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Jones v. United States

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Western Division

November 6, 2017




         Petitioner Trey Lapatrick Jones (“Jones”) filed with the Clerk of this Court a motion pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence. (Doc. 1.) The Government opposes the motion. (Doc. 7.) For the following reasons, the motion is due to be denied and dismissed in part and reserved for an evidentiary hearing in part.

         I. Background

         On July 30, 2015, the Government indicted Jones on one count of possessing a firearm after he had previously been convicted of a felony offense, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g). See Doc. 1 in United States v. Jones, 7:15-cr-00248-LSC-TMP-1. The Office of the Federal Public Defender was appointed to represent him at that time. Jones was released on bond. Jones had previously been convicted of three counts of unlawful distribution of a controlled substance in the Circuit Court of Tuscaloosa County, Alabama. Because the three offenses occurred on three separate occasions, and the convictions are considered “serious drug offenses, ” Jones likely would have been subject to the penalty enhancements under 18 U.S.C. § 924(e), commonly referred to as the Armed Career Criminal Act, if he had been convicted on the indictment. That enhancement penalty would have subjected Jones to a 15-year mandatory minimum term of imprisonment. Trial was set in that case for January 4, 2016.

         In the weeks leading up to trial, the Government offered Jones an opportunity to plead guilty to a one-count information to violating 18 U.S.C. § 922(j), which criminalizes knowing possession of a stolen firearm. Such a plea had the potential to benefit Jones because a conviction under 18 U.S.C. § 922(j) did not carry with it the potential for the 15-year mandatory minimum sentencing enhancement. According to Jones' appointed trial counsel, Assistant Federal Public Defender Glennon Threatt, Jones originally refused the Government's offer. See Glennon Threatt Affidavit, Doc. 7-1.[1] The night before trial, however, Jones apparently changed his mind and agreed to accept the Government's offer. See id.

         The next day, on January 4, 2016, the Government filed an information charging Jones with possessing a stolen firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. 922(j); Jones signed a plea agreement; and Jones entered a plea of guilty in open court. See Docs. 1 (Information), 2 (Plea Agreement), and 22 (Transcript of Plea Proceeding) in United States v. Jones, 7:16-cr-00001-LSC-TMP-1. At that time, this Court advised Jones of the rights he was waiving pursuant to the guilty plea and the consequences of waiving those rights. The plea agreement contained a factual basis in which Jones admitted that: (1) on the night of June 9, 2013, he was driving a car with a broken taillight when Tuscaloosa Police Department officers pulled him over; (2) when the officers approached the vehicle he was driving, they saw a .45 caliber, semi-automatic pistol on the floor of the driver's seat, behind Jones; (3) the gun had been stolen from the home Jones' brother shared with his then-fiancé; (4) the gun belonged to the fiancé's brother, who had reported it stolen; and (5) Jones had pled guilty to possessing the firearm in a car without a permit in Tuscaloosa Municipal Court. The plea agreement also contained an appeal waiver with exceptions for claims of ineffective assistance of counsel, claims of any sentence imposed in excess of the applicable statutory maximum sentence, and claims of any sentence imposed in excess of the advisory guideline sentencing range.

         This Court sentenced Jones on April 25, 2016, to a term of imprisonment of 46 months followed by a term of supervised release of 36 months. The indictment in case number 7:15-cr-00248-LSC-TMP-1 was dismissed at sentencing as agreed under the terms of the plea agreement. Judgment was entered on April 26, 2016.

         Jones, through his appointed trial counsel, filed a timely Notice of Appeal of his conviction and sentence with the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. Thereafter, two additional attorneys, Assistant Federal Public Defenders Allison Case and Sabra Barnett, appeared on behalf of Jones, presumably to represent him on direct appeal. However, roughly two weeks later, Jones, through the Federal Public Defender's Office, moved to voluntarily dismiss his appeal pursuant to Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 42. The Eleventh Circuit granted that request dismissed Jones' appeal on June 1, 2016.

         Jones filed the instant § 2255 motion, pro se, on December 5, 2016.

         II. Discussion

         Section 2255 permits a federal prisoner to bring a collateral challenge by moving the sentencing court to vacate, set aside, or correct the sentence. 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a). Once a petitioner files a § 2255 motion, “[u]nless the motion and the files and records of the case conclusively show that the prisoner is entitled to no relief, the court shall . . . grant a prompt hearing thereon, determine the issues and make findings of fact and conclusions of law with respect thereto.” Id. § 2255(b). A petitioner is entitled to an evidentiary hearing if he “alleges facts that, if true, would entitle him to relief.” Aron v. United States, 291 F.3d 708, 715 n.6 (11th Cir. 2002). “[A] petitioner need only allege-not prove-reasonably specific, non-conclusory facts that, if true, would entitle him to relief.” Id. at 715 n.6. However, this Court need not hold a hearing if the allegations are “patently frivolous, ” “based upon unsupported generalizations, ” or “affirmatively contradicted by the record.” Holmes v. United States, 876 F.2d 1545, 1553 (11th Cir. 1989); see, e.g., Lynn v. United States, 365 F.3d 1225, 1239 (11th Cir. 2004) (“Because the . . . affidavits submitted by Lynn amount to nothing more than mere conclusory allegations, the district court was not required to hold an evidentiary hearing on the issues and correctly denied Lynn's § 2255 motion.”).

         Jones asserts several grounds for relief. First, he claims that this Court committed plain error by accepting his guilty plea in violation of Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure because his guilty plea was not supported by a sufficient factual basis. Second, he claims that he received constitutionally ineffective assistance of counsel because his trial counsel coerced him into pleading guilty against his will. Additionally, although he does not state it as an official third “claim, ” he asserts several times throughout his motion that his appointed direct appeal counsel withdrew his appeal without his knowledge or authorization.

         A. Jones' claim that this Court plainly erred in accepting his guilty plea because it did not ...

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