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United States v. Pridgen

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

October 25, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
ISAIAH PRIDGEN, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Nora Barry Fischer Senior U.S. District Judge

         I. INTRODUCTION

         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 Isaiah Pridgen, (“Defendant”), (Docket Nos. 61), his Judicial Notice/Brief in Support, (Docket No. 65), the Government's Response, (Docket No. 71), Defendant's Objections/Reply Brief, (Docket No. 73), and the Government's Sur-Reply, (Docket No. 75). Defendant maintains that his counsel was ineffective by not filing a notice of appeal on his behalf and that he is entitled to an order reinstating his appeal rights pursuant to Garza v. Idaho, 139 S.Ct. 738 (2019). (Docket Nos. 61; 65). He further complains that his sentence should have been lower because his counsel should have argued for dismissal of the § 924(c) charge to which he pled guilty and argued for a probationary sentence; for a reduced sentence in light of Dean v. Thomas, 137 S.Ct. 1170 (2017); and for a shorter term of supervised release. (Id.). The Government counters that Defendant's arguments are without merit as he knowingly and voluntarily pled guilty to the two-count indictment and was sentenced to 63 months' incarceration and 5 years' supervised release pursuant to a Rule 11(c)(1)(C) plea agreement with the Government containing an appellate waiver. (Docket Nos.71; 75). The Government further argues that Defendant has failed to sufficiently allege that his counsel was ineffective for not filing a notice of appeal and has not presented any evidence substantiating such a claim. (Id.). After careful consideration of the parties' submissions and for the following reasons, Defendant's Motion [61] is denied.

         II. BACKGROUND

         On June 4, 2018, Defendant pled guilty to Counts 1 and 2 of the Indictment at Criminal Number 17-291, i.e., one count of possession with intent to distribute a quantity of heroin, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), and 841(b)(1)(C), and one count of possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A)(i). (Docket Nos. 39; 41; 69). As is the Court's practice, it conducted an extensive colloquy with Defendant to confirm that he was competent, understood the Constitutional and other rights that he was waiving by entering guilty pleas, and that he was knowingly and voluntarily pleading guilty. (Docket No. 69). He expressly agreed to the prosecution's summary of his offense conduct, i.e., on November 19, 2016 he was a passenger in a car pulled over by police in McKeesport, fled on foot after pushing an officer away, reached for a .45 caliber firearm from his waistband which he discarded during the chase, and after being apprehended, was in possession of 100 stamp bags of heroin marked “Shooter.” (Id. at 39-42). He also admitted that he knowingly possessed the firearm to protect himself and the heroin he possessed with intent to distribute. (Id. at 41-42).

         During the colloquy, the Court addressed the terms of the plea agreement directly with Defendant, who assented, under oath, that he executed the plea agreement and agreed to all of the following:

         • He would plead guilty to Counts 1 and 2; • He waived his right to appeal except for the limited circumstances noted in the plea agreement; • the amount of heroin attributable to him resulting from his commission of the drug offense was less than 10 grams; • the potential penalties included: a term of imprisonment of not more than 20 years and a term of supervised release of at least three years at Count 1; and, a mandatory consecutive term of imprisonment of not less than 5 years and up to life and a term of supervised release of 5 years at Count 2; and, • the parties “stipulate and agree that the appropriate sentence in this case is a term of imprisonment of 3 months at Count One and 60 months at Count Two, to run consecutively, for a total term of imprisonment of 63 months; a fine, if any, in an amount to be determined by the Court; a term of supervised release of five (5) years; and a special assessment of $200.”

         (Docket No. 69 at 27-30; see also Plea Letter dated 5/9/18 at §§ A.1; A.8; C.1; C.2; C.3). Defendant twice asserted under oath that he was satisfied with the advice and representation of his counsel. (Docket No. 69 at 10, 45). Defendant assured the Court that he still desired to plead guilty, entered guilty pleas to Counts 1 and 2, which the Court accepted after commenting that Defendant knew and understood his trial rights and what he was waiving; the potential penalties in his case; and that he was voluntarily pleading guilty. (Id. at 46).

         At the sentencing hearing on November 2, 2018, no objections were lodged to the Presentence Investigation Report or the Court's Tentative Findings and Rulings and both parties advocated that the Court should accept their Rule 11(c)(1)(C) plea agreement, with defense counsel making arguments consistent with the Sentencing Memorandum filed on Defendant's behalf. (See Docket No. 70). Defendant briefly allocuted during which he apologized to his family and children and thanked the Court for its leniency and the second chance to better himself as a man and father. (Id. at 18). After careful consideration of the § 3553(a) factors, and for reasons detailed on the record, the Court held that Defendant knowingly and voluntarily pled guilty to Counts 1 and 2; accepted the parties' plea agreement; and imposed their agreed-upon sentence of 63 months' incarceration; 5 years' supervised release; and a $200 special assessment. (Id. at 26-41). A fine was waived given Defendant's inability to pay. (Id.). The Court also ordered that Defendant forfeit any interest in the .45 caliber firearm used in the commission of the offenses. (Id.). The Court found that the sentence was sufficient, but not greater than necessary to meet all of the goals of sentencing in Defendant's case and provided further factual support for the sentence with reference to the relevant § 3553(a) factors. (Id. at 41). Finally, the Court informed Defendant of his appeal rights, as follows:

Mr. Pridgen, let me tell you about appeal rights. You can appeal your conviction if you believe your guilty plea was somehow unlawful or involuntary or if there's some other fundamental defect in the proceedings that you didn't waive by your guilty plea. But you have waived some or all of your rights to appeal this sentence itself. Generally, those waivers are enforceable in our courts. Once again, if you believe that that's not the case, you can try to present that to our appellate courts and Mr. Lenhardt and his team will respond.
You also have the right to apply for leave to appeal in forma pauperis, meaning you don't have enough money. The Clerk of our court prepares your notice of appeal, doesn't charge you for it; and to that end, any notice of appeal has to be done in 14 days. So to that end, today's the second, it would be by the 16th.

(Docket No. 70 at 44-45). Defendant was expressly told by the Court that he must file a notice of appeal within 14 days of sentencing or by November 16, 2018. (Id.).

         Defendant did not appeal his convictions or sentence to the Court of Appeals. (Seegenerally Docket Report 17-291). The Court received Defendant's § 2255 Motion on February 8, 2019. (Docket No. 61). The Court advised Defendant of his rights under United States v. Miller, 197 F.3d 644 (3d Cir. 1999) and he elected to file an amendment or supplement to his ยง 2255 motion, which he did on June 11, 2019, several weeks prior to the deadline established by the Court. (Docket Nos. 62-65). The transcripts of the change-of-plea and sentencing proceedings were filed of record on July 16, 2019 and July 23, 2019, respectively. (Docket Nos. 69-70). The Government countered with its Response on August 9, 2019. (Docket No. 71). At the direction of the Court, Defendant filed his Objections/Reply on September 6, 2019. ...


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