United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
MEMORANDUM & ORDER
PHIL GILBERT, DISTRICT JUDGE.
sentencing date nears, Vickie Sanders objects to the
Government's attempt to establish a prior conviction of
hers via an information filed pursuant to 21 U.S.C. §
851. (Doc. 54.) For the following reasons, the Court
OVERRULES the objection.
2017, the Government charged Vickie Sanders with a number of
drug offenses. (Doc. 1.) Later, the Government filed an
information pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 851 in order to
establish a few prior convictions of hers. (Doc. 34.) If
valid, the information would establish a ten-year mandatory
minimum sentence for the 2017 federal charges pursuant to 21
U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(B) & (C). Specifically, the
information highlights that in the 1990s, Sanders was
convicted of two felonies in California state court: burglary
and possession of a controlled substance. Sanders's state
court charges became final in the late 1990s when the state
court entered judgment and her time to appeal expired.
has since pled guilty to the federal charges. (Doc. 38.) But
now, before her sentencing, she objects to the validity of
the Government's § 851 information. (Doc. 54.) After
Sanders pled guilty back in October 2017, she successfully
moved a California state court to reclassify her old 1990s
felony drug conviction to a misdemeanor pursuant to
California Proposition 47. That statute provides:
A person who has completed his or her sentence for a
conviction, whether by trial or plea, of a felony or felonies
who would have been guilty of a misdemeanor under this act
had this act been in effect at the time of the offense, may
file an application before the trial court that entered the
judgment of conviction in his or her case to have the felony
conviction or convictions designated as misdemeanors.
Cal. Penal Code § 1170.18(f). Accordingly, Sanders
argues that since California now considers her state drug
conviction to be a misdemeanor, it cannot be used as a felony
for § 851 purposes.
is wrong. The Ninth Circuit has already addressed this issue
and concluded that “Proposition 47 does not change the
historical fact that [a defendant] violated § 841
‘after two or more prior convictions for a felony drug
offense [had] become final.'” United States v.
Diaz, 838 F.3d 968, 971 (9th Cir. 2016), cert.
denied sub nom. Vasquez v. United States, 137 S.Ct. 840,
197 L.Ed.2d 77 (2017) (citing 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(A)).
The idea is simple: as soon as a defendant has two felony
drug convictions on their record that become final, that
defendant has violated § 841. It does not matter whether
a state court later reclassifies one of the offenses to a
misdemeanor-the defendant has already violated § 841 at
a previous time. As Diaz explained, federal law-not
state law-governs the interpretation of federal statutes, and
state courts cannot change the fact that a defendant has
previously violated a federal statute. Id. at 972;
see also United States v. Eleby, 670 Fed.Appx. 600
(9th Cir. 2016).
holding is not limited to Proposition 47: Diaz
plucked its ruling straight from Ninth Circuit cases dealing
with other types of state post-conviction proceedings-such as
dismissals and expungements-that the circuit already held did
not affect § 841 for the same reasons as this case.
Id. at 973. The only exception to that rule is when
the state proceeding “alters the legality of the
original state conviction-such as where there was a trial
error or it appears the defendant was actually innocent of
the underlying crime.” Id. That exception is
not at issue here.
is only one case in this circuit that deals with Proposition
47: Cummings v. U.S., No. 116CV02891SEBMJD, 2017 WL
5903926 (S.D. Ind. Nov. 30, 2017). The petitioner in
Cummings argued that his sentence was invalid in the
§ 2255 context because Proposition 47 reduced his prior
felony to a misdemeanor. Id. at *1. The district
court rejected the petitioner's argument, relying on the
holding in Diaz: the petitioner violated § 841
when his state felony conviction became final, and later
post-conviction proceedings at the state level did not change
the fact that he had already violated § 841 in the past.
Id. at *3.
argues that Diaz, Eleby, and
Cummings do not apply because they are all
post-sentencing cases, whereas the Court here has not
sentenced her yet. Her argument fails. The procedural
postures in Diaz, Eleby, and
Cummings are completely irrelevant to their
holdings: those cases simply stand for the proposition that
state post-conviction proceedings do not change the fact when
a defendant's past felony conviction became final-like
Sanders's did in the late 1990s-the defendant violated
§ 841. Accordingly, the Court OVERRULES
Sanders's objection. (Doc. 54.)