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United States v. Cormier

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

May 24, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
ROBERT CORMIER Defendant

          MEMORANDUM

          Christopher C. Conner, Chief Judge

         Defendant Robert Cormier ("Cormier") moves the court to withdraw his guilty plea pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(d)(2). See Fed. R. Crim. P. 11(d)(2). Cormier claims that prior counsel provided ineffective assistance concerning his exposure to an enhanced sentence under the Armed Career Criminal Act, 18 U.S.C. § 924(e). The court will deny Cormier's motion.

         I. Factual Background & Procedural History

         On October 22, 2015, a federal grand jury returned an indictment charging Cormier with one count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g) and 924(e), to wit: a 9mm Taurus handgun bearing serial number TJF41340. (Doc. 1). The indictment also includes a criminal forfeiture allegation pursuant to 18 U.S.C. §§ 983(a) and 924(d). (Id.) Cormier appeared before a magistrate judge on October 29, 2015 and entered a plea of not guilty. (Doc. 10). The court appointed assistant federal public defender D. Toni Byrd, Esquire ("Attorney Byrd"), as counsel. (Doc. 9).

         Cormier appeared before the court and pled guilty to Count I without a written plea agreement on March 18, 2016. (See Doc. 26). The court conducted an extensive colloquy with Cormier to assess the knowingness and voluntariness of his plea. (See Doc. 64 at 4:22-12:11). Cormier was fully alert and aware of the nature and purpose of the hearing. (Id. at 3:15-4:21). He expressed both an understanding of his constitutional right to a jury trial and a clear desire to waive that right. (Id. at 4:22-6:3). Cormier affirmed that his plea was not actuated or informed by threat, force, or other undue influence, and that he was pleading guilty of his own free will. (Id. at 6:16-7:2).

         The court asked Cormier whether he had reviewed the indictment, the consequences of a guilty plea, and potential defenses to Count I with Attorney Byrd. (Id. at 6:4-6, 6:8-10). Cormier responded that he had. (Id. at 6:7, 6:11). The court also asked whether Cormier felt that he "had enough time to speak with [Attorney] Byrd" about his rights and options. (Id. at 6:12-14). Cormier replied, "Yes." (Id. at 6:15).

         The court and the parties thoroughly explored Cormier's sentencing exposure in the following exchange:

The Court: Mr. Mac Arthur, at this time would you kindly place on the record the maximum term of imprisonment under the United States Code for this offense, the fine, maximum term of supervised release, and the details of this conviction if the court accepts the defendant's guilty plea?
Mr. MacArthur: Yes, Your Honor.
(Brief pause.)
Mr. MacArthur: Your Honor, the defendant is charged with a violation of 18 United States Code 922(g). The maximum penalty for this is ten years imprison[ment], a $250, 000 fine, three years of supervised release, and a $100 special assessment.
The Court: All right.
Mr. MacArthur: Your Honor, the government also believes that the defendant will be subject to the penalties of the Armed Career Criminal Act at [18 U.S.C. §] 924(e). This is noted in the indictment. The mandatory minimum under the Armed Career Criminal Act is fifteen years imprisonment, a maximum of life, $250, 000 fine, five years supervised release, and a $100 special assessment.
The Court: All right. So it's really the latter that's determinative in this case if the Armed Career Criminal Act applies.
Mr. MacArthur: Yes. I expect it will be disputed by the defense.
Ms. Byrd: We will.

(Id. at 7:16-8:15). Given the disputed applicability of the Armed Career Criminal Act ("ACCA"), 18 U.S.C. § 924(e), the court twice confirmed Cormier's understanding of ACCA's impact. First, the court asked: "But nevertheless do you understand that those are the penalties that you're facing?" (Doc. 64 at 8:17-18). Cormier answered, "Yes." (Id. at 8:19). In an abundance of caution, the court further queried Cormier on the subject:

The Court: All right. So we're talking about a mandatory minimum term of fifteen years. You understand that if your attorney's arguments are not successful you're certainly at least potentially facing a minimum term of fifteen years?
The Defendant: Yes.
The Court: And a maximum term of life?
The Defendant: Yes.

(Id. at 8:20-9:1).

         The court reviewed sentencing procedure with Cormier as well. (See id. at 9:9-11:19). The court advised that it must consider the United States Sentencing Guidelines in setting an appropriate sentence and that prior convictions may affect the Guidelines sentencing range. (Id. at 9:9-12, 9:23-25). Cormier indicated that he understood the process and had spoken with Attorney Byrd about the Guidelines that may apply in his case. (Id. at 9:9-10:20). Throughout this discourse, the court emphasized to Cormier that his dissatisfaction with the Guidelines range or the sentence ultimately imposed would not be a basis to withdraw his guilty plea. (See id. at 10:5-11:10). The court also cautioned Cormier that an erroneous estimation of the Guidelines range by counsel is not a basis for withdrawal:

The Court: If [Attorney] Byrd or any else has estimated your guideline sentencing range at this time and I determine after I look at the presentence report that the guideline is different from what has been estimated to you, you ...

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