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Saunders v. United States

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

May 31, 2017

DEVLON SAUNDERS, Petitioner
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent

          MEMORANDUM

          Yvette Kane, District Judge United States District Court

         Before the Court is Petitioner Devlon Saunders' (“Petitioner” or “Saunders”), motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. (Doc. No. 295.) For the reasons that follow, the Court will deny Petitioner's motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On March 3, 2010, a grand jury returned a three-count indictment charging Saunders and three co-defendants with: conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute 50 grams and more of cocaine base and marijuana, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846 (Count 1); distribution and possession with intent to distribute 50 grams and more of cocaine base, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) (Count 2); and use of a communication facility committing a drug trafficking crime, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 843(b) (Count 3). (Doc. No. 1.)

         Saunders pled guilty to Count 1 of the indictment pursuant to a written plea agreement on July 14, 2010. (Doc. Nos. 116, 125.) As part of his plea agreement, Saunders waived his right to appeal any conviction and sentence on any grounds set forth in 18 U.S.C. § 3742, or any other grounds. (Doc. No. 116.) He also waived his right to challenge any conviction and sentence in any collateral proceeding, including pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. (Id.)

         The Court sentenced Saunders on March 3, 2011 to 180 months' imprisonment, a three-year term of supervised release, a $1, 000 fine and a $100 special assessment. (Doc. No. 240.) However, despite the waiver contained in his plea agreement, Saunders filed a notice of appeal on March 8, 2011. (Doc. No. 244.) The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit (“Third Circuit”) affirmed Saunders' conviction in an opinion filed January 30, 2012. (Doc. No. 272.) The mandate issued on February 21, 2012. (Doc. No. 273.)[1]

         On June 24, 2016, Saunders filed the instant motion to vacate under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, alleging a potential entitlement to relief under Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2251 (2015), which invalidated the residual clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act (“ACCA”), and its definition of a “violent felony.” (Doc. No. 295.) Pursuant to Standing Order 15-6 of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania regarding Appointment of Counsel in Proceedings Relating to the Application of Johnson v. United States, Attorney Melinda Ghilardi of the Federal Public Defender's Office was appointed to represent Saunders. (Doc. No. 296.) After reviewing Saunders' motion, on July 15, 2016, Attorney Ghilardi filed a motion to withdraw as counsel on the basis that Johnson's holding, invalidating the residual clause of the ACCA and its definition of a “violent felony, ” is inapplicable to Saunders' case, as he was not sentenced as a career offender. (Doc. No. 297 at 2.) The Court granted the motion by Order dated July 19, 2016. (Doc. No. 298.)

         On September 13, 2016, Saunders filed a brief in support of his Section 2255 motion (Doc. No. 300), and the Government filed its brief in opposition to Saunders' motion on October 17, 2016 (Doc. No. 303).[2] Accordingly, Petitioner's Section 2255 motion is now ripe for disposition.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a), a federal prisoner may file a motion requesting that the sentencing court vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence on the basis “that the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States, or that the court was without jurisdiction to impose such sentence, or that the sentence was in excess of the maximum authorized by law, or is otherwise subject to collateral attack.” 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a). However, Section 2255 does not afford a remedy for all errors that may have been made at trial or during sentencing. United States v. Essig, 10 F.3d 968, 977 n. 25 (3d Cir. 1993) (citing United States v. Addonizio, 442 U.S. 178, 185 (1979)). Rather, Section 2255 is implicated only when the alleged error raises “a fundamental defect which inherently results in a complete miscarriage of justice.” Addonizio, 442 U.S. at 185. Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (“AEDPA”), a petitioner has one year from the time his conviction becomes final to file a Section 2255 motion. 28 U.S.C. § 2244.

         III. DISCUSSION

         In opposing the motion filed by Saunders, the Government makes the following two arguments: (1) the motion should be denied, as Saunders expressly waived his right to file a collateral attack of his sentence in his written plea agreement and under oath at his guilty plea proceedings; and (2) the motion should be denied as untimely. The Court declines to address the validity of the appellate and collateral review waiver signed by Petitioner, as it finds that, as detailed below, even assuming that Petitioner did not waive his right to bring the instant Section 2255 motion, the motion is untimely.

         As noted above, 28 U.S.C. § 2255 provides a one-year period to file an initial motion to vacate that runs from “the date on which the judgment of conviction becomes final.” United States v. Davies, 394 F.3d 182, 186 n. 2 (3d Cir. 2005). “[A] ‘judgment of conviction becomes final' within the meaning of § 2255 on the later of (1) the date on which the Supreme Court affirms the conviction and sentence on the merits or denies the defendant's timely filed petition for certiorari, or (2) the date on which the defendant's time for filing a timely petition for certiorari review expires.” Kapral v. United States, 166 F.3d 565, 577 (3d Cir. 1999).

         In this case, as Petitioner declined to file a petition for certiorari review with the Supreme Court, Petitioner's judgment of conviction became final 90 days after the issuance of the Third Circuit's mandate, which is the time period for filing a timely petition for certiorari review. See Rule 13(1) of the Rules of the Supreme Court (“[A] petition for a writ of certiorari to review a judgment in any case, civil or criminal, entered by a state court of last resort or a United States court of appeals . . . is timely when it is filed with the Clerk of this Court within 90 days after entry of judgment.”). Accordingly, as the Third Circuit's mandate issued on February 21, 2012, Petitioner's conviction became final on May ...


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