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United States v. Watkins

United States District Court, N.D. Georgia, Atlanta Division

September 24, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
MARCUS WATKINS, Defendant.

          ORDER

          Timothy C. Batten, Sr., United States District Judge

         This case comes before the Court on Magistrate Judge Alan J. Baverman’s report and recommendation (the “R&R”) [228], which recommends denying Defendant Marcus Watkins’s motion [86] to enforce the plea agreement, and Watkins’s objections [233] thereto.

         A district judge has a duty to conduct a “careful and complete” review of a magistrate judge’s R&R. Williams v. Wainwright, 681 F.2d 732, 732 (11th Cir. 1982) (per curiam) (quoting Nettles v. Wainwright, 677 F.2d 404, 408 (5th Cir. Unit B 1982)). This review may take different forms, however, depending on whether there are objections to the R&R. The district judge must “make a de novo determination of those portions of the [R&R] to which objection is made.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). In contrast, those portions of the R&R to which no objection is made need only be reviewed for “clear error.” Macort v. Prem, Inc., 208 F. App’x 781, 784 (11th Cir. 2006) (per curiam) (quoting Diamond v. Colonial Life & Accident Ins., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005)).[1]

         “Parties filing objections must specifically identify those findings objected to. Frivolous, conclusive or general objections need not be considered by the district court.” Nettles, 677 F.2d at 410 n.8. “This rule facilitates the opportunity for district judges to spend more time on matters actually contested and produces a result compatible with the purposes of the Magistrates Act.” Id. at 410.

         After conducting a complete and careful review of the R&R, the district judge “may accept, reject, or modify” the magistrate judge’s findings and recommendations. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C); Williams, 681 F.2d at 732. The district judge “may also receive further evidence or recommit the matter to the magistrate judge with instructions.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C).

         On July 27, 2007, Watkins pleaded guilty to use of a firearm in connection with a crime of violence. His plea agreement provided that if he cooperated with the Government and the Government determined that such cooperation qualified as substantial assistance pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3553(e) or Section 5K.1 of the sentencing guidelines, the Government could choose to file a motion at sentencing recommending a downward departure from the applicable guideline range.

         The Government did not file a motion for a downward departure, and Watkins filed his motion to enforce the plea agreement. In his motion, he alleges that the Government refuses to file a motion for downward departure out of bad faith, in retaliation for allegations he made about federal agents and prosecutors.

         The Government opposes Watkins’s motion for two reasons. First, it argues that Watkins’s cooperation did not constitute substantial assistance. Second, it asserts that Watkins engaged in an information-selling scheme.[2] The R&R recommends denying Watkins’s motion. Watkins objects to four of the R&R’s findings; the Court will address each objection in turn.

         First, “Watkins objects to the Magistrate Court’s determination that the government’s failure to file a motion to reduce his sentence was pretextual.” [233] at 1. In the same paragraph, Watkins writes, “the Magistrate Court’s determination that the government’s reasons for refusing to file the 5K1.1 sentence reduction motion were pretextual is erroneous.” Id. The R&R actually found that Watkins’s argument were pretextual, not the Government’s decision. To the extent Watkins meant to object to the R&R’s finding that the Government’s decision was not pretextual, the Court addresses the objection with Watkins’s fourth objection below. Regardless of the interpretation of Watkins’s argument, his first objection is overruled.

         Next, Watkins objects to the R&R’s conclusion that he did not prove that the Government’s failure to file a motion for downward departure was motivated by unconstitutional vindictiveness. In his motion to enforce the plea agreement, Watkins asserts that he alleged improprieties within the U.S. Attorney’s Office and that the failure to file a motion for downward departure was retaliatory and resulted from an unconstitutional motive within the meaning of Wade v. United States, 504 U.S. 181 (1992).

         Under Wade, federal district courts may review the Government’s denial of a substantial-assistance motion and may impose a remedy if they find the refusal was based on an unconstitutional motive. Here, Watkins does not assert that the Government’s refusal to file a substantial-assistance motion was related to race or religion or that the “refusal to move was not rationally related to any legitimate Government end.” Id. at 185–86. Watkins makes only generalized allegations of an improper motive, which are insufficient under Wade. See United States v. Bagui-Solis, 771 F. App’x 960, 964 (11th Cir. 2019).

         Third, Watkins objects to the R&R’s determination that his involvement in a Rule-35-selling scheme is the legal basis for denying a motion for downward departure. In particular, he asserts that the record shows that the Government was aware of his selling scheme but continued to deal with him. Regardless, the plea agreement clearly states that

the determination as to whether [Watkins] has provided ‘substantial assistance’ rests solely with the Government. Good faith efforts by the defendant that do not substantially assist in the investigation of prosecution of another person who has committed a crime will not result in either a motion for downward departure or a Rule 35 motion.

[46-1] ¶ 6. That alone indicates that the Government’s decision was lawful. Watkins’s ...


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