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United States v. Smith

September 14, 2006

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
LONDON SMITH A/K/A SHAKIL MUHAMMAD,



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Christopher C. Conner United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM

Presently before the court is defendant's motion to withdraw his guilty plea (Doc. 89). Defendant asserts that he has "fair and just reasons" for withdrawing his guilty plea-namely, ineffective assistance of counsel. (Doc. 89 ¶ 10.) At a plea colloquy, the court thoroughly reviewed with defendant the ramifications of a plea of guilty. (Doc. 93.) Defendant's responses to the court's inquiries demonstrated that he understood his legal rights as well as the consequences of a guilty plea. The court concluded that defendant's plea was informed and voluntary, supported by an independent and adequate factual basis. (Docs. 93.) The court is not persuaded to change its conclusion based upon the instant motion. Defendant will not be permitted to withdraw his guilty plea.

I. Factual and Procedural Background

Defendant was arrested on August 18, 2005 and was indicted on August 24, 2005 on two counts-one count of distribution and possession with intent to distribute heroin, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1), and one count of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute heroin, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846. (Doc. 18; Tr. at 10; Gov't Ex. 1.) On September 6, 2005, defendant appeared before a magistrate judge and entered a plea of not guilty. (Doc. 29.) On December 15, 2005, the government filed an eight-count superseding indictment, naming defendant in six counts-Count I of possession with intent to distribute 100 grams or more of heroin, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1), Count III of interstate travel in aid of drug trafficking, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1952(a)(3), Count V of the use of a communication facility to facilitate drug trafficking, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 843(b), Count VI of being a felon in possession of a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g), Count VII of possession of a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A), and Count VIII of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute heroin, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846. (Doc. 56.) On January 17, 2006, defendant appeared before a magistrate judge and entered a plea of not guilty. (Doc. 68.)

On March 28, 2006, defendant entered a plea of guilty (Doc. 86), pursuant to a plea agreement (Doc. 77), to two counts in the superseding information (Doc. 56), as amended (see Doc. 77 ¶ 1)-Count I of possession of heroin with intent to distribute, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1), and Count VI of being a felon in possession of a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g). The plea agreement contains the following provision:

16. The defendant understands that the Court is not a party to and is not bound by this agreement nor any recommendations made by the parties. Thus, the Court is free to impose upon the defendant any sentence up to and including the maximum sentence of imprisonment for 30 years, a fine of $1,250,000.00, a maximum term of supervised release of up to 8 years, which shall be served at the conclusion of and in addition to any term of imprisonment, the costs of prosecution, denial of certain federal benefits and assessments totaling $200. (Doc. 77 ¶16.) Prior to accepting the plea, the court conducted a colloquy with defendant on March 28, 2006. (Doc. 93.)

During the course of the colloquy, defendant confirmed that his former attorney, Thomas A. Thornton, Esquire ("Attorney Thornton"), had explained all of the terms of the plea agreement. (Doc. 93 at 7.) Defendant stated that he understood the nature of the charges against him, the offenses to which he was pleading guilty, the possible maximum sentences involved, and the waiver of certain constitutional rights, including the right to a jury trial. (Doc. 93 at 7-9, 13.) He also indicated that he was not promised anything to plead guilty, that he was not threatened or forced to plead guilty, and that he was pleading guilty of his own free will. (Doc. 93 at 11-12.) The following exchange occurred between the court and defendant during the plea colloquy:

The Court: Do you understand that the terms of the plea agreement are simply recommendations to the court, and that I can reject the recommendations without permitting you to withdraw your plea of guilty and impose a sentence which is more severe than you may anticipate?

Defendant: Yes, Your Honor.

The Court: Do you understand that the total statutory maximum term of imprisonment under the United States Code for these offenses is thirty years, a fine of 1.25 million dollars, . . . a total of eight years of supervised release, and in addition to the costs of prosecution, denial of certain federal benefits, and a $200 assessment?

Defendant: Yes, Your Honor.

The Court: Have you and Mr. Thornton spoken about what sentencing guideline may apply in your case?

Defendant: Yes.

The Court: You should be advised that a prior conviction can affect your guideline sentencing range . . ...


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