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United States v. Israel

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Lexington

March 1, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff/Respondent,
MICAH T. ISRAEL, Defendant/Movant.


          Danny C. Reeves United States District Judge

         Following a two-day jury trial, Defendant Micah Israel was convicted of attempting to possess with the intent to distribute 500 grams or more of a mixture or substance containing cocaine in violation of 21');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1 U.S.C. §§ 841');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1(a) and 846. [Record Nos. 56, 74] He was sentenced to a 420-month term of imprisonment, followed by an eight-year term of supervised release. [Record No. 74] The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed the conviction and sentence. United States v. Israel, 662 F. App'x 382 (6th Cir. 201');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">16). The matter is now pending for consideration of Israel's pro se motion to vacate, set aside or correct his sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 [Record No. 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">11');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">15] and for an evidentiary hearing [Record No. 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">128].

         Consistent with local practice, Israel's § 2255 motion was referred to a United States Magistrate Judge for review and issuance of a report pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1)(B). After completion of briefing by the parties, United States Magistrate Judge Candace J. Smith recommended that Israel's § 2255 motion and request for an evidentiary hearing be denied. [Record No. 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">131');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1] Although this Court must make a de novo determination of those portions of the Magistrate Judge's recommendations to which timely objections are made, 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1)(C), “[i]t does not appear that Congress intended to require district court review of a magistrate's factual or legal conclusions, under a de novo or any other standard, when neither party objects to those findings.” Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">140, 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">150 (1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1985). Neither party has filed objections to the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation.[1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1" name="FN1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1" id= "FN1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1]


         Israel claims that the statutes underlying his conviction are unconstitutional and that his trial attorney provided constitutionally-ineffective assistance. The Magistrate Judge issued a thorough, forty-three page Report and Recommendation explaining why Israel's arguments lack merit. Despite Israel's failure to file objections to the Magistrate Judge's findings, the Court has reviewed each of Israel's arguments and agrees with the Magistrate Judge's assessment, as explained below.

         Israel waived the arguments regarding the constitutionality of 21');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1 U.S.C. §§ 841');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1 and 846 by failing to raise them on direct appeal. See Regalado v. United States, 334 F.3d 520, 527-28 (6th Cir. 2003) (citing Bousley v. United States, 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">14');">523 U.S. 61');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">14, 622 (1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1998)). Regardless, these arguments are without merit. Israel challenges the constitutionality of § 841');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1(a)(2), which prohibits certain acts involving counterfeit substances. This provision was not implicated in his conviction. Instead, Israel was convicted of attempting to possess cocaine under § 841');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1(a)(1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1). The fact that the cocaine turned out to be fake is of no consequence. And to the extent that Israel argues that § 841');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1(b) does not include a penalty for his crime, that assertion is simply incorrect. See Gudger v. United States, 2: 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">13-CR-75, 201');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">17 WL 2951');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1443, *4 (E.D. Tenn. July 7, 201');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">17).

         Israel also argues that § 846 is unconstitutional because “the federal law of conspiracy is vague and does not adequately inform citizens as to what is illegal.” [Record No. 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">11');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">15-1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1, p. 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">17] To begin, Israel was convicted of attempting to violate § 841');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1(a)(1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1), not of conspiring to do so. And as the Magistrate Judge correctly noted, § 846 is not viewed in isolation. Here, it is read in conjunction with §841');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1(a)(1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1), which describes the substantive crime the defendant was convicted of attempting to commit. Section 841');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1(b) describes the corresponding penalties and the defendant has failed to articulate any cognizable constitutional challenge. See United States v. Spearman, 39 F. App'x 63, 71');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1 (6th Cir. 2002) (upholding constitutionality of §§ 841');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1 and 846); United States v. Collins, 272 F.3d 984 (7th Cir. 2001');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1) (rejecting defendant's argument that § 846 is unconstitutionally vague because it does not define attempt or conspiracy).


         Israel also contends that his trial attorney, Benjamin Hicks, provided constitutionally ineffective assistance. A defendant's right to effective assistance of counsel is violated when defense counsel's performance falls below an objective standard of reasonableness and the defendant is prejudiced by counsel's performance. Henness v. Bagley, 766 F.3d 550, 554 (6th Cir. 201');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">14) (citing Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1984)). Israel first argues that Hicks erroneously advised him that he was charged with conspiracy under 21');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1 U.S.C. § 846 as opposed attempt under the same statute. In support, he provides a letter from Hicks dated December 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">19, 201');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">14, in which Hicks advised Israel that, even if the items seized from Israel's residence were suppressed, he would still face “the same conspiracy charge.” [Record No. 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">11');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">15-1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1, p. 34] Israel argues that this mistake caused him to “pass up a plea agreement or negotiation” and proceed to trial. [Record No. 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">11');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">15-1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1, p. 5]

         It is unclear why counsel's letter contained the isolated reference to a conspiracy charge. However, the transcript from Israel's initial appearance confirms that Israel received a copy of the indictment, which clearly charged him with criminal attempt-not conspiracy. Further, the Magistrate Judge read aloud the attempt charge and Israel confirmed his understanding of it. [Record No. 98, pp. 8-1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">11');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1] Although Hicks did not represent him at the time of his initial appearance, a superseding indictment was never filed in the case, so Israel had no reason to believe that the charge against him ever changed. Additionally, as the Magistrate Judge explained in the Report and Recommendation, Israel has not explained why he would have been more likely to plead guilty to attempt as opposed to conspiracy, based on the same set of facts. Accordingly, he has failed to indicate show how he was prejudiced by trial counsel's performance in this respect.

         Israel also contends that Hicks performed deficiently by failing to argue against his designation as a career offender under § 4B1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1.1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1 of the United States Sentencing Guidelines. The United States filed a Notice of Enhanced Statutory Punishment on September 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">16, 201');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">14, which indicated that Israel had a 2005 federal conviction for possession with the intent to distribute cocaine base [Lexington Crim. No. 05-04] and a 2003 state-court conviction for trafficking in a controlled substance, first degree [Fayette Circuit No. 03-470]. [Record Nos. 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">17, 66]

         Section 4B1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1.1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1 of the Sentencing Guidelines provides that a defendant is a career offender if he was at least 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">18 when he committed the instant offense; the instant offense a felony that is either a crime of violence or a controlled substance offense; and “the defendant has at least two prior felony convictions of either a crime of violence or a controlled substance offense.” Israel concedes that the first two elements are satisfied. However, he contends that Hicks should have argued that his 2003 state-court conviction was not a “controlled substance offense” for purposes of § 4B1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1.1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1.

         The gist of Israel's argument is as follows: Kentucky's first-degree trafficking statute prohibits knowing, but not “intentional” conduct. See K.R.S. § 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">18A.1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">141');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">12');">21');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">18A.1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">141');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">12. He asserts that his conviction cannot be a predicate offense because the Kentucky statute does not mirror the text of 21');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1 U.S.C. § 841');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1(a). But as the Magistrate Judge explained, this theory has no basis in the law. “Controlled substance offense” means

an offense under federal or state law, punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year, that prohibits the manufacture, import, export, distribution, or dispensing of a controlled substance (or counterfeit substance) or the possession of a controlled substance (or a counterfeit ...

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