United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
Barry Fischer United States District Judge.
matter is before the Court on a Motion to Vacate, Set Aside
or Correct Sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255
("Motion") filed by pro se Defendant Jan
Michael Edmonds ("Defendant"), (Docket No.
98), and Brief in Support, (Docket No. 99),
which is opposed by the Government, (Docket No.
102). After careful consideration of the parties'
arguments, and for the following reasons, the Court will
enforce the valid collateral attack waiver contained in
Defendant's plea agreement as doing so would not amount
to a miscarriage of justice and also holds, in the
alternative, that it would deny Defendant's Motion on the
merits if his claim was not otherwise barred. Accordingly,
Defendant's § 2255 Motion  is denied.
FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
federal grand jury returned a two count Indictment against
Defendant on March 21, 2012, charging him with one count of
possession of a firearm and ammunition by a convicted felon
in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1) and 924(e)
(Count One) and one count of possession of a stolen firearm
in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(j) (Count Two).
(Docket No. 1). As to Count One, the Indictment
specifically alleged that Defendant "knowingly possessed
in and affecting interstate commerce a .40 caliber Glock
pistol . . . and one extended magazine containing 21 rounds
of .40 caliber ammunition[, ] [i]n violation of Title 18,
United States Code, Sections 922(g)(1) and 924(e)."
(Id.) . At his request, Defendant was
appointed counsel under the Criminal Justice Act, i.e.,
Assistant Public Defender Marketa Sims, of the Office of the
Federal Public Defender for the Western District of
Pennsylvania. (Docket Nos. 12, 13, 16). The parties
proceeded to litigate a contested pretrial suppression motion
filed by Defendant which the Court granted, in part, and
denied, in part, in a Memorandum Opinion dated November 12,
2013. (Docket No. 52). To this end, the Court denied
Defendant's motion to suppress the firearm he was charged
with possessing in the Indictment but granted his motion to
suppress statements he made to law enforcement admitting that
he did not have a permit to carry the firearm in question.
(Id.) . Thereafter, the parties advised the
Court that they had reached a plea agreement resolving the
matter short of trial. (Docket No. 58).
subsequently appeared before this Court for a change-of-plea
proceeding on December 19, 2013 and after conducting an
extensive colloquy to confirm that Defendant was competent,
understood the Constitutional and other rights that he was
waiving by entering a guilty plea, and was knowingly and
voluntarily pleading guilty, the Court accepted his guilty
plea to Count One. (Docket No. 72). During the
proceeding, the Court was presented with a fully executed
plea agreement signed by the parties, including Defendant and
his counsel. (Id.) . The Court addressed
the terms of the plea agreement directly with Defendant, who
assented, under oath, that: he had discussed all relevant
matters pertaining to the plea agreement with his counsel;
and, he was knowingly and voluntarily accepting the terms of
the plea agreement and the waivers contained therein,
including waiving his right to appeal the judgment and
sentence to the Court of Appeals, except with respect to the
Court's suppression ruling and whether the enhancement
under the Armed Career Criminal Act ("ACCA")
applied in his case. (Id.) . The Court also
confirmed that Defendant knowingly and voluntarily agreed to
waive the right to collaterally attack his sentence by filing
a motion to vacate with this Court. (Id.).
of the presentence process, Defendant objected to the
Probation Office's conclusion that the sentencing
enhancement under ACCA was applicable and that he was subject
to the corresponding mandatory minimum penalty of 15 years
and up to a term of life imprisonment. (Docket No.
70). The Court overruled his objections to same for
reasons set forth fully in its Tentative Findings and Rulings
of April 7, 2014. (Docket No. 77). The Court's
rationale included that because Defendant had 6 prior
convictions under Pennsylvania law for possession with intent
to distribute, the Court was bound by the Court of
Appeals' precedential decision in United States v.
Abbott, 748 F.3d 154 (3d Cir. 2014), holding that the
Pennsylvania offense of possession with intent to distribute
is "divisible" and that the "modified
categorical approach" must be applied to determine if a
prior conviction for possession with intent to distribute
constitutes a predicate offense under the ACCA.
(Id.) . Following this precedent, the Court
agreed with the Probation Office that the ACCA enhancement
was appropriately applied in Defendant's case and because
of the mandatory minimum penalty, Defendant's advisory
guidelines range was 180 to 210 months'
incarceration. (Id.) . At the
sentencing hearing on April 23, 2014, Defendant was sentenced
to 180 months' incarceration; 5 years' supervised
release; and a $100.00 special assessment. (Docket No.
81). Hence, Defendant received the mandatory minimum
penalty for this offense.
the assistance of appellate counsel from the Federal Public
Defender's Office, Defendant appealed his conviction and
sentence, raising the issues that he had expressly preserved
in his plea agreement. See United States v. Edmonds,
606 F.App'x 656 (3d Cir. 2015). This Court's judgment
and sentence was affirmed by the Court of Appeals in a
Memorandum Opinion dated April 15, 2015. Id.
Defendant petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of
certiorari, but such petition was denied on October 5, 2015.
See Edmonds v. United States, 136 S.Ct. 213 (2015).
filed his pro se Motion and supporting Brief on
September 28, 2016. (Docket Nos. 98; 99). The Court issued an
Order on September 29, 2016 advising Defendant of his right
to elect if the Court should resolve the pending motion or if
he wished to file an all-inclusive § 2255 motion within
30 days. (Docket No. 100). Defendant did not respond
to same and the Court ordered the Government to file its
Response in Opposition, which was filed on December 5, 2016.
(Docket No. 102). No further briefing has been
ordered by the Court nor requested by the parties. The
official transcripts of the December 19, 2013 change-of-plea
hearing and April 23, 2014 sentencing hearing are filed of
record and were considered by the Court. (Docket Nos. 72;
87). Hence, this matter is now ripe for review.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
prisoner in federal custody may move to vacate his or her
sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a) if such
"sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution
or laws of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a).
"A prisoner seeking relief on the grounds of ineffective
assistance of counsel bears the burden to demonstrate two
requirements, " United States v. Seeley, 574
F.App'x 75, 78 (3d Cir. 2014), which were initially set
forth by the Supreme Court of the United States in
Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984). In
order to prevail on a claim of ineffective assistance of
counsel under Strickland, a defendant "must
establish that (1) the performance of counsel fell below an
objective standard of reasonableness; and, (2) counsel's
deficient performance prejudiced the defense."
United States v. Otero, 502 F.3d 331, 334 (3d Cir.
2007) (citing Strickland, 466 U.S. at 688, 694);
see also Roe v. Flores-Ortega, 528 U.S. 470, 476-477
(2000) (citing Strickland, 466 U.S. at 688, 694)
(same). The United States Court of Appeals for the Third
Circuit has "endorsed the practical suggestion in
Strickland [that the Court may] consider the
prejudice prong before examining the performance of counsel
prong 'because this course of action is less burdensome
to defense counsel.'" United States v.
Lilly, 536 F.3d 190, 196 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting
United States v. Booth, 432 F.3d 542, 546 (3d Cir.
2005), which quoted United States v. McCoy, 410 F.3d
124, 132 n. 6 (3d Cir. 2005)); see also Strickland,
466 U.S. at 697 ("If it is easier to dispose of an
ineffectiveness claim on the ground of lack of sufficient
prejudice, which we expect will often be so, that course
should be followed.").
a district court must order an evidentiary hearing in a
federal habeas case if a criminal defendant's § 2255
allegations raise an issue of material fact. United
States v. Biberfeld, 957 F.2d 98, 102 (3d Cir. 1992).
But, if there is "no legally cognizable claim or the
factual matters raised by the motion may be susceptible of
resolution through the district judge's review of the
motion and records in the case, " the motion may be
decided without a hearing. United States v.
Costanzo, 625 F.2d 465, 470 (3d Cir. 1980); see also
Lilly, 536 F.3d at 195. If a hearing is not held, the
district judge must accept the criminal defendant's
allegations as true "unless they are clearly frivolous
on the basis of the existing record." Gov't of
Virgin Islands v. Bradshaw, 726 F.2d 115, 117 (3d Cir.
1984). Similarly, "vague and conclusory allegations
contained in a § 2255 petition may be disposed of
without further investigation." United States v.
Knight, 2009 WL 275596, at *13 (W.D. Pa. 2009) (quoting
United States v. Thomas, 221 F.3d 430, 437 (3d Cir.
Court initially turns to the threshold issue raised by the
Government which advocates that the Court should enforce the
collateral attack waiver in the parties' plea agreement
and deny Defendant's § 2255 Motion. (Docket No.
102). It is well-settled that "[c]riminal
defendants may waive both constitutional and statutory
rights, provided they do so voluntarily and with knowledge of
the nature and consequences of the waiver." United
States v. Mabry, 536 F.3d 231, 236 (3d Cir. 2008)
(citations omitted). The United States Court of Appeals for
the Third Circuit has repeatedly held that a criminal
defendant may effectively waive the right to file a motion to
vacate, set aside or correct sentence under 28 U.S.C. §
2255 in a plea agreement with the government. Mabry,
536F.3dat241; see also United States v. Khattak, 273
F.3d 557, 561 (3d Cir. 2001) ("The ability to waive
statutory rights . . . logically flows from the ability to
waive constitutional rights."); United States v.
Fazio, 795 F.3d 421, 425 (3d Cir. 2015) ("we will
enforce appellate or collateral-attack waivers when they are
entered into knowingly and voluntarily and their enforcement
does not work a miscarriage of justice."). If the waiver
is effective, a criminal defendant is jurisdictionally barred
from pursuing habeas relief. Mabry, 536 F.3d at 242.
reaching this decision, the district court must examine
"the (1) knowing and voluntary nature, based on what
occurred and what defendant contends, and (2) whether
enforcement would work a miscarriage of justice."
Id. at 237. A criminal defendant has the initial
burden "of presenting an argument that would render his
waiver unknowing or involuntary" but the district court
has "an affirmative duty both to examine the knowing and
voluntary nature of the waiver and to assure itself that its
enforcement works no miscarriage of justice, based on the
record evidence before it." Id. at 237-38
(citing Khattak, 273 F.3d at 563).
Knowing and Voluntary Nature ...