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United States v. Kofalt

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

June 8, 2018




         I. Introduction

         This matter is before the Court on a Motion to Vacate, Set Aside or Correct Sentence Under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (“§ 2255 Motion”) filed by pro se Defendant Patrick Joseph Kofalt (“Defendant”). (Docket No. 131). Defendant claims that his trial counsel was ineffective and seeks to vacate his sentence of 235 months' incarceration for receipt of material depicting the sexual exploitation of a minor in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2252(a)(2). (Docket Nos. 131, 132). The Government filed a Motion to Enforce Collateral Rights Waiver, arguing that Defendant's § 2255 Motion should be dismissed because he waived his right to file a motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 in a plea agreement with the Government. (Docket No. 143).

         For the following reasons, the Court will enforce the valid waiver contained in Defendant's plea agreement. Accordingly, the Government's motion will be granted and Defendant's § 2255 Motion will be dismissed.

         II. Factual Background and Procedural History

         On July 12, 2011, Defendant was charged in a two-count indictment with the following: receipt of material depicting the sexual exploitation of a minor, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2252(a)(2) (Count One); and possession/access with intent to view material depicting the sexual exploitation of a minor, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2252(a)(4)(B) (Count Two). (Docket No. 1).

         On July 3, 2012, Defendant filed a motion to suppress child pornography found on computers that were seized upon execution of a search warrant at his residence on December 2, 2009. (Docket No. 37). On November 2, 2012, the Court issued an opinion and order denying the motion to suppress. (Docket Nos. 47, 48).

         On December 14, 2012, Defendant pled guilty to Count One of the indictment pursuant to a plea agreement with the Government. (Docket Nos. 54, 55, 86). As relevant here, Defendant agreed to waive his right to take a direct appeal of his conviction or sentence, except under limited circumstances specified in the plea agreement. (Docket No. 86 at 19-20, 25-26). Defendant also agreed to waive his right to collaterally attack his conviction or sentence. (Id. at 20, 27). Following an extensive colloquy by the Court to determine Defendant's competency and understanding of the plea agreement, the Court accepted Defendant's change of plea and entered a judgment of guilty as to Count One of the indictment. (Docket Nos. 54, 55, 86).

         On July 9, 2013, the Court conducted a sentencing hearing. (Docket No. 79, 85). The Court noted that Defendant's total offense level was 35 and his criminal history category was II, which produced an advisory guideline sentencing range of 188 to 235 months' incarceration. (Docket No. 85 at 11). After considering the factors set forth in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a), the Court sentenced Defendant to 235 months' incarceration. (Id. at 56-64).

         Consistent with the terms of the plea agreement, Defendant filed a direct appeal limited to his motion to suppress evidence. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed this Court's denial of Defendant's suppression motion for the reasons explained by the Court in its Memorandum Opinion. United States v. Kofalt, 668 Fed.Appx. 426, 427 (3d Cir. 2016).

         On February 5, 2018, Defendant filed his pro se § 2255 Motion. (Docket No. 131). The Court entered its standard order pursuant to United States v. Miller, 197 F.3d 644 (3d Cir. 1999), advising Defendant that all federal constitutional claims had to be included in a single habeas corpus petition and of his right to: (1) withdraw the pending motion and file one new, all-inclusive § 2255 motion setting forth every ground which may entitle him to relief from his conviction and sentence, provided that such motion is timely; (2) amend the § 2255 motion presently on file to include any additional claims or materials he wished to raise; or (3) choose to proceed with the motion as filed. (Docket No. 133). Defendant indicated that he wished to proceed with his motion as filed. (Docket No. 135).

         On April 16, 2018, the Government filed a motion to enforce the collateral rights waiver and dismiss Defendant's § 2255 Motion. (Docket No. 143). Defendant filed a brief in opposition to the Government's motion on April 27, 2018. (Docket No. 145). The official transcripts of the December 14, 2012, change of plea hearing and the July 9, 2013, sentencing hearing were filed and considered by the Court. (Docket Nos. 85, 86). This matter is now ripe for review.

         III. Standard of Review

         A prisoner in federal custody may move to vacate his 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 Fed.Appx. 75, 78 (3d Cir. 2014), which were initially set forth by the United States Supreme Court 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, 476-77 (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)); 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 alsoLilly, 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 ...

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