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United States v. Flowers

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

December 11, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
JASON FLOWERS

         SECTION: “G”

          ORDER

          NANNETTE JOLIVETTE BROWN CHIEF JUDGE

         Before the Court is Defendant Jason Flowers' (“Flowers”) “Motion Pursuant to Rule 60(b).”[1] Having considered the motion, the record, and the applicable law, for the reasons that follow, the Court will construe the motion as a motion for authorization for the District Court to consider the second or successive claims raised therein and transfer the case to the United States Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals for that court to determine whether petitioner is authorized to file the instant habeas corpus petition in this District Court.

         I. Background

         On November 6, 2008, Flowers was charged in a Superseding Indictment with one count of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of cocaine hydrochloride and 50 grams or more of cocaine base in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), 841(b)(1)(A), 841(b)(1)(B), and 846.[2] Flowers was also charged with using a telephone to facilitate a drug trafficking crime in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 843(b).[3] On February 6, 2009, Flowers was charged in a Superseding Bill of Information with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute 50 grams or more of cocaine base in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), 841(b)(1)(A), and 846.[4] The Superseding Bill of Information also charged Flowers with having a prior felony drug conviction in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 851(a).[5]

         On March 11, 2009, Flowers entered a guilty plea as to Counts One and Two of the Superseding Bill of Information.[6] On July 1, 2009, Flowers appeared before the Honorable Kurt D. Engelhardt and was sentenced to a term of 288 months imprisonment, to be followed by a term of supervised release of ten years.[7]

         On July 1, 2010, Flowers filed a motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 seeking to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence.[8] Flowers raised four issues in the motion to vacate: (1) Flowers asserted that his guilty plea was involuntary and unknowing because he was not aware that he would be subject to a 24 year sentence; (2) Flowers argued that the Government was required to prove his prior conviction beyond a reasonable doubt; (3) Flowers contended that his attorney failed to file a notice of appeal on his behalf; and (4) Flowers asserted that he received ineffective assistance of counsel during the pre-trial, plea, and sentencing stages of the case.[9] On November 30, 2010, the Government filed an opposition to the motion.[10] On September 26, 2013, Judge Engelhardt denied the motion to vacate.[11]

         On June 26, 2017, Flowers filed the instant Motion Pursuant to Rule 60(b).[12] On May 22, 2018, Judge Engelhardt issued an order requiring the Government to file a response to the motion.[13] On May 30, 2018, the case was reassigned upon the elevation of Judge Engelhardt to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.[14] On June 11, 2018, the Government filed a response to the motion.[15]

         II. Parties' Arguments

         A. Flowers' Arguments in Support of Rule 60 Motion

          In the instant motion, Flowers challenges his conviction and sentence under the Supreme Court's holding in Mathis v. United States and the Fifth Circuit's holding in United States v. Hinkle.[16] Flowers argues that these cases establish that his prior drug conviction under Louisiana law was not a controlled substance offense within the meaning of the Sentencing Guidelines career-offender enhancement.[17] Flowers also argues that his attorney was ineffective by failing to object at sentencing.[18] Finally, Flowers asserts that the instant motion should not be considered a second or successive Section 2255 motion because there has been a change in the law.[19]

         B. The Government's Response

         In response, the Government argues that Flowers' motion should be considered a second or successive Section 2255 motion because it makes substantive claims regarding alleged ineffective assistance of counsel and the validity of Flowers' sentence.[20] The Government asserts that Flowers must obtain certification from the Fifth Circuit to file a second or successive Section 2255 motion before it can be considered on the merits by this Court.[21] Therefore, the Government contends that the Court should either dismiss the motion or transfer it to the Fifth Circuit to determine whether Flowers is authorized to file it.[22]

         III. Legal Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60 regulates the procedures by which a party may obtain relief from a final judgment. Rule 60(b) provides that a court “may relieve a party from a final judgment, order, or proceeding” for any of the following reasons:

(1) Mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect;
(2) Newly discovered evidence that, with reasonable diligence, could not have been discovered in time to move for a new trial under Rule 59(b);
(3) Fraud (whether previously called intrinsic or extrinsic), misrepresentation, or misconduct by any opposing party;
(4) The judgment is void;
(5) The judgment has been satisfied, released, or discharged; it is based on an earlier judgment that has been reversed or vacated; or applying it ...

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