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United States v. Walker

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

May 17, 2019

United States of America, Respondent-Plaintiff,
v.
Raymond K. Walker, Petitioner-Defendant.

          Raymond K. Walker, Petitioner-Defendant, Pro Se.

          Bradley M. Endicott and Deidre Y. Aanstad, Assistant United States Attorneys, United States Attorney's Office, counsel for the Government.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          DONOVAN W. FRANK UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         INTRODUCTION

         This matter is before the Court on Petitioner-Defendant Raymond K. Walker's (“Petitioner-Defendant”) pro se motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to vacate or set aside his sentence and conviction (Doc. No. 139), pro se motion for summary judgment (Doc. No. 157), and his self-styled pro se “motion to correct misapprehension of facts” within his initial § 2255 motion (Doc. No. 171). The United States of America (the “Government”) opposes Petitioner-Defendant's motions. (Doc. Nos. 160, 168, 173.)

         Specifically, Petitioner-Defendant alleges that due to the ineffective assistance of his counsel during both the pretrial and sentencing phases of proceedings in his criminal matter, his guilty plea was not knowing and voluntary and the sentence imposed by this Court was excessive. Petitioner-Defendant first requests that his guilty plea be vacated, then requests that his case be remanded for resentencing. The Government opposes any order to disturb the judgment entered on the grounds that Petitioner-Defendant knowingly and voluntarily pled guilty, received adequate representation throughout the proceedings, and was sentenced in consideration of accurate information. The Government further argues that no evidentiary hearing is warranted because the record conclusively supports the judgment as entered.

         For the reasons set forth below, the Court denies Petitioner-Defendant's motions.

         BACKGROUND

         Pursuant to a written plea agreement (Doc. No. 78-1 (“Plea Agreement”)), on June 21, 2016, Petitioner-Defendant entered a plea of guilty to Count 1 of a five-count indictment (Doc. No. 1). Count 1 charged Petitioner-Defendant with Conspiracy to Distribute Heroin, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 846. A Presentence Investigation Report (“PSR”) was ordered at the change of plea hearing (see Doc. No. 150 (“Plea Hearing”) at 26), and each party filed a sentencing memorandum (Doc. Nos. 129, 130). The PSR included calculations under the United States Sentencing Guidelines (the “Guidelines”) totaling an adjusted offense level of 32 and a criminal history category (“CHC”) of VI, which resulted in an advisory guidelines range of 210 to 262 months' imprisonment. (Doc. No. 114 (“PSR”) ¶¶ 27, 72, 129.) Neither Petitioner- Defendant nor the Government objected to or proposed any amendments to the PSR. (Id. at 34.)

         Petitioner-Defendant was sentenced on February 21, 2017. At sentencing, this Court adopted the PSR with one change: a three-level reduction for acceptance of responsibility was applied. (Doc. No. 133 (“Statement of Reasons”) Sec. I.) The Court departed below the guidelines range and granted a variance, sentencing Petitioner-Defendant to 132 months imprisonment to be followed by 5 years of supervised release (Statement of Reasons Secs. IV-VI; Doc. No. 132). Counts 2 through 5 of the indictment were dismissed on the motion of the Government. (Doc. No. 132.)

         Petitioner-Defendant did not file an appeal of his conviction or sentence. He timely filed this § 2255 motion and supporting memorandum of law on February 20, 2018 (Doc. Nos. 139, 140) which the Government opposed (Doc. No. 168).

         Before filing its response, the Government requested an order from this Court confirming that Petitioner-Defendant waived the attorney-client privilege with respect to his allegations of ineffective assistance of counsel. (Doc. No. 145.) This request was granted and Petitioner-Defendant's former attorney, Murad Mohammad (“Attorney Mohammad”) was granted leave to file an affidavit in defense of the claims made by Petitioner-Defendant about his performance. (Doc. No. 146.) Attorney Mohammad did not file an affidavit, contributing to delays in the Government's response. (See Doc. Nos. 144, 151, 155.) Finally, this Court ordered Attorney Mohammad to contact the Government regarding this matter. (Doc. No. 156.) Copies of the order mailed to Attorney Mohammad were returned as undeliverable after two separate attempts. (See Docket entry dated August 27, 2018; Doc. No. 161.) Attorney Mohammad has failed to respond to Petitioner-Defendant's motion.

         Petitioner-Defendant filed a pro se motion for summary judgment on the grounds that the Government failed to respond to his initial motion. (Doc. No. 157.) This Court ordered the Government to respond by September 4, 2018 (Doc. No. 159), and on September 4, 2018 the Government filed its response (Doc. No. 160). Petitioner-Defendant additionally filed a reply to the Government's response reiterating his original allegations (Doc. No. 171), to which the Government filed its own additional response (Doc. No. 173). Petitioner-Defendant had the last word, repeating his allegations and noting Attorney Mohammad's recent disbarment. (Doc. No. 174.)

         I. Plea Agreement

         On June 21, 2016, Petitioner-Defendant and the Government entered into the Plea Agreement. First, the parties agreed that Petitioner-Defendant would plead guilty to Count 1 of the indictment filed in this case with the understanding that the Government would move to dismiss the remaining counts at sentencing. (Plea Agreement ¶ 1.) The parties acknowledged that Count 1 charged a violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), 841(b)(1)(A), and 846, carrying a mandatory minimum sentence of ten years imprisonment.[1] (Id. ¶¶ 1, 4.) The parties agreed to the factual basis for the plea, and further, the parties agreed that if they were to proceed to trial, the Government would prove the facts supporting the plea beyond a reasonable doubt. (Id. ¶ 2.)

         The Plea Agreement addressed the Guidelines and relevant statutes to be considered at sentencing, anticipating a total offense level of 29 and a CHC of III, which resulted in a Guidelines range of 108 to 135 months of imprisonment that was narrowed by the mandatory minimum to a range of 120 to 135 months. (Id. ¶ 6(f).) The parties agreed that “[n]othing in this Plea Agreement should be construed to limit the Parties from presenting any and all relevant evidence to the Court at sentencing.” (Id.) They went on to stipulate to guideline calculations factoring in a base offense level of 30 with no applicable specific offense characteristics, a 2-level increase in the offense level due to Petitioner-Defendant's role in the offense, and agreement from the Government to recommend a 3-level reduction for acceptance of responsibility conditioned upon Petitioner-Defendant's agreement to testify truthfully at his change of plea hearing, cooperate with the Probation Office in its pre-sentence investigation, and commit no further acts inconsistent with such acceptance. (Id. ¶ 6(a)-(d).)

         The parties agreed that they believed Petitioner-Defendant's properly calculated criminal history score would place him in CHC III, but emphasized that this was not a stipulation, and further, they agreed that the actual criminal history “will be determined by the Court” and that any determination other than CHC III “shall not be a basis for either party to withdraw from this Plea Agreement.” (Id. ¶ 6(e).) Both parties also reserved their rights to move for departures from the applicable Guidelines and to argue for a sentence outside them, as well as their rights to oppose such motions made by the opposing party. (Id. ¶ 6(i).)

         The parties stated their understanding that while they were bound by their stipulations with respect to Guidelines calculations, the Court was not. (Id. ¶ 7.) The parties agreed that the Court “may make its own determination regarding the applicable guideline factors and the applicable CHC, ” and “may also depart from the applicable Guidelines.” (Id.) Even if the Court determined that the applicable Guidelines calculations or Petitioner-Defendant's CHC were different from those calculated by the parties, they agreed that they could not withdraw from the Plea Agreement and that this Court's determinations would govern the sentence imposed. (Id.) Petitioner-Defendant waived his right to appeal his sentence if it imposed 135 or fewer months of imprisonment. (Id. ¶ 9.)

         II. Change of Plea Hearing

          Petitioner-Defendant appeared at a change of plea hearing before this Court to enter his guilty plea on the same day he signed the Plea Agreement. (Doc. No. 150 (“Plea Hearing”).) After swearing an oath to tell the truth, Petitioner-Defendant affirmed that he had had enough time to consult with his lawyer, Attorney Mohammad. (Plea Hearing at 4.) Petitioner-Defendant also stated that he was satisfied with the services and representation provided by Attorney Mohammad up to that point. (Id.)

         Petitioner-Defendant's own sworn statements confirmed that he understood all key aspects of the Plea Agreement. When asked by the Court, he answered that he signed the final page of the Plea Agreement voluntarily with no inducement other than what was contained in the writing itself. (Id. at 5-6.) Petitioner-Defendant stated he understood that with his plea, he would be sentenced to a minimum of ten years' imprisonment and a maximum of life in prison. (Id. at 7.) The Court read from page 4 of the Plea Agreement and inquired of Petitioner-Defendant whether he understood that subparagraph c of the section detailing the Guidelines calculations included an agreement between the parties that a 2-level increase for his role in the offense would apply. (Id. at 10.) Petitioner-Defendant answered that he understood. (Id.) As this Court continued to review the Plea Agreement with him in detail, Petitioner-Defendant stated he understood it provided that the Government would recommend a 3-level reduction for acceptance of responsibility (id. at 11), that it was the parties' belief that he would be found to be in CHC III but if he were to be found by Probation to fall under CHC V or VI, neither party could back out of the Plea Agreement (id. at 12-13), and that by entering the Plea Agreement, Petitioner-Defendant was waiving his right to appeal his sentence unless it was for a period of imprisonment greater than 135 months (id. at 16).

         Before Petitioner-Defendant entered his guilty plea, this Court asked him if there was any part or term of the Plea Agreement, whether previously mentioned or not, that he wanted to ask about. (Id. at 18.) Petitioner-Defendant answered, “No, sir.” (Id.) The Court went on to ask if Petitioner-Defendant understood the trial rights he was giving up by entering the Plea Agreement and pleading guilty, to which he answered in the affirmative, stating that he understood the burden of proving Petitioner-Defendant's guilt would have been on the Government had he gone to trial. (Id. at 19.) Moreover, as this Court confirmed twice, Petitioner-Defendant understood that the Government's burden was to prove his guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.” (Id.) Once more before entering his plea, this Court asked Petitioner-Defendant if he understood the constitutional rights he was waiving by going forward with his guilty plea, whether raised by the Court or not, and again this Court gave him an opportunity to ask any questions he had about any of his rights as discussed or anything else that had not been mentioned. (Id. at 22-23.) Again, Petitioner-Defendant answered that he understood and had no questions. (Id.)

         Petitioner-Defendant did speak with his counsel off the record at one point during the hearing. (Id. at 24.) After Petitioner-Defendant stated that he was guilty of Count 1 but before the factual basis for the charges was fully entered, Attorney Mohammad asked for a moment to confer with his client. (Id.) The proceedings paused, and Petitioner-Defendant told this Court that he had no questions and was ready to proceed. (Id.) Petitioner-Defendant went on to affirm that he knowingly and voluntarily violated the law, and his plea was accepted and recorded. (Id. at 25-26.)

         III. Presentence Investigation Report

         At the change of plea hearing, this Court ordered the United States Probation Department (“Probation”) to prepare a presentence investigation report (“PSR”). (Id. at 26.) The PSR included a summary of the Plea Agreement, noting that the parties agreed to a base offense level of 30 with no applicable specific offense characteristics, plus a 2-level increase for Petitioner-Defendant's Aggravated Role in the offense. (Doc. No. 114 (“PSR”) ¶¶ 4, 22-23.) The PSR further noted that the Plea Agreement anticipated a 3-level reduction in the offense level for acceptance of responsibility and a CHC of III, resulting in a guidelines range of 108-135 months of imprisonment but bound by the mandatory minimum of 120 months' imprisonment. (Id.)

         The PSR discussed the application of the Guidelines, including how to factor in the 3-level offense level reduction which would only apply if Petitioner-Defendant provided a statement to clearly demonstrate acceptance of responsibility. (Id. ΒΆ 20.) Part D of the PSR, Sentencing Options, outlined the mandatory minimum and noted that per the parties' Plea Agreement, Counts 2 through 5 would be dismissed, but that conviction on additional counts would not ...


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