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United States v. Edmonds

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

September 30, 2019

United States of America, Respondent-Plaintiff,
John Henry Edmonds, Petitioner-Defendant.

          John Henry Edmonds, Petitioner-Defendant, Pro Se.

          Surya Saxena, Assistant United States Attorney, United States Attorney’s Office, counsel for the Government.




         This matter is before the Court on Petitioner-Defendant John Henry Edmonds’ (“Petitioner-Defendant”) pro se motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to vacate his sentence of 80 months’ imprisonment and resentence him to a term within the range of 41 to 51 months’ imprisonment. (Doc. No. 89.) The United States of America (the “Government”) opposes Petitioner-Defendant’s motion. (Doc. Nos. 93, 96.)

         Specifically, Petitioner-Defendant alleges that the Court erred in imposing an upward departure and upward variance at sentencing, and that he received ineffective assistance of counsel in that his attorney failed to challenge what he alleges were breaches of the plea agreement reached with the Government. The Government opposes any order to disturb the judgment entered on the grounds that Petitioner-Defendant was properly sentenced, that he received adequate representation throughout the proceedings, and that any motion made by his counsel to withdraw from the plea agreement for breach would have been meritless. 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 motion.


         Petitioner-Defendant was charged with six counts of distribution of controlled substances in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), 841(b)(1)(C), and 853 by a superseding indictment filed on December 12, 2017. (Doc. No. 29.)

         Pursuant to a written plea agreement (Doc. No. 53 (“Plea Agreement”)), on March 20, 2018, Petitioner-Defendant entered a plea of guilty to Counts 1 through 5 of the superseding indictment. (Doc. No. 79 (“Change of Plea Hrg.”).) A Presentence Investigation Report (“PSR”) was ordered (id. at 44), and each party filed a sentencing memorandum setting forth their respective positions (Doc. Nos. 66, 67). The PSR included calculations under the United States Sentencing Guidelines (the “Guidelines”) totaling an adjusted offense level of 26 and a criminal history category (“CHC”) of VI, which when combined with all applicable factors resulted in an advisory Guidelines range of 92 to 115 months’ imprisonment. (Doc. No. 60 (“PSR”) ¶¶ 26, 77, 105.) Petitioner-Defendant responded to the initial version of the PSR that was disclosed to the parties. (PSR at A.1.) Petitioner-Defendant’s remaining objections were noted in the PSR Addendum, and the substance of the objections were also addressed in Petitioner-Defendant’s first sentencing memorandum. (PSR at A.1-3; Doc. No. 67 at 2-4, 6.)

         Petitioner-Defendant was sentenced on August 1, 2018. (Doc. Nos. 72, 73.) At sentencing, this Court adopted the PSR with changes. (Doc. No. 73 (“Stmt. of Reasons”) Sec. I.) Specifically, the Court adjusted the base offense level to 18 from 24 and the total offense level to 15 from 23. (Id. at B.1.) The Court also declined to apply a two-level increase under USSG §3C1.2. (Id. at B.2.) The Court pronounced a sentence of 80 months of imprisonment for each count, including an upward departure of 13 months and an upward variance of 18 months of imprisonment for a total addition of 33 months and a reduction of three months based on Petitioner-Defendant’s time in custody, to run concurrently, and to be followed by 5 years of supervised release per count, also concurrent. (Id. at Sec. IV. C-D, V. A; Doc. No. 72 at 1-3; Doc. No. 81 (“Sentencing Hrg.”) at 33, 35, 50).

         Petitioner-Defendant filed a notice of appeal on August 7, 2018. (Doc. No. 76.) Petitioner-Defendant appealed his sentence on the grounds that this Court erred when it departed and varied upward from the advisory range under the Guidelines. United States v. Edmonds, 920 F.3d 1212, 1213 (8th Cir. 2019). The Eighth Circuit found no error in the Court’s sentencing decisions, including the overall length of Petitioner-Defendant’s sentence. Id. at 1214-15. Petitioner-Defendant timely filed this § 2255 motion and supporting memorandum of law on May 20, 2019 (Doc. Nos. 89, 90), which the Government opposed (Doc. Nos. 93, 96).[1]

         I. Plea Agreement

         Petitioner-Defendant signed a Plea Agreement with the Government on March 18, 2018. (Plea Agreement at 8.) The parties agreed that Petitioner-Defendant would plead guilty to Counts 1 through 5 of the superseding indictment and that the Government would move to dismiss Count 6 after Petitioner-Defendant’s sentence was imposed. (Id. ¶ 1.) The parties agreed to the factual basis for the offenses related to Counts 1 through 5, specifically that Petitioner-Defendant distributed mixtures and substances containing heroin, carfentanil, methamphetamine, and furanyl fentanyl. (Id. ¶ 2.) The parties also agreed that by statute, each count carried a maximum penalty of 20 years’ imprisonment. (Id. ¶ 5(a).) Petitioner-Defendant waived his rights to pursue pretrial motions and to appeal his convictions or the issue of guilt as to Counts 1 through 5. (Id. ¶¶ 3-4.) The Plea Agreement addressed the applicable Guidelines, with the parties failing to reach agreement as to the proper base offense level. (Id. ¶ 7(a).) The Government’s belief that the base offense level should be 30 was noted along with Petitioner-Defendant’s contention that it should be 18. (Id.) The Government reserved its right to present evidence at sentencing that Petitioner-Defendant’s distribution of controlled substances was the “but for” cause of a death by overdose, and Petitioner-Defendant noted his disagreement with that contention. (Id.)

         The Government agreed, however, to recommend a three-level reduction in Petitioner-Defendant’s total offense level for acceptance of responsibility. (Id. ¶ 7(d).) The parties agreed that no specific offense characteristics applied. (Id. ¶ 7(b).) The parties disagreed about the proper criminal history category (“CHC”); the Plea Agreement notes that the Government believed that based on his record, Petitioner-Defendant belonged in CHC VI, but that Petitioner-Defendant believed CHC IV would be correct. (Id. ¶ 7(e).) Using their respective calculations but each factoring in a three-level reduction in the offense level for acceptance of responsibility, the parties differed on the applicable Guidelines range. (Id. ¶ 7(f).) Petitioner-Defendant believed the correct range would call for a sentence of 30 to 37 months’ imprisonment, while the Government’s calculations resulted in a range of 130 to 162 months’ imprisonment. (Id.)

         The parties stated their understanding that while they were bound by their stipulations with respect to Guidelines calculations, the Court was not. (Id. ¶ 8.) 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.)

         II. Presentence Investigation Report

         On the same day that Petitioner-Defendant entered his plea of guilty, this Court ordered the United States Probation Department (“Probation”) to prepare a presentence investigation report (“PSR”). (Change of Plea Hrg. at 44.) The PSR included a summary of the Plea Agreement as well as information about the heroin overdose death that the Government attributed in part to Petitioner-Defendant. (Doc. No. 60 (“PSR”) ¶¶ 3, 7-9.) It also attributed the sale of at least 81 grams of heroin containing carfentanil and furanyl fentanyl to Petitioner-Defendant. (Id. ¶ 20.)

         The PSR discussed the application of the Guidelines, using the then-current 2016 version. (Id. ¶ 26.) Petitioner-Defendant’s base offense level was calculated to be 24 after grouping all five counts and assigning the weight of the total mixtures or substances in question to the controlled substance resulting in the greater offense level-here, a marijuana equivalency totaling 217.38 kilograms. (Id. ¶¶ 27-28.) According to the PSR, pursuant to USSG §3C1.2, Petitioner-Defendant was subject to a two-level increase because he “recklessly created a substantial risk of death or serious bodily injury to another person in the course of fleeing from a law enforcement officer” on May 24, 2017. (Id. ¶¶ 23, 35.) The final calculus resulted in a total offense level of 23. (Id. ¶ 40.)

         Part B of the PSR detailed Petitioner-Defendant’s lengthy criminal history, arriving a subtotal criminal history score of 38. (Id. ¶¶ 42-75.) Two points were added to his score per the Guidelines because the offenses in question took place while Petitioner-Defendant was under a previously imposed criminal sentence, resulting in a total score of 40 which placed Petitioner-Defendant in CHC VI. (Id. ¶¶ 76-77.) Following the Guidelines, the total offense level of 23 combined with a CHC of VI resulted in a range of 92 to 115 months’ imprisonment. (Id. ¶ 105.) The PSR noted that this range was not the same as either contemplated by the parties in the Plea Agreement due to different calculations of the criminal history score and the addition of the reckless endangerment enhancement. (Id. ¶ 107.) Petitioner-Defendant’s unresolved objections to the PSR was noted in its addendum. (Id. at A.1.)

         III. Change of Plea Hearing

         Petitioner-Defendant appeared before this Court on March 20, 2018 to enter pleas of guilty to Counts 1 through 5 of the superseding indictment. (Change of Plea Hrg. at 1.) After taking an oath to be truthful, he stated that he had had enough time to discuss his matter with his attorney and was satisfied with his representation. (Id. at 6.) Petitioner-Defendant also stated that no one forced or threatened him to make him sign the Plea Agreement and that the document represented the only agreement in this matter. (Id. at 9.) He went on to affirm that he understood what he was pleading guilty to, and that the counts carried a penalty of up to twenty years in prison. (Id. at 11.) Further, Petitioner-Defendant understood that although the parties agreed to argue their respective positions with respect to the applicable drug quantity, neither side could back out of the Plea Agreement. (Id. at 20.)

         The Court pointed out that in the Plea Agreement, the Government reserved the right to present evidence and argue that the distribution for which Petitioner-Defendant was admitting responsibility was the but-for cause of a death by overdose, and to argue that this should be considered at sentencing. (Id. at 21.) Though Petitioner-Defendant said that he understood, his counsel as well as the Government’s questioned him further, and Petitioner-Defendant maintained that he understood. (Id. at 24-25.)

         Petitioner-Defendant also told this Court that he understood that the parties agreed that they knew of no specific offense characteristics that would apply at sentencing. (Id. at 27.) Again, this time when asked if he understood that the parties did not agree as to the correct CHC but that it would be for the Court to determine, Petitioner-Defendant answered that he understood the parties’ positions and that no matter how it was decided, nobody could back out of the Plea Agreement. (Id. at 30.) He acknowledged the difference between the parties’ calculations of the appropriate range under the ...

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