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Stevenson v. United States

United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Southern Division

October 26, 2017

JOHN CURTIS STEVENSON, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent.

          ORDER

          KRISTI K. DUBOSE, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This action is before the Court on Petitioner John Curtis Stevenson's' Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (Petition) (Doc. 724) [1], the Government's Response (Doc. 732) and the Government's Supplement (Doc. 745).

         I. Background

         Stevenson pleaded guilty in his criminal case on September 17, 2014 (Docs. 278, 294), and judgment issued on September 22, 2015, sentencing him to a total of 82 months imprisonment (Doc. 657, 680 (as amended)). Stevenson did not file an appeal.

         On September 1, 2016, Stevenson filed a pro se Section 2255 petition, asserting that he signed the guilty plea based on his attorney's representation that doing so would result in receiving only time for the amount of drugs he was responsible for, but “I still got a 10 year[]” -claiming his attorney lied to him and misrepresented what would happen to him. (Doc. 724). Stevenson seeks to vacate his sentence and to be sentenced, instead, “under the amount of drugs I sign[] for in the proffer letter, or minor role.” (Id. at 13). In Response, the Government asserts that Stevenson's motion is due to be denied without a hearing because he procedurally defaulted his claims by failing to raise them on direct appeal. (Doc. 732). Stevenson was given the opportunity to reply. (Doc. 725). To date, no reply has been filed by Stevenson.

         On September 11, 2017, the Court ordered the Government to file a Supplement, addressing Stevenson's ineffective assistance of counsel claim. (Doc. 743). On September 21, 2017, the Government filed its Supplement, asserting that Stevenson's ineffective assistance of counsel claims fail because the record “plainly contradicts his claims and he has not established prejudice.” (Doc. 745).

         II. Discussion

         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a)-(b):

(a) A prisoner in custody under sentence of a court established by Act of Congress claiming the right to be released upon the ground 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, may move the court which imposed the sentence to vacate, set aside or correct the sentence.
(b)..... If the court finds that the judgment was rendered without jurisdiction, or that the sentence imposed was not authorized by law or otherwise open to collateral attack, or that there has been such a denial or infringement of the constitutional rights of the prisoner as to render the judgment vulnerable to collateral attack, the court shall vacate and set the judgment aside and shall discharge the prisoner or resentence him or grant a new trial or correct the sentence as may appear appropriate.

         Habeas relief is an extraordinary remedy which “may not do service for a [ ] [direct] appeal.” United States v. Frady, 456 U.S. 152, 165 (1982). A petitioner who has waived or exhausted his right to appeal is presumed to stand “fairly and finally convicted.” Id. at 164. “[U]nless the claim alleges a lack of jurisdiction or constitutional error, the scope of collateral attack has remained far more limited...[A]n error of law does not provide a basis for collateral attack unless the claimed error constituted a fundamental defect which inherently results in a complete miscarriage of justice.” United States v. Addonizio, 442 U.S. 178, 185 (1979) (internal citation and quotation omitted). See also Burke v. United States, 152 F.3d 1329, 1331 (11 Cir. 1998) (“Nonconstitutional claims can be raised on collateral review only when the alleged error constitutes a ‘fundamental defect which inherently results in the miscarriage of justice or an omission inconsistent with the rudimentary demands of fair procedure[]'”) (internal citations omitted). “A habeas petitioner must present a claim in clear and simple language such that the district court may not misunderstand it. Dupree v. Warden, 715 F.3d 1295, 1299 (11 Cir. 2013). However, the Court “liberally construe[s] petitions filed pro se.” Id.

         Upon consideration, the Court ADOPTS as its own reasoning the Government's Response (as supplemented) (Doc. 732, 745) and finds that Stevenson is due no relief. [2] Under the procedural default rule, a petitioner “generally must advance an available challenge to a criminal conviction or sentence on direct appeal or else the defendant is barred from presenting that claim in a § 2255 proceeding.” McKay v. United States, 657 F.3d 1190, 1196 (11th Cir. 2011) (quoting Lynn v. United States, 365 F.3d 1225, 1234 (11 Cir. 2004)). Stevenson failed to seek relief of any of his claims on direct appeal. Stevenson's petition is due to be denied due to his failure to show “cause and actual prejudice” or that he is “actually innocent[, ]” as well as due to his valid appeal waiver. Bousley v. United States, 523 U.S. 614, 612 (1998); United States v. Bushert, 997 F.2d 1343, 1351 (11 Cir. 1993). See also e.g., Mills v. United States, 36 F.3d 1052, 1055 (11 Cir. 1994) (if available challenges to a federal conviction or sentence are not advanced on direct appeal, those claims are procedurally defaulted in a Section 2255 proceeding); United States v. Davis, 2010 WL 5239243, *3-4 (S.D. Ala. Dec. 14, 2010) (concluding that a petitioner procedurally defaulted on his claim that his guilty plea was involuntary because he failed to challenge it on direct review); Scott v. United States, 2008 WL 7258799, *19 (S.D. Ala. Nov. 3, 2008) (same).

         Moreover, when a Section 2255 motion is filed collaterally challenging convictions obtained pursuant to guilty pleas, “the inquiry is ordinarily confined to whether the underlying plea was both counseled and voluntary.” United States v. Broce, 488 U.S. 563, 569 (1989). See also Bousley, 523 U.S. at 618 (“A plea of guilty is constitutionally valid only to the extent it is ‘voluntary' and ‘intelligent[]'). Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure provides also, that the government and the defendant “may discuss and reach a plea agreement.” Fed.R.Crim.P. 11(c)(1). A plea of guilty will be deemed voluntary, if before a guilty plea has been accepted, the court addresses the defendant, under oath, “personally in open court[]” and determines that the plea is voluntary and did not result from force, threats, or promises (other than promises in a plea agreement. Fed.R.Crim.P. 11(b)(1)-(2). In the Eleventh Circuit, there is “a ‘strong presumption' that statements made by the defendant during his plea colloquy are true...therefore, ‘when a defendant makes statements under oath at a plea colloquy, he bears a heavy burden to show his '” F 1 th statements were false. United States v. Cardenas, 230 Fed.Appx. 933, 935 (1 Cir. 2007) (internal citation omitted).

         At the plea colloquy, Stevenson stated that he had discussed his case and defenses with his counsel and after doing so, was satisfied with the advice to plead guilty and counsel's representations in general. (Doc. 719 at 10-11). Stevenson agreed his plea agreement provides that in return for his guilty plea, the Government will recommend he be sentenced at the low end of the guidelines and that if the Government determines he substantially cooperated, they will ask the Court to go below those guidelines. (Id. at 11-12). Stevenson agreed he was waiving his right to appeal the sentence, with the only exceptions being if the Court went above the statutory maximum or he received ineffective assistance of counsel. (Id. at 12-13).

         Specifically, the record reveals as follows:

THE COURT: … did each of you discuss your case with your attorney and discuss possible defenses to this case with your attorney?
***
DEFENDANT J. STEVENSON: Yes, ma'am.
***
THE COURT: … after discussing possible defenses to this case, are you satisfied with your attorney's advice that you plead guilty?
***
DEFENDANT J. STEVENSON: Yes, ma'am.
***
THE COURT: …are you satisfied with your attorney's representation of you in general?
***
DEFENDANT J. STEVENSON: Yes, ma'am.
***
THE COURT: ….Your plea agreement provides that in return for your guilty plea, the Government is going to recommend that you be sentenced at the low end of the guidelines.
***
THE COURT: It also provides that you are given an opportunity, if you want to, you don't have to
***
THE COURT: to cooperate. And if the U.S. Attorney's Office determines that you have substantially cooperated, they are going to ask me to go below those guidelines.
***
THE COURT: Is that the way you understand your plea agreement?
***
DEFENDANT J. STEVENSON: Yes, ma'am.
***
THE COURT: And do you understand that it is the Government who determines whether you've substantially cooperated and not me?
Do you understand that?
***
DEFENDANT J. STEVENSON: Yes, ...

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