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United States of America v. Mario Reeves

August 20, 2012

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
MARIO REEVES, ALSO KNOWN AS RIO, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 1:07-cr-00614-2--Joan B. Gottschall, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Bauer, Circuit Judge.

ARGUED APRIL 3, 2012

Before BAUER, POSNER and KANNE, Circuit Judges.

A federal jury convicted the defendant-appellant, Mario Reeves, of several crimes, including conspiracy and distribution of heroin. On May 20, 2011, the district court sentenced Reeves to 25 years in prison to run concurrently with a separate, lesser sentence of 8 years. At the sentencing hearing, the district court applied a statutory enhancement to Reeves' sentence due to a prior state conviction. See 21 U.S.C. § 851. Reeves objected to that enhancement and appeals his sentence. Finding no error, we affirm.

I. BACKGROUND

In 2007, Mario Reeves was arrested for his role in a heroine distribution ring known as the Poison Line. He was indicted for several crimes committed under 21

U.S.C. §§ 841, 846, and 843, and he pleaded not guilty. The case went to trial, and a jury convicted him on all counts.

Prior to trial, the government informed the court and Reeves that it would seek an enhancement pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 851 of any sentence resulting from a guilty verdict; Section 851 requires the government to give notice of a request for a sentencing enhancement for certain predicate criminal offenses. Reeves had a prior drug offense. In 2004, he had pleaded guilty in Illinois state court to possession and sale of cocaine. This crime qualifies as a predicate offense under the statute and triggered the sentencing enhancement at issue in this case.

Reeves objected to the government's pursuit of the enhancement. He claimed that the attorney rep- resenting him during his 2004 guilty plea in state court did not inform him that a guilty plea could be used against him later to trigger a statutory sentencing en- hancement in federal court. As a result, he argued, the attorney had provided ineffective assistance of counsel in the state court proceedings, running afoul of the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution. See Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984). Thus, he claimed, the state conviction is constitutionally infirm and cannot be used against him now for an enhancement of his federal sentence.

The district court applied the § 851 enhancement over Reeves' objections, and he renews his argument on appeal.

II. DISCUSSION

We begin by noting that this is a permissible although unusual method to launch a collateral attack on a prior conviction. Reeves is correct that if a prior state con- viction was established in violation of the Sixth Amend- ment, that conviction cannot be counted to enhance a later sentence. See United States v. Feliciano, 498 F.3d 661, 664 (7th Cir. 2007); see also 21 U.S.C. § 851(c)(2). We will therefore review Reeves' state court conviction from 2004 for the limited purpose of determining whether it was permissible for the district court to count it toward a § 851 sentence enhancement.

We review the facts underlying a sentencing challenge for clear error and review any surrounding question of law de novo. See United States v. Patterson, 576 F.3d 431, 442-43 (2009). Here, we are presented with a pure legal question: whether federal law requires an attorney to advise his client that a guilty plea may expose the client to potential sentencing enhancements for any future convictions.

The Supreme Court has held that the Sixth Amend- ment guarantees criminal defendants not just the right to counsel, but the right to effective assistance of coun- sel. Strickland, 466 U.S. at 686. To prove that counsel was ineffective in the context of a guilty plea, a defendant must show "(1) that counsel's performance fell below an objective standard of reasonableness; and (2) that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's errors, the defendant would not have pled guilty and would have ...


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