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United States v. Yates

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

August 9, 2017

United States of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
Willie Yates, Defendant-Appellant.

          Argued: June 13, 2017

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio at Akron. No. 5:10-cr-00489-1-Christopher A. Boyko, District Judge.

         ARGUED:

          Claire C. Curtis, FEDERAL PUBLIC DEFENDER'S OFFICE, Cleveland, Ohio, for Appellant.

          Daniel R. Ranke, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Cleveland, Ohio, for Appellee.

         ON BRIEF:

          Claire C. Curtis, FEDERAL PUBLIC DEFENDER'S OFFICE, Cleveland, Ohio, for Appellant.

          Daniel R. Ranke, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Cleveland, Ohio, for Appellee.

          Before: MOORE, GILMAN, and COOK, Circuit Judges.

          OPINION

          RONALD LEE GILMAN, Circuit Judge

         Willie Yates appeals from the district court's sentencing decision in connection with his convictions for being a felon in possession of a firearm and for possessing crack cocaine with the intent to distribute the drug. The court found

          Yates to be a career offender under United States Sentencing Guidelines (U.S.S.G.) § 4B1.1(a) based on his prior Ohio convictions for robbery and drug trafficking. Yates contends, however, that he was improperly classified as a career offender, arguing that his Ohio robbery conviction does not qualify as a "crime of violence" under U.S.S.G § 4B1.1(a)(3). He also contends that his sentence is substantively unreasonable because the court failed to consider an applicable policy statement in the commentary to the guidelines. For the following reasons, we VACATE Yates's sentence and REMAND the case for resentencing.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual background

         In 2010, officers with the Akron Police Department executed a search warrant at Yates's residence. The police seized firearms, ammunition, crack cocaine, and drug paraphernalia during the search. Yates was subsequently arrested and charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C § 922(g)(1), and for possessing crack cocaine with the intent to distribute the drug, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(C). A jury found Yates guilty of both offenses in 2011.

         At sentencing, the district court determined that Yates was an armed career criminal based on his prior criminal history. The court therefore imposed a mandatory minimum sentence under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), 18 U.S.C. § 924(e), and sentenced Yates to prison terms of 327 months on each count, to run concurrently.

         B. Procedural background

         This court affirmed Yates's conviction and sentence in 2012, holding that the district court did not err in classifying Yates as an armed career criminal. See United States v. Yates, 501 F.App'x 505 (6th Cir. 2012). Yates later returned to the district court to file a motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, alleging that a number of errors occurred during his trial and at his sentencing. The district court denied Yates's motion in 2014. He then filed a notice of appeal and requested a certificate of appealability (COA), which this court granted on the sole issue of whether Yates's counsel provided ineffective assistance during his trial. The court later expanded the COA to include Yates's claim that he was improperly sentenced under the ACCA in light of the Supreme Court's decision in Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015).

         In 2016, this court affirmed the district court's denial of Yates's ineffective-assistance claim, but vacated Yates's sentence. See Yates v. United States, No. 14-3547 (6th Cir. April 13, 2016). Yates's status as an armed career criminal was based in part on his 1999 Ohio robbery conviction, which the district court had deemed to be a "violent felony" under the ACCA's residual clause. And because the residual clause was held to be unconstitutionally vague in Johnson, this court concluded that Yates was entitled to be resentenced.

         An updated Presentence Report, prepared in connection with Yates's resentencing, determined that he was a career offender under U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1 based on his 1999 Ohio robbery conviction and his 2008 Ohio drug-trafficking conviction. Yates's base offense level was therefore set at 34. If this enhancement had not been applied, Yates's base offense level would have been 24. And because Yates was found to be in possession of enough crack cocaine to constitute a felony, the report reflected a four-level increase under U.S.S.G. § 2K2.1(b)(6), which applies such an increase if the defendant "used or possessed [a] firearm or ammunition in connection with another felony offense." His adjusted offense level, without the career-offender enhancement, would have therefore been 28. Yates filed a sentencing memorandum in response to the Presentence Report, arguing that he was not a career offender under U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1 because his Ohio robbery conviction was not a ...


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