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United States v. Collins

United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Beckley Division

June 22, 2018




         The Court has reviewed the Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Indictment (Document 48), the Memorandum in Support of Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Indictment (Document 54), the Response of the United States to Defendant's Pre-Trial Motions (Document 58), and the Defendant's Reply to the Government's Response to Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Indictment (Document 61). The Court has also reviewed the Defendant's Motion to Strike Surplusage from Count Two of the Indictment (Document 52), the Response of the United States (Document 58), and the Defendant's Reply (Document 62). Pursuant to an Order of Reference (Document 29) entered on April 5, 2018, the motion was referred to the Honorable Omar J. Aboulhosn, United States Magistrate Judge, for proposed findings of fact and recommendation for disposition. On June 5, 2018, Magistrate Judge Aboulhosn submitted his Proposed Findings and Recommendation (PF&R) (Document 64). The Court has reviewed the United States Objections to Proposed Findings and Recommendation (Document 67) and the Defendant's Objections to the Magistrate Judge's Proposed Findings and Recommendations (Document 69). For the reasons stated herein, the Court finds that the objections of both parties should be overruled and the Magistrate Judge's PF&R adopted.


         This case began with the filing of a criminal complaint against the Defendant, Ronald Collins, on March 13, 2018. The criminal complaint alleged that Mr. Collins knowingly made a false statement intended to deceive a firearms dealer, and that he possessed a weapon while being a prohibited person who has been previously adjudicated as a mental defective or committed to a mental institution. On April 3, 2018, Mr. Collins was indicted. In Count One, the indictment charges Mr. Collins with making a false written statement on ATF Form 4473 intended to deceive a federally-licensed firearms dealer in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(a)(6) and 924(a)(2). Count Two of the indictment charges Mr. Collins with the illegal possession of a weapon after having been adjudicated a mental defective and being committed to a mental institution in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(4) and 924(a)(2). On May 29, 2018, the Defendant filed his motion to dismiss the indictment in its entirety and his motion to strike surplusage from Count Two. The United States responded on June 4, 2018, and the Magistrate Judge issued a PF&R on June 5, 2018. The United States and the Defendant filed their objections on June 11, 2018, and neither party filed a response to those objections. The trial is scheduled to begin on June 25, 2018.


         “[T]o survive a motion to dismiss sought pursuant to Rule 12 [of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure], an indictment must allege facts that, if proven true, would sustain a violation of the offense charged.” United States v. Hasan, 747 F.Supp.2d 599, 602 (E.D. Va. 2010). “An indictment is sufficient if it: 1) alleges the essential elements of the offense charged and provides the defendant with notice of the crime with which he is charged; and 2) enables the defendant to plead double jeopardy in any future prosecution for the same offense.” United States v. Lang, 766 F.Supp. 389, 395 (D.Md. 1991). “A 12(b) motion is permissible only when it involves a question of law rather than fact.” United States v. Shabbir, 64 F.Supp.2d 479, 481 (D.Md. 1999) (citation omitted). A Court cannot grant the motion to dismiss under Rule 12 if a Defendant's “legal contentions are inextricably bound up with the facts of the case.” Id.

         Rule 7 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure states that “[u]pon the defendant's motion, the court may strike surplusage from the indictment or information.” Fed. R. Crim. P. 7(d). “The purpose of Rule 7(d) is to protect a defendant against prejudicial allegations that are neither relevant nor material to the charges made in an indictment, or not essential to the charge, or unnecessary, or inflammatory.” United States v. Poore, 594 F.2d 39, 41 (4th Cir. 1979) (citations omitted). “A motion to strike surplusage from the indictment should be granted only if it is clear that the allegations are not relevant to the charge and are inflammatory and prejudicial.” United States v. Williams, 445 F.3d 724, 733 (4th Cir. 2006) (citations omitted).

         The Defendant's motion to dismiss was referred to Magistrate Judge Aboulhosn pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B), for submission of proposed findings and recommendation. The Court is required to “make a de novo determination of those portions of report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). However, the Court is not required to review the factual or legal conclusions of the magistrate judge as to those portions of the findings or recommendation to which no objections are addressed. Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 150 (1985).


         A. Motion to Dismiss Indictment

         The Defendant seeks dismissal of the indictment in its entirety, first arguing that 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(4) is unconstitutional as it is applied to him. The Defendant asserts that, during criminal proceedings in the Circuit Court of Raleigh County, West Virginia, in 2012 and 2013, he was twice evaluated for competency and both times declared competent. However, in December 2013, after being charged with the felony offense of making terroristic threats, the Circuit Court of Raleigh County granted a motion requesting the Defendant undergo a third competency evaluation. The results of that third evaluation concluded that the Defendant was incompetent to stand trial, but that his competency could be restored following inpatient treatment, and he was subsequently involuntarily committed to Sharpe Hospital. The Defendant argues that the third competency evaluation was fatally flawed because it did not comply with the standards governing competency evaluations provided in West Virginia Code § 27-6A-2(b) because the medical professional evaluating Mr. Collins was not provided with the requisite information necessary to perform the evaluation. The Defendant also argues that he was found incompetent during the third evaluation due to the Southern Regional Jail's failure to provide him with his prescribed anti-psychotic medication. According to the Defendant, these combined failures in the procedure violated his right to due process under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, and applying 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(4) to him under these circumstances is unconstitutional. Further, because he argues that Section 922(g)(4) is unconstitutional as applied to him, he also argues that Count One should be dismissed. Mr. Collins asserts that, because he was improperly and unconstitutionally committed to a mental institution, it was not a lie to state on the ATF form that he had never been committed to a mental institution.

         The Defendant alternatively argues that the indictment should be dismissed because 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(4) is unconstitutional on its face in that it impermissibly restricts the Defendant's and other similarly situated persons' Second-Amendment right to possess a firearm. Based on the United States Supreme Court's ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to keep and bear arms, 554 U.S. 570, 595 (2008), Mr. Collins argues that Section 922(g)(4) is unconstitutional because the prohibition related to commitment to a mental institution is not sufficiently tailored to achieve a government interest under strict or intermediate scrutiny. Mr. Collins argues that his status as an American citizen affords him the individual fundamental right to possess a firearm, and that the United States cannot sufficiently justify its interest in preventing him from exercising that right due to his commitment to a mental institution.

         The United States counters that the Defendant's as-applied due process argument fails because there is no question that the Defendant was committed to a mental institution and that he later possessed a firearm without having his right to do so reinstated in violation of Section 922(g)(4). The Government further argues that the Heller decision specifically held that the individual right under the Second Amendment was not unlimited, and that the right belongs to “law abiding, responsible citizens to use arms in defense of hearth and home.” Heller, 554 U.S. at 635. With respect to the Defendant's facial challenge to Section 922(g)(4), the Government argues that the law is sufficiently tailored under both an intermediate and strict scrutiny standard to an important or compelling interest in disarming citizens who have been committed to mental institutions based on the well-documented increased risk of harm posed to themselves and others by mentally ill persons who possess firearms. Thus, the United States argues that both of the Defendant's challenges should fail and the motion to dismiss should be denied.

         The Magistrate Judge recommends denying the Defendant's motion to dismiss. Relying on the language of Heller itself and Fourth Circuit precedent in United States v. Midgett, he found that that the Second Amendment right does not extend to persons “Congress considered too dangerous to possess guns.” (PF&R at 16) (quoting United States v. Midgett, 198 F.3d 143, 146 (4th Cir. 1999).) Magistrate Judge Aboulhosn found that, because it is undisputed that Mr. Collins was indeed involuntarily committed to a mental institution, and because he did not challenge that order or seek to have his right to possess a firearm reinstated, his as-applied challenge amounts to an inappropriate collateral attack on the state court judgment ordering his committal. Such an attack, according to the Magistrate Judge, is inappropriate for this Court to consider. Mr. Collins was represented by counsel during his state criminal proceedings and had ample opportunity to challenge his ...

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