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UNITED STATES v. CALLAHAN

March 11, 1987

United States of America
v.
Vincent Joseph Callahan



The opinion of the court was delivered by: NEWCOMER

 Clarence C. Newcomer, J.

 In March 1986, Vincent J. Callahan, the petitioner, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate civil rights, 18 U.S.C. § 241, and one count of attempted destruction of government property, 18 U.S.C. § 844(f). The court imposed sentences on petitioner and his two codefendants on May 13, 1986. Petitioner was sentenced to three years' imprisonment, to be followed by five years' probation. Petitioner was also required to make restitution for the damage caused by the fire he set, and to pay the $100.00 mandatory special assessment. Callahan now moves to have the court vacate his guilty plea and sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, the statute providing federal prisoners with collateral post-conviction relief in the nature of habeas corpus. For the reasons explained below, petitioner's motion will be denied.

 I. Facts

 The incident which gave rise to this prosecution is well known. In November 1985, Charles Williams and Marietta Bloxom, a black couple, moved into the house located at 2548 South 61st Street in Philadelphia. At the time, the house was owned by the Veteran's Administration, an agency of the United States government. The racial composition of the neighborhood in which that house is situated was mostly if not entirely white. After repeated shameful protests throughout the neighborhood, occasioned by black citizens having moved into the area, the Williams-Bloxom family moved out of the house and the neighborhood. Still, the tension in the neighborhood continued.

 On December 12, 1985, the house at 2548 South 61st Street was burglarized and set afire. According to the indictment in this case, petitioner conspired along with George Steward and Thomas O'Donnell to burn the house in an effort to intimidate Williams, Bloxom and other black citizens, and to deprive them of their civil rights on the basis of race. The indictment also charged the three defendants with attempting to destroy by fire a building owned by the United States. Petitioner and O'Donnell pleaded guilty to both counts of the indictment. Stewart exercised his right to trial and was convicted on both counts. At Stewart's trial, Callahan testified at length concerning Stewart's conduct and concerning Callahan's own conduct, in setting the fire and in seeking to keep blacks from exercising their rights and from moving into the neighborhood.

 Callahan now seeks to attack his conviction, which was premised on a plea of guilty, and the sentence of this court, on four grounds: that his confession was coerced and that the confession unlawfully induced the guilty plea; ineffective assistance of counsel; the court's lack of jurisdiction; and failure of petitioner to make his plea knowingly and intelligently. I will address each argument in turn.

 II. General Legal Standards Governing Section 2255

 Section 2255 provides a remedy in the nature of habeas corpus to prisoners in federal custody. Hill v. United States, 368 U.S. 424, 7 L. Ed. 2d 417, 82 S. Ct. 468 (1962). A prisoner in federal custody may seek relief under that statute,

 18 U.S.C. § 2255. However, not every legal error can be raised through a section 2255 petition. Davis v. United States, 417 U.S. 333, 346, 41 L. Ed. 2d 109, 94 S. Ct. 2298 (1974); United States v. Williams, 615 F.2d 585, 589 (3d Cir. 1980). "Rather, the asserted error of law must be 'a fundamental defect which inherently results in a complete miscarriage of justice.'" Id., quoting Hill, supra, 368 U.S. at 428. Further, this need for the extraordinary remedy afforded by habeas corpus must be apparent. Davis, supra, 417 U.S. at 346; Hill, supra, 368 U.S. at 428; Bowen v. Johnston, 306 U.S. 19, 27, 83 L. Ed. 455, 59 S. Ct. 442 (1939); Williams, supra, 615 F.2d at 589. See also 16 Fed. Proc., L. Ed. 41:412.

 Here, petitioner's burden is particularly heavy because he seeks to call into question his guilty plea. "The concern with finality served by limitation on collateral attack has special force with respect to convictions based on guilty pleas." United States v. Timmreck, 441 U.S. 780, 784, 60 L. Ed. 2d 634, 99 S. Ct. 2085 (1979) (footnote omitted) (holding formal error in plea colloquy does not warrant section 2255 relief). See also Blackledge v. Allison, 431 U.S. 63, 71-72, 52 L. Ed. 2d 136, 97 S. Ct. 1621 (1977). In appropriate circumstances, where facts are presented which undermine the credibility of the admissions and colloquy upon which the plea was based, a court may clearly look behind the guilty plea without undermining the general principle of finality. See, e.g., Blackledge, supra; Fontaine v. United States, 411 U.S. 213, 36 L. Ed. 2d 169, 93 S. Ct. 1461 (1973); Machibroda v. United States, 368 U.S. 487, 7 L. Ed. 2d 473, 82 S. Ct. 510 (1967). As the Supreme Court wrote in Blackledge, supra, 431 U.S. at 75:

 
In administering the writ of habeas corpus and its § 2255 counterpart, the federal courts cannot fairly adopt a per se rule excluding all possibility that a defendant's representations at the time his guilty plea was accepted were so much the product of such factors as misunderstanding, duress, or misrepresentation by others as to make ...

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