U.S. v. Shamblin

Decision Date30 June 2004
Docket NumberNo. CRIM.A. 2:03-00217.,CRIM.A. 2:03-00217.
Citation323 F.Supp.2d 757
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of West Virginia
PartiesUNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff, v. Ronald SHAMBLIN, Defendant.

Donald L. Stennett, Charleston, WV, for Defendant Ronald Shamblin.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

GOODWIN, District Judge.

A criminal defense attorney seeking to test the limits of the United States Supreme Court's days-old decision in Blakely v. Washington, ___ U.S. ___, 124 S.Ct. 2531, ___ L.Ed.2d ___ (2004), could not have conjured a more fitting defendant than Ronald Shamblin. Shamblin, who had previously pleaded guilty to Conspiracy to Manufacture Methamphetamine in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846, was sentenced to 240 months in prison on June 21, 2004. The calculation of Shamblin's sentence included so much offense conduct, so much relevant conduct, and so many enhancements that Shamblin's sentencing range under the United States Sentencing Guidelines was, literally, off the chart. The guidelines indicated that Shamblin should receive a sentence of life imprisonment. Because no amount of methamphetamine was charged in his indictment, however, Shamblin's sentence was limited, by the Fourth Circuit's interpretation of Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466, 120 S.Ct. 2348, 147 L.Ed.2d 435 (2000), to the maximum sentence under the relevant statute.1 Now, on the last day that I may review his sentence for clear error under Fed.R.Crim.P. 35(a), Shamblin has benefited again from the Supreme Court's Apprendi decision, as further explained in Blakely. Yesterday, the defendant filed a Motion to Correct Unlawful Sentencing Within Seven Days [Docket 69]. For the reasons stated below, I have GRANTED the motion [Docket 69], and RESENTENCED Shamblin in accordance with Apprendi and Blakely.

I. Background

On August 21, 2003, law enforcement officers with the Drug Enforcement Agency, the West Virginia Metropolitan Drug Enforcement Network Team, and the City of St. Albans Police Department searched Ronald Shamblin's home. They found a gallon jug of iodine and several bottles of lye and hydrogen peroxide, along with papers they believed to be drug distribution records and a computer printout with instructions on how to manufacture methamphetamine. The officers found a loaded shotgun under a mattress and four other loaded firearms locked in a gun case.

When Shamblin drove by his home early in the morning of August 22, 2003, he was stopped and arrested. On September 16, 2003, a federal grand jury sitting in Charleston, West Virginia, returned a sealed indictment against him, charging him with conspiracy to manufacture quantities of methamphetamine in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846. Shamblin pleaded guilty to the charge contained in the indictment on October 24, 2003. He pleaded without the benefit of a plea agreement with the United States. At the plea hearing, the court conducted a colloquy to determine that there was a factual basis for the plea. While admitting to conduct sufficient to sustain his plea, Shamblin presented his involvement in the conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine as minimal:

THE COURT: Tell me what you did that makes you believe you're guilty.

THE DEFENDANT: I became addicted to methamphetamine, and at one point I purchased Sudafed that were used to manufacture methamphetamine.

THE COURT: Did you purchase the Sudafed that were used to manufacture the amphetamines all by yourself in conjunction with somebody else's efforts to manufacture? What else was going on?

THE DEFENDANT: I went to the store basically by myself, but I was told by somebody else to go get it so they could make crank.

THE COURT: So that-so, you had an understanding with somebody else that if you would get Sudafed, what would happen?

THE DEFENDANT: Then they would give me some free crank.

THE COURT: After they

THE DEFENDANT: Yes, sir.

THE COURT: — took the Sudafed?

THE DEFENDANT: Yes.

THE COURT: And did what with the Sudafed?

THE DEFENDANT: They somehow use it to make methamphetamine. And they said they would give me some methamphetamine if I got some Sudafed because I guess it's hard for them to get enough to make enough crank.

THE COURT: Did these acts occur from about April, 2003, until about August 21st, 2003?

THE DEFENDANT: Yes, sir.

THE COURT: A little-do you have some problems with the dates?

THE DEFENDANT: Well, does that mean I did it from April to then or in that period of time it happened?

THE COURT: Well, what you did that would refer to the conspiracy. Was it in that period of time?

THE DEFENDANT: Yes, sir.

THE COURT: That will be good enough. Where?

THE DEFENDANT: At Target Department Store.

THE COURT: And where is that located?

THE DEFENDANT: Charleston, West Virginia, South Charleston.

October 24, 2003, Plea Hearing Transcript at 7-9.

The court then allowed the Assistant United States Attorney, Chad Noel, to make a proffer as to what the United States would have been able to prove against Shamblin had the case gone to trial. Mr. Noel stated that, "Mr. Shamblin was involved in a conspiracy that was perhaps more widespread than what he's leading the court to believe". Id. at 9. Noel proffered that two store videotapes showed Shamblin purchasing cold medication, and that the search of Shamblin's home had revealed other precursor materials to the manufacture of methamphetamine and the instructions for making methamphetamine. Id. at 9-11. Noel further proffered that witness statements and the store videotapes were evidence of Shamblin's involvement in a conspiracy with others. Id. at 11-12. Shamblin agreed that Noel's proffer was substantially true. Id. at 12.

At the plea hearing, the court ordered the Probation Office to conduct a presentence investigation of Shamblin and to prepare a draft presentence report (PSR). Shamblin's PSR is unusually long. It contains, among other things, a number of statements by Carl Elkins, a defendant in a related prosecution. Elkins claims that he met Shamblin in February 2003, and shortly thereafter agreed to begin "cooking" methamphetamine for Shamblin. In March 2003, Elkins moved in with Shamblin. Elkins allegedly completed his first cook for Shamblin that same month, yielding 21 grams of methamphetamine. He claims to have completed two more cooks in June and July 2003, yielding approximately twenty-five to thirty-four grams of methamphetamine. During this period, Elkins also allegedly observed Shamblin with six ounces of powder cocaine that Shamblin was converting into cocaine base, or "crack."

Elkins claims to have heard Shamblin make multiple statements about his involvement in the drug trade, including the claim that Shamblin had made $70,000 in proceeds from the sale of methamphetamine between December 2002 and March 2003. Shamblin also, according to Elkins, boasted about having completed four methamphetamine cooks at his home between June and August 2003. Elkins claims to have once walked in on Shamblin cooking meth in the bathroom while a fourteen-year-old child was in the house.

The PSR contains information from sources other than Elkins. The mother of the fourteen-year-old, Tamra Cummings, has confirmed that her son was present while Shamblin cooked methamphetamine. Cummings and Shamblin also allegedly used the child as a courier to carry methamphetamine out of Shamblin's house shortly before the police searched it. Surveillance videotapes from two Target stores show Shamblin and others, including Cummings's son, purchasing fifteen boxes of Sudafed tablets on two separate occasions.2

Another defendant in a related prosecution, Shawn Tackett, claims to have encountered Shamblin at the South Central Regional Jail. Shamblin allegedly told Tackett not to speak to the police. Similarly, recorded telephone conversations reveal that Shamblin, while incarcerated, coached his wife to withhold information from the probation officer.

The PSR contains a great deal of additional information concerning Shamblin's alleged involvement in the manufacture, sale, and use of controlled substances, particularly methamphetamine. I have repeated only the allegations above, however, because they formed the basis of Shamblin's "offense conduct" and "relevant conduct" under the United States Sentencing Guidelines. The offense conduct is comprised of those activities that relate to the conspiracy charged in the indictment. Specifically, the probation officer calculated Shamblin's offense conduct to include the manufacture of 21 grams of methamphetamine (for Elkins's first cook), 25 grams of methamphetamine (as a conservative estimate for the June and July cooks), and 80 grams of methamphetamine (as a conservative estimate for Shamblin's four cooks). Also attributed to Shamblin as offense conduct is the purchase of 37.44 grams of pseudoephedrine. As relevant conduct, the probation officer attributed to Shamblin the possession of 5.5 ounces of powder cocaine and 0.5 ounces of cocaine base. Finally, the probation officer added the $70,000 that Shamblin allegedly made from the sale of methamphetamine sometime prior to the period of the conspiracy alleged in the indictment. For sentencing purposes, all substances, including money, must be converted to an equivalent amount of marijuana so that they can be combined into a single offense level calculation. See U.S.S.G. § 2D1.1. In this case, the offense level calculation was based on the court's finding that all conduct attributable to the defendant was the equivalent of 4,908.98 kilograms of marijuana.3

Under the sentencing guidelines, the base offense level for a crime that involves 3,000 to 10,000 kilograms of marijuana is 34. See U.S.S.G. § 2D1.1(c)(3). From this starting point, Shamblin's offense level was greatly enhanced on the basis of specific offense characteristics. For possessing a dangerous weapon, his offense level was increased by two...

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