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United States v. Edmonds

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

January 18, 2017

JAN MICHAEL EDMONDS, Defendant. Crim. No. 12-70


          Nora Barry Fischer United States District Judge.


         This 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 [98] is denied.


         A 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).

         Defendant 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.).

         As part 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.[1] (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.

         With 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).

         Defendant 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.


         A 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.").

         Generally, 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. 2000)).


         The 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.

         In 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).

         A. Knowing and Voluntary Nature ...

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