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Jefferson v. United States

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

October 16, 2018




         This cause is before the Court on Petitioner Catrina Renee Jefferson's Motion Under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to Vacate, Set Aside or Correct Sentence by a Person in Federal Custody (Doc. 68), the United States's Opposition to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence (Doc. 70), and Petitioner's Rebuttal of United States's Motion in Opposititon (Doc. 71). This action has been referred to the undersigned for entry of a report and recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and General Local Rule 72(a)(2)(R). Following consideration of all relevant pleadings in this case, it is recommended that Jefferson's § 2255 motion be DENIED without an evidentiary hearing. See, e.g., Rosin v. United States, 786 F.3d 873, 878 (11th Cir.) (“It is well-settled that the district court is not required to grant an evidentiary hearing when the defendant's claims are affirmatively contradicted by the record evidence, nor is a hearing required if the claims are grounded upon generalizations that are unsupported by the record evidence.”), cert. denied, 136 S.Ct. 429 (2015); Means v. Sec'y, Dep't of Corr., 433 Fed.Appx. 852, 855 (11th Cir. 2011) (“[W]here ‘the record refutes [a petitioner's] factual allegations or otherwise precludes habeas relief, a district court is not required to hold an evidentiary hearing.'”) (citation omitted)), cert. denied, 565 U.S. 1217 (2012); Allen v. Sec'y, Fla. Dep't of Corr., 611 F.3d 740, 745 (11th Cir. 2010) (“A district court is not required to hold an evidentiary hearing if the claims ‘are merely conclusory allegations unsupported by specifics,' . . . or ‘if the record refutes the applicant's factual allegations or otherwise precludes habeas relief[.]'”), cert. denied, 563 U.S. 976 (2011); United States v. Bejacmar, 217 Fed.Appx. 919, 921 (11th Cir. 2007) (“[I]f the petitioner's allegations are affirmatively contradicted by the record, or the claims are patently frivolous, a district court is not required to hold an evidentiary hearing.”).


         On November 24, 2015, Petitioner Catrina Renee Jefferson and Deborah Tyson Jefferson were charged in a federal indictment as a result of their participation in a BP fraud scheme with one count of conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1349 (count one), five counts of wire fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1343 (counts two through six), three counts of mail fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 341 (counts seven through nine), and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 956(h) (count thirteen). (Doc. 1). Catrina Jefferson (hereinafter “Jefferson”) was individually charged with three counts of aggravated identity theft, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1028A (counts ten through twelve), and two counts of money laundering, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1957 (counts fifteen though sixteen). (Id.). Deborah Jefferson was individually charged with two counts of money laundering. (Id.). Both defendants made an initial appearance and were arraigned on December 9, 2015. (See docket sheet entry). A federal public defender was initially appointed to represent Jefferson, but was replaced by retained counsel prior to her guilty plea. (Docs. 9, 37). On January 13, 2016, the United States filed a motion to dismiss all counts as to Defendant Deborah Jefferson, and the motion was granted and the indictment dismissed by the Court on January 14, 2016. (Docs. 29, 31).

         On or about May 10, 2016, Jefferson notified the Court of her intent to plead guilty to count one of the indictment. (Doc. 54). Jefferson and her attorney signed and filed a plea agreement on May 17, 2016. (Doc. 55). In the written plea agreement that she signed, Jefferson acknowledged that she had the benefit of legal counsel in negotiating her plea, that she had discussed the facts of the case with her attorney, that her attorney had explained the essential legal elements of the criminal charges that had been brought against her, and that her attorney had explained his understanding of the Government's evidence and the law as it related to the facts of her case. (Id. at p. 2). She further agreed that she understood that the United States had the burden of proving each of the legal elements of the criminal charge beyond a reasonable doubt, that she and her attorney had discussed possible defenses to the charge, that she believed that her attorney had represented her faithfully, skillfully, and diligently, and that she was completely satisfied with the legal advice of her attorney. (Id.). She agreed in the plea agreement that the Factual Resume, which was incorporated into the plea agreement, was true, correct, and accurate in every respect. (Id. at pp. 3, 9). The written plea agreement also provided that the plea of guilty was freely and voluntarily made, was not the result of force, threats, promises, or representations, apart from those representations set forth in the plea agreement, and that Jefferson was pleading guilty because she was guilty. (Id. at p. 3). Jefferson agreed that she would not challenge her guilty plea, conviction, or sentence in any district court or appellate court proceedings, except she reserved the right to challenge her sentence on specific grounds and the right to claim ineffective assistance of counsel in a direct appeal or § 2255 motion. (Id. at p. 7).

         The Factual Resume, which was also signed by Jefferson, stated that she admitted the allegations of Count 1 of the Indictment and understood that, in order to prove a violation of § 1349, the Government had to prove that “two or more persons … agreed to try to accomplish a common and unlawful plan to commit wire fraud and mail fraud” and that she “knew the unlawful purpose of the plan and willfully joined in it.” (Id. at p. 10). With regard to the specific facts against Jefferson, the Factual Resume stated:

From around August 2010 through around May 2011, in the Southern District of Alabama, Southern Division, CATRINA RENEE JEFFERSON conspired with Deborah Tyson Jefferson to commit wire fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1343 and mail fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1341. CATRINA RENEE JEFFERSON conspired to achieve personal financial gain by defrauding BP Exploration (BP) and the Gulf Coast Claim Facility (GCCF) through the preparation and filing of false GCCF Claim Forms and supporting documentation. CATRINA RENEE JEFFERSON knew the unlawful purpose of the plan and willfully joined in it. CATRINA RENEE JEFFERSON helped operate Jefferson Tax Services, a business based in Irvington, Alabama, which was used in furtherance of the conspiracy. CATRINA RENEE JEFFERSON prepared and filed fraudulent GCCF Claim Forms and supporting documentation on behalf of various claimants. As part of the conspiracy, CATRINA RENEE JEFFERSON used the means of identification of various claimants. CATRINA RENEE JEFFERSON submitted false GCCF Forms and supporting documentation to the GCCF through various means, including electronically, by mail, and by fax. As part of the conspiracy, CATRINA RENEE JEFFERSON arranged to directly receive payments from the GCCF through various means. CATRINA RENEE JEFFERSON endorsed GCCF checks and deposited GCCF funds. The conspiracy resulted in a financial loss to BP of approximately $175, 000.

(Id. at p.11). The Factual Resume also specifically stated that it did not contain each and every fact known to Jefferson or to the Government concerning her involvement in the charges. (Id. at p. 10).

         Jefferson appeared before the Court for a guilty plea hearing, with her retained counsel, on May 19, 2016. Jefferson was placed under oath and stated that she understood that she was under oath and that, if she answered any of the Court's questions falsely, her answers could be used against her later in a prosecution for perjury or for making a false statement. (Doc. 76 at pp. 4-5). During the hearing, she testified that she received a copy of the indictment, that she fully discussed those charges and the case in general with her lawyer, that she understood the charges pending against her, and that she was fully satisfied with her counsel, his representation, and the advice given to her by her counsel. (Id. at pp. 7-8). At the direction of the Court, Jefferson looked at her plea agreement and the attached factual resume and testified that she signed both documents and that she had an opportunity to read and discuss the plea agreement and the factual resume with her lawyer before she signed them. (Id. at p. 8). Jefferson testified that she understood the elements of the crime of conspiracy to commit wire or mail fraud that the Government would have to prove to convict her. (Id. at pp. 16-17). Specifically, she stated that she understood she was pleading guilty to “a charge of violating Title 18, United States Code, Section 1349, which is conspiracy to commit wire or mail fraud” and that she understood that “[i]n order to convict [her] of that offense, the government would have to prove that two or more persons in some way or manner agreed to try and accomplish a common and unlawful plan as described in the indictment, to commit wire or mail fraud, and that [she], knowing the unlawful purpose of the plan, willfully joined in it.” (Id.). She further testified that she understood and agreed that by signing the factual resume she was agreeing that the Government could prove the facts set forth in it in support of her guilty plea. (Id. at p. 18). After questioning Jefferson and observing her demeanor, the Court found that she was “fully competent and capable of entering an informed plea, that [she was] aware of the nature of the charges and the consequences of the plea, that the plea[ ] of guilty [was a] knowing and voluntary plea[ ] supported by an independent basis in fact containing each of the essential elements of the offense.” (Id. at pp. 18-19). The guilty plea was accepted and Jefferson was found guilty as charged. (Id. at p. 19; Doc. 57). On August 19, 2016, Jefferson was sentenced to fifteen (15) months of imprisonment, with three (3) years of supervised release. (Doc. 62).

         On December 19, 2016, Jefferson filed her motion to vacate in this Court. (Doc. 68). Jefferson bases her motion to vacate on the sole allegation that her retained counsel provided ineffective assistance by failing to object to the Court's acceptance of the plea agreement. (Doc. 68 at p. 4). Specifically, Jefferson asserts that her trial attorney provided constitutionally ineffective assistance by not objecting to the acceptance of the plea because there was a lack of a factual basis to support a guilty plea for conspiracy because her “alleged co-conspirator was not indicted in this case.”[1]


         Section 2255 reads, in relevant part, as follows: “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.” 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a). The sentence in this case was entered after a plea of guilty. “A defendant who enters a plea of guilty waives all nonjurisdictional challenges to the constitutionality of the conviction, and only an attack on the voluntary and knowing nature of the plea can be sustained.” Wilson v. United States, 962 F.2d 996, 997 (11th Cir. 1992). This waiver includes claims of ineffective assistance of counsel that do not implicate the decision to plead guilty. Id.; see also Smith v. Estelle, 711 F.2d 677, 682 (5th Cir. 1983) (holding that the defendant's “guilty plea was voluntary and knowingly made” and, therefore, he could not “attack the ineffectiveness of his counsel in any respects other than as the alleged ineffectiveness bears upon counsel's faulty advice that coerced a guilty plea”).

         As indicated above, Jefferson's sole claim is that constitutionally ineffective assistance of counsel during her guilty plea hearing entitles her to the relief afforded by 28 U.S.C. § 2255. To establish a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, a petitioner is required to show (1) that her attorney's representation fell below “an objective standard of reasonableness” and (2) that a reasonable probability exists that but for counsel's unprofessional conduct, the result of the proceeding would have been different. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984); see also Jones v. United States, 478 Fed.Appx. 536, 539-540 (11th Cir. 2011) (“To make a successful claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, a defendant must show that: (1) his counsel's performance was deficient; and (2) the deficient performance prejudiced his defense.”).[2] “The burden of persuasion is on a section 2255 petitioner to prove, by a preponderance of the competent evidence, both that counsel's performance was unreasonable, and that she was prejudiced by that performance.” Demar v. United States, 228 Fed.Appx. 940, 950 (11th Cir. 2007) (quotation marks, brackets and citations omitted); see also Johnson v. Alabama, 256 F.3d 1156, 1176 (11th Cir. 2001) (“The petitioner bears the burden of proof on the ‘performance' prong as well as the ‘prejudice' prong of a Strickland claim, and both prongs must be proved to prevail.”), cert. denied sub nom. Johnson v. Nagle, 535 U.S. 926 (2002).[3]

The performance prong of the ineffective assistance standard entails a deferential review of counsel's conduct. In assessing the reasonableness of counsel's performance, courts must indulge a strong presumption that counsel's conduct falls within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance.[4] Thus, the Sixth Amendment does not require criminal ...

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