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United States v. Barfield

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

February 28, 2017

DIRK BARFIELD, JR., Defendant. Criminal No. 09-93




         This matter is before the Court on an amended motion to vacate, set aside, or correct sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 filed by Defendant Dirk Barfield, Jr., which is opposed by the Government. (Docket Nos. 66; 74; 80; 84). Defendant argues that his sentence of 151 months' incarceration must be vacated in light of Johnson v. United States, 576 U.S., 135 S.Ct. 2551, 2556-57 (2015), which held that the “residual clause” of the Armed Career Criminal Act (“ACCA”), 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2)(B)(ii), is void for vagueness and subsequent precedent applying Johnson to the residual clause in the career offender guideline, U.S.S.G. § 4B1.2(a)(2). (Docket Nos. 66; 80). In opposition, the Government maintains that Defendant was correctly deemed a career offender at the time of his initial sentencing and that he remains a career offender based on his prior convictions of possession within intent to deliver a controlled substance (cocaine) and aggravated assault, both of which qualify as predicate offenses without reliance upon the challenged residual clause. (Docket No. 74). The motion has been fully briefed and the state court records from the Court of Common Pleas of Washington County were procured by the Government and made part of the record before this Court. (SeeDocket No. 84). After careful consideration of the parties' positions and for the following reasons, Defendant's Amended Motion [66] is denied, and no certificate of appealability shall issue.


         By way of background, on May 19, 2009, Defendant pled guilty pursuant to a plea agreement to one count of possession with intent to distribute and distribution of five (5) grams or more of a mixture and substance containing a detectable amount of cocaine base, commonly known as crack, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(B)(iii), for conduct occurring on or about August 21, 2008. (Docket Nos. 20; 21; 22; 50). As part of their plea agreement, among other things, the parties stipulated that Defendant was responsible for distribution of between 5 and 20 grams of crack cocaine; the United States agreed not to file an 851 information stating a prior conviction as a basis of increased punishment; and Defendant agreed not to seek a sentence below 120 months' (or 10 years') incarceration. (Docket No. 21 at ¶¶ B.3; C.2). The plea agreement did not address the potential for a career offender designation; however, at the change of plea hearing, Government counsel advised that Defendant was likely a career offender to which defense counsel concurred. (Docket No. 50 at 16-7, 27-8). The prosecutor also described the basis for the potential 851 Information that was withheld, i.e., a prior felony drug trafficking conviction. (Id. at 16-17).

         On November 18, 2009, Defendant was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of 151 months, followed by a 5-year term of supervised release. (Docket No. 34). He was deemed a career offender under U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1, based on prior state court convictions for recklessly endangering another person, simple assault, and aggravated assault. (Docket Nos. 27 at ¶ I.6; 51 at 3). Defendant did not object to the career offender designation at the time. (See, e.g., Docket Nos. 25; 30; 51). Rather, Defendant moved for a variance from the advisory guidelines range of 188-235 months' incarceration. (Id.). The Court granted the variance motion, in part, reducing the applicable guidelines range to 151-188 months' incarceration based on the disparities between crack and powder cocaine, and imposed a sentence of 151 months, at the low end of that range. (Docket Nos. 31; 34; 35; 51).

         In post-sentencing proceedings, Defendant sought a sentence reduction under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c) based on the 2011 retroactive amendments to the crack cocaine guidelines. (Docket No. 38). The Court denied Defendant's motion, finding that he was ineligible for the sentence reduction under binding Third Circuit precedent and that he had otherwise been afforded the relief provided under the retroactive amendments by virtue of the Court's having granted the variance at the sentencing hearing. (Docket No. 45). On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed this Court's decision. See United States v. Barfield, 543 F. App'x 288 (3d Cir. 2013).

         Defendant initially filed a pro se § 2255 motion and brief in support on October 8, 2015 seeking resentencing in light of Johnson. (Docket Nos. 56; 57). Thereafter, the Federal Public Defender entered an appearance on his behalf and moved for a stay of proceedings, which the Court granted, terminating the pro se motion, without prejudice. (Docket Nos. 59; 60; 61).

         Through counsel, Defendant filed his Amended Motion to Vacate on July 6, 2016. (Docket No. 66). The Government initially sought a stay of proceedings pending the disposition of Beckles v. United States, No. 15-8544 (cert. granted June 27, 2016), by the Supreme Court of the United States. (Docket No. 70). After reviewing Defendant's opposition, the Court denied the motion to stay and directed the Government to file its response. (Docket No. 73). As ordered, the Government filed its response on November 8, 2016, attaching online docket sheets from the Administrative Office Pennsylvania Courts (“AOPC”) as proof of Defendant's prior controlled substance offense and aggravated assault and notifying the Court that it was attempting to obtain the certified conviction records from the Court of Common Pleas of Washington County. (Docket No. 74). Defendant submitted a reply brief on December 1, 2016, arguing that the uncertified docket reports were not sufficient to prove the predicate offenses and maintaining his position that he no longer qualified as a career offender without the application of the now-unconstitutional residual clause. (Docket No. 80). Upon review of the parties' papers, the Court issued an order on February 14, 2017 directing the Government to submit a Status Report by February 21, 2017, advising as to the status of the state court conviction records. (Docket No. 83). On the Court's deadline, the Government filed its Status Report, along with the conviction records, including:

• certified copies of the charging document, sentence order and transcript of the plea and sentence hearing as to the aggravated assault conviction at Criminal Action No. 2006-02374; and,
• certified copies of the charging document and sentence order regarding the possession with intent to deliver crack cocaine conviction at Criminal Action No. 2005-01866.

(Docket No. 84). The parties have not sought leave of court to make any further submissions and the Court considers Defendant's Amended Motion to be fully briefed and ripe for disposition.


         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 motion under § 2255 is a collateral challenge that is viewed less favorably than a direct appeal and “relief under § 2255 is available only when ‘the claimed error of law was a fundamental defect which inherently results in a complete miscarriage of justice, and ... present[s] exceptional circumstances where the need for the remedy afforded by the writ ... is apparent.'” United States v. Travillion,759 F.3d 281, 288 (3d Cir. 2014) (quoting Davis v.United States, 417 U.S. 333, 346, 94 S.Ct. 2298, 41 L.Ed.2d 109 (1974)) (further quotations omitted). 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 alsoUnited States v. Lilly, 536 F.3d 190, 195 (3d Cir. 2008). If a hearing is not held, the district judge must accept the criminal defendant's allegations as true “unless they are clearly ...

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