argues that the Court erroneously held him accountable for heroin distributed before he joined the conspiracy. He contends that Amendment 503 to the Guidelines clarifies the operation of section 1B1.3 so as to preclude the Court's finding that Cook was accountable for the drugs distributed by the conspiracy before he became a member.

At sentencing, the Court placed on the record its finding of drug quantity:

[T]he defendant was a joint participant in the charged conspiracy and knew or should reasonably have known that the conspiracy distributed at least 100 kilograms of heroin. The Court finds that the defendant could reasonably foresee the distribution of future amounts of heroin and knew or should reasonably have known what the past quantities distributed by the organizations were at the time he entered the conspiracy. (Sentencing Tr. 18, Oct. 26, 1994.) This language, and the parties' arguments at sentencing, drew upon the Second Circuit's reasoning in United States v. Miranda-Ortiz, 926 F.2d 172 (2d Cir. 1991). In that case, the court held:

The late-entering coconspirator should be sentenced on the basis of the full quantity of narcotics distributed by other members of the conspiracy only if, when he joined the conspiracy, he could reasonably foresee the distributions of future amounts, or knew or reasonably should have known what the past quantities were.

Id. at 178. However, Amendment 503, which took effect just six days after Cook's sentencing hearing and five days after the entry of judgment, pronounces a rule that conflicts with Miranda-Ortiz and the Court's finding at sentencing. Specifically, Amendment 503 states that a defendant may not be held responsible for his co-conspirators' conduct before he joined the conspiracy, even if he knew about that conduct. U.S.S.G. app. C amend. 503.

Generally, sentencing amendments that may reduce a defendant's sentence are not applied after sentencing unless they have been designated for retroactive application. See U.S.S.G. § 1B1.10. Amendment 503 was not so designated. Nonetheless, amendments may be applied retroactively if they clarify the operation of the Guidelines rather than effecting a substantive change of the law. See United States v. Colon, 961 F.2d 41, 45 (2d Cir. 1992). Two circumstances make the Court's analysis of the proper effect of Amendment 503 unusually challenging in this case: (1) the questionable vitality of Miranda-Ortiz after Amendment 503 took effect; and (2) the lapse in time between the enactment of the Guidelines version under which Cook was sentenced and the effective date of Amendment 503. The Court will address the implications of these two complicating factors before engaging in its substantive analysis of whether Amendment 503 clarifies the Guidelines or effects a substantive legal change.

In Amendment 503, the Sentencing Commission presents its interpretation of Section 1B1.3(a)(1), at one point citing to Miranda-Ortiz and a similar Seventh Circuit case, United States v. Edwards, 945 F.2d 1387, 1393 (7th Cir. 1991), with the purportedly supportive signal "cf." See U.S.S.G. app. C amend 503, Reason for Amendment. Amendment 503, however, states a rule that directly contradicts Miranda-Ortiz and Edwards, and specifically approves the rule adopted by several circuits that parted ways with the reasoning of those cases. See United States v. Carreon, 11 F.3d 1225, 1235 (5th Cir. 1994); United States v. Petty, 992 F.2d 887, 890 (9th Cir. 1993);*fn1 United States v. O'Campo, 973 F.2d 1015, 1024 (1st Cir. 1992). The Sentencing Commission's puzzling citation to Miranda-Ortiz may have played a role in the apparent continuing vitality of the case in this Circuit, as some district courts have recently cited to Miranda-Ortiz without noting that the Sentencing Commission adopted a contrary interpretation of section 1B1.3 in Amendment 503. See, e.g., Guerrero v. United States, 151 F. Supp. 2d 446, 448-49 (S.D.N.Y. 2001); Scott v. United States, No. 90CR.45(MGC), 97CIV.1633(MGC), 2000 WL 1051873, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. July 28, 2000).*fn2 The Commission's signal usage notwithstanding, the substance of Amendment 503 makes continued reliance on Miranda-Ortiz unwarranted.*fn3

Miranda-Ortiz states that a defendant may "be sentenced on the basis of the full quantity of narcotics distributed by other members of the conspiracy only if, when he joined the conspiracy, he could reasonably foresee the distributions of future amounts, or knew or reasonably should have known what the past quantities were." Id. at 178. Conceivably, one could infer from this language that past conduct is relevant to sentencing only to the extent that it demonstrates the scope of the conspirators' agreement and what is then reasonably foreseeable under that agreement, cf. O'Campo, 973 F.2d at 1025-26 (distinguishing the permissible use of past conduct from the ultimate holding of Edwards and, by analogy, Miranda-Ortiz), but that is an unnatural reading of Miranda-Ortiz. Rather, Miranda-Ortiz stands for the proposition that a late-entering co-conspirator may be held accountable for narcotics distributed before he joined the conspiracy if he knew or reasonably should have known what those past quantities were. This proposition is contrary to the language, purpose, and effect of Amendment 503, regardless of the Sentencing Commission's inscrutable signal usage. Therefore, the Court finds that Miranda-Ortiz's conclusion that late-entering co-conspirators may be held accountable at sentencing for past conduct cannot be reconciled with Amendment 503. The amendment nullified the Second Circuit's pre-1994 interpretation of section 1B1.3(a)(1).

The second aggravating factor in the Court's analysis stems from the length of time, and number of amendments, that separate the version of the Guidelines used at Cooks' sentencing--the Guidelines in effect prior to November 1, 1989 (the "pre-1989 Guidelines")--and the enactment of Amendment 503 on November 1, 1994.*fn4 During this time period, the Sentencing Commission amended section 1B1.3(a)(1) or its relevant commentary on three separate occasions. Thus, the Court must not only consider the effect of Amendment 503 itself on section 1B1.3, but the cumulative effect of all intervening amendments on that provision. With these idiosyncrasies in mind, the Court considers whether Amendment 503 constitutes a mere "clarification of the Sentencing Commission's prior intent," ...


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