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United States v. Walters

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Greeneville

September 27, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
MICHAEL JAMES WALTERS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          J. RONNIE GREER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Michael James Walters (“Defendant” or “Michael)[1] was convicted on September 18, 2018, of Conspiracy to Distribute and Possess with Intent to Distribute 50 Grams or More of Actual Methamphetamine in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(A). Sentencing is currently scheduled for September 30, 2019. Before the Court is the defendant’s objection to the Presentence Investigation Report (“PSR”) for failure of the probation officer to adjust his offense level pursuant to USSG § 3B1.2(b) because he claims he was a “minor participant” in the criminal activity.[2] For the reasons which follow, the objection is OVERRULED.[3]

         Section 3B1.2 of the Sentencing Guidelines authorizes a two-level reduction if the defendant was a “minor participant, ” which is defined as someone who is “less culpable than most other participants in the criminal activity, but whose role could not be described as minimal.” USSG § 3B1.2(b) and cmt. n.5. The defendant must be “substantially less culpable than the average participant in the criminal activity”[4] to qualify for a reduction. USSG § 3B1.2 cmt. n.3(A). Whether a mitigating role adjustment applies is “heavily dependent on the facts of a particular case” and the Sentencing Commission has provided a non-exhaustive list of five factor for sentencing courts to consider: 1) the degree to which the defendant understood the scope and structure of the criminal activity; 2) the degree to which the defendant participated in the planning or organizing the criminal activity; 3) the degree to which the defendant exercised decision-making or influenced the exercise of decision-making authority; 4) the nature and extent of the defendant’s participation in the commission of the criminal activity, including the acts the defendant performed and the responsibility and discretion the defendant had in performing those acts; and 5) the degree to which the defendant stood to benefit from the criminal activity. USSG § 3B1.2 cmt. n. 3(C). “The determination whether to apply [§3B1.2] is based on the totality of the circumstances and involves a determination that is heavily dependent upon the facts of the particular case.” USSG § 3B1.2 cmt. n.3(C).

         “The defendant bears the burden of proving a mitigating role in the offense by a preponderance of the evidence.” United States v. Romero, 704 F.App'x 445, 450 (6th Cir. 2017) (citing United States v. Salgado, 250 F.3d. 438, 458 (6th Cir. 2001)). The existence of higher-ranking conspirators does not entitle a defendant to a mitigating-role reduction. United States v. Miller, 56 F.3d 719, 720 (6th Cir. 1995). The fact that a defendant is less culpable than the leaders of the conspiracy does not establish that he is “substantially less culpable than the average participant” in a multi-participant conspiracy. See generally, USSG § 3B1.2.

         In his plea agreement, the defendant stipulated the following facts:

“Through the testimony of numerous witnesses, the United States would demonstrate, beyond a reasonable doubt, that beginning approximately in January of 2017 and continuing to on or about July 10, 2018, in the Eastern District of Tennessee and elsewhere, the defendant did knowingly, intentionally, and without authority, conspire with at least one other person to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute at least 50 grams but less than 150 grams of actual methamphetamine, a Schedule II controlled substance.

         On January 31, 2017, law enforcement officers responded to the defendant’s residence in Bristol (1804 Weaver Pike) due to a report of gunfire. Upon arrival, officers made contact with the defendant, who was holding a Rossi, .22 caliber rifle [Rossi, Model S201220BR]. The defendant admitted to being a felon. He also stated that he was still on probation in Virginia, and knew he was not allowed to possess a firearm. His girlfriend admitted to purchasing the rifle for the defendant. Officers seized the rifle and a box of ammunition.

         The defendant is the brother of co-defendant Edward Walters. On February 17, 2018, an individual who was cooperating at the time, and is now a co-defendant in the herein conspiracy, Beverly Ann Brooks, was sent to engage in a video recorded conversation at the direction of law enforcement with co-defendant Edward Walters. During the meeting, it was discussed that co-defendant Mullinax had recently called Edward Walters and told him to be careful selling methamphetamine. He told Edward Walters to bury his methamphetamine, get it out of his house and rent a motel room. Mullinax thought co-defendant Amber Hall might be cooperating with law enforcement due to her recent arrest. The defendant pulled up to the motel in a black truck and got into the back seat of Brooks’ vehicle. His brother, co-defendant Edward Walters, was also present in the vehicle. Edward Walters then sold the defendant two eight balls of methamphetamine (approximately 3.5 grams apiece) and a suboxone strip. During the recording, Edward Walters and the defendant discussed drug debts. The defendant said he owed Mullinax money and had a car hauler and a four-wheeler that he could take to Mullinax to help pay off his drug debt to him. The defendant stated that he intended to ‘gram out’ the methamphetamine obtained from Edward Walters in order to sell and make money.

         On March 2, 2018, a search warrant was executed at 370 Watterson Gap Road, in Hawkins County, Tennessee, the residence of Edward Walters. Among those present during the search were co-defendants Edward Walters, Jamie Wilson and the defendant. Co-defendant Jimmy Gray was outside in a vehicle parked at Walters’ residence. During the search, officers located approximately 45.6 grams of actual methamphetamine, three suboxone strips, three xanax pills, 15.1 grams of marijuana, 14 diazepam pills and 8 buprenorphone pills. All of these items were located in the bedroom of Edward Walters. Additionally, multiple digital scales, glass pipes, syringes and baggies were located in his bedroom. A loaded Mossberg 12 gauge shotgun was located less than three feet from the methamphetamine in Edward Walters’ bedroom. The methamphetamine was in a Crown Royal bag hanging on a wall in Walters’ bedroom. Other items of paraphernalia, including more scales and ammunition were found in the main kitchen/living room area of the residence. In another bedroom, where co-defendant Jamie Wilson was staying, officers located a loaded .380 caliber semi-automatic pistol, a loaded S&W 12 gauge shotgun, three glass pipes, a cut straw, and 2.1 grams of methamphetamine.

         On March 2, 2018, following the search, the defendant provided a statement to law enforcement after waiving his Miranda rights. The defendant told officers that he had arrived at his brother’s residence the night before. The defendant said that Edward Walters sold methamphetamine and that his main source of supply was co-defendant Leonard Mullinax. On occasion, Edward Walters received methamphetamine through the mail and was currently awaiting the receipt of at least seven ounces from Mullinax. The defendant stated that Edward Walters sent money through the mail to Mullinax to pay for the methamphetamine. They recently started using the mail to keep from having to drive to South Carolina every time they needed to re-up. The defendant told officers that he met Mullinax through an unindicted co-conspirator, who helped Mullinax package the methamphetamine. The defendant admitted that he had recently obtained four ounces of methamphetamine on ‘front’ from Mullinax for $3, 200.00. Edward Walters paid the debt for the defendant. Additionally, on at least three occasions, the defendant distributed gram quantities of methamphetamine for Edward Walters. Recently, the defendant had been at the residence of Edward Walters and thought someone was going to rob them. As a result, the defendant admitted that he grabbed a shotgun belonging to Edward Walters for protection, since he knew where the firearms were located. The defendant knew that Edward Walters liked guns and often traded methamphetamine for guns. The defendant also explained that Edward Walters had, in fact, been robbed in the recent past by an unindicted co-conspirator. This resulted in Mullinax sending co-defendant Jamie Wilson and another unindicted co-conspirator to Tennessee to watch over Edward Walters. The defendant was also present on two occasions when Edward Walters sold an ounce or more of methamphetamine to a certain customer.” [Plea Agreement, Doc. 132, at 2–4].

         The defendant agrees and stipulates that he conspired to distribute and is accountable for at least 50 grams but not more than 150 grams of actual methamphetamine, a Schedule II controlled substance.” [Id. at ¶ 4].

         The defendant claims that he had “very limited participation in the overall conspiracy when compared to multiple other participants such as Edward Walters, Mullinax, and others who distributed huge quantities of multiple kilograms of methamphetamine during the year and a half time period” of the conspiracy. [Doc. 448 at 2]. He compares his participation to a number of other participants.

         First, he references Ronald Burchfield, who purchased one to two ounces of methamphetamine a week from Edward[5] over an eight-month period from July 2017 through March 2, 2018. Burchfield’s largest purchase of methamphetamine from Edward was 20 ounces of methamphetamine. Edward dated a relative of Burchfield, an unindicted co-conspirator (“UIC”), who robbed Edward of methamphetamine and cash. Burchfield then brought the UIC to Edward’s residence at Edward’s request, and she was assaulted by Jamie Wilson. Burchfield was a user of methamphetamine, using an eight-ball a day at the peak of his addiction. He often served as an intermediary for Edward by selling methamphetamine to people Edward did not want to deal with directly. Burchfield stipulated that he conspired to distribute at least 500 grams but less than 1.5 kilograms of actual methamphetamine. See generally, [Doc. 169].

         Michael also compares his participation to that of Amber Lynn Hall, who stipulated that between January 2017 and July 10, 2018, she conspired to distribute at least 500 grams but less than 1.5 kilograms of methamphetamine. Hall began purchasing methamphetamine from Edward in gram quantities and ending up with ounce purchases once or twice a week. She purchased ounce quantities for eight or nine months from Edward. Hall and her husband, Corey Morelock, who sold methamphetamine together, drove Edward to South Carolina to obtain one-to-two kilograms of methamphetamine from ...


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