December 11, 2018
from the United States District Court for the Central
District of Illinois. No. 2:14-cr-20032-CSB-DGB-1 - Colin S.
Wood, Chief Judge, and Ripple and Barrett, Circuit Judges.
Ripple, Circuit Judge.
Collins pleaded guilty to distributing cocaine and crack
cocaine in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1). Because
of a prior felony drug conviction, he faced a statutory
minimum of ten years in prison, unless he qualified for the
"safety valve" in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(f)(5). The
district court initially denied Mr. Collins the benefit of
the safety valve on a ground that we later determined to be
erroneous. Consequently, we vacated his sentence and remanded
for further proceedings. See United States v.
Collins, 877 F.3d 362, 368-69 (7th Cir. 2017).
remand, the district court again determined that Mr. Collins
did not qualify for the safety valve. The court focused on a
statement in his proffer interview about what he intended to
do with the significant amount of cash found in his car at
the time of his arrest. Doubting the veracity of his claims
about the cash, the court concluded that Mr. Collins had not
established that he had "truthfully provided to the
Government all information and evidence the defendant has
concerning the offense or offenses that were part of the same
course of conduct or of a common scheme or plan." 18
U.S.C. § 3553(f)(5). Accordingly, the court did not give
him the benefit of the safety valve and resentenced him to
the statutory mandatory minimum.
Collins again appeals his sentence. He contends that the
district court erred in assessing the relative burdens of
proof with respect to his eligibility for the safety valve.
He also submits that he provided a truthful and complete
disclosure to the Government before sentencing. For the
reasons stated below, we affirm the judgment.
fall of 2013, a cooperating individual working for the Drug
Enforcement Administration ("DEA") informed agents
that Mr. Collins was involved in cocaine distribution in the
Danville and Champaign, Illinois area. The informant related
that Mr. Collins had sold him ounce-quantities of cocaine on
multiple occasions. He also said that Mr. Collins and another
individual had pooled their cash and that they had paid $32,
000 for a kilogram of cocaine. Following that initial
interview, the same informant participated, over a five-month
period in 2013 and 2014, in four controlled buys of
ounce-quantities of cocaine from Mr. Collins. On another
occasion, agents attempted to arrange a buy of three-quarters
of a kilogram of cocaine, but Mr. Collins was unable to
acquire that amount.
2014, agents arrested Mr. Collins outside Champaign,
Illinois, while he was driving eastbound toward Danville and
away from Clinton. At the time of his arrest, DEA agents
seized from his vehicle about $40, 000 in cash. Following the
arrest, agents learned through a different source working for
a separate local law enforcement task force that Mr. Collins
had planned to use the cash to buy a kilogram of cocaine in
Government charged Mr. Collins with distributing cocaine and
crack cocaine in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1). He
subsequently pleaded guilty. Because of a prior felony drug
conviction, he faced a statutory minimum of ten years in
prison. See id. § 841(b)(1)(B). A few weeks
before sentencing, Mr. Collins met with the Government for a
proffer interview; he hoped that he would earn entitlement to
sentencing under the "safety-valve" exception to
the statutory minimum. See 18 U.S.C. § 3553(f);
U.S.S.G. § 5C1.2(a)(5). This exception requires a
defendant to "truthfully provide to the Government all
information and evidence the defendant has concerning the
offense or offenses that were part of the same course of
conduct or of a common scheme or plan." 18 U.S.C. §
the proffer interview, Special Agent Joe Green asked Mr.
Collins what he intended to do with the $40, 000 found in his
vehicle at the time of his arrest, at least $15, 000 of
which, Mr. Collins admitted, were proceeds from cocaine
sales. Mr. Collins explained that he had planned to buy a
nice car at the Clinton Auto Auction and denied any intent to
purchase a kilogram of cocaine. Mr. Collins told the agent:
"I was going to Danville first ... to the gym.
Then I was going to the auction during the
original sentencing in May 2015, the district court
determined that Mr. Collins had played a supervisory role in
the offense, see U.S.S.G. § 3B1.1(c), which
rendered him ineligible for the safety-valve reduction,
see 18 U.S.C. § 3553(f)(4); U.S.S.G. §
5C1.2(a)(4). The court therefore imposed the statutory
minimum sentence of 120 months' imprisonment but
indicated that it would have chosen a lower sentence had Mr.
Collins been eligible for the safety valve. Mr. Collins
appealed. We held that the district court had erred in
applying the supervisory-role enhancement. We therefore
remanded for resentencing. See Collins, 877 F.3d at
resentencing hearing in May 2018, the Government maintained
that Mr. Collins still was ineligible for the safety valve
because he had not been fully truthful in his interview. In
particular, the Government asserted that he had made three
false statements. The first two statements concerned his
working relationship with another drug trafficker and the
nature of his involvement in a particular transaction
involving crack cocaine instead of powder cocaine. The
district court disagreed with the Government and concluded
that Mr. Collins had not been untruthful with respect to
third falsehood, according to the Government, concerned Mr.
Collins's statements about what he planned to do with the
$40, 000 in cash he was carrying when arrested. On this
issue, the district court took evidence and heard argument.
Testifying for the Government, Special Agent Green pointed
out that Mr. Collins was arrested on a Tuesday, but Clinton
Auto Auction held auctions on Wednesdays and Saturdays only.
He also testified that $40, 000 would have been a
"reasonable price" for a kilogram of cocaine at the
time of Mr. Collins's arrest, and "every once in a
while," drug traffickers found with large amounts of
cash say that they are "on their way to purchase a
vehicle." On cross-examination, Special Agent Green
agreed that, during the investigation, the largest amount of
cocaine that Mr. Collins had sold at any one time was an
ounce and one-half. Indeed, when Special Agent Green's
confidential informant had attempted to purchase
three-quarters of a kilogram from Mr. Collins, Mr. Collins
could not acquire that amount. Special Agent Green also
admitted that the inventory at the Clinton Auto Auction might
include some "decent" cars by high-end
makers. After the agent testified, the court
recessed the hearing so that it could watch the videotape of
Mr. Collins's safety-valve interview. Mr. Collins did not
the hearing reconvened, the district court stated that it had
reviewed the disputed section of the video "multiple
times" and had "watched and heard the tones"
in an effort to understand Mr. Collins's "true
intentions." The court then set forth six undisputed
facts that informed its ruling: (1) Mr. Collins was
"dealing in, more or less, ounce quantities of
cocaine"; (2) "$40, 000 was an approximate price
for a kilogram of powder cocaine"; (3) drug dealers
typically "buy large quantities of cocaine with
cash"; (4) a confidential source "indicated [that
Mr. Collins] intended to purchase a kilo of cocaine ...
during the operative time frame"; (5) "there was no
Clinton Auto Auction the day [Mr. Collins] was
arrested"; and (6) "he was driving away from
Clinton- not towards it-with the money" The court was
"skeptical that [Mr. Collins] was being 100 percent
truthful as to his intention with the $40, 000" because
his explanation did not "seem to be
district court acknowledged that, "[i]n a lot of ways,
this is just ... a 'he said/she said' sort of
thing," but stressed that Mr. Collins had the burden of
proving that his explanation was truthful. Although the
court was "troubled," it concluded that Mr. Collins
had not satisfied his burden, and thus, he did not qualify
for safety-valve relief. After sentencing Mr. Collins to 120
months in prison, the court "actively encourag[ed]"
him to appeal because the ...