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Walker v. United States

May 3, 2006

STEPHEN WALKER, PETITIONER,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, RESPONDENT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Joseph E. Irenas

OPINION

Before the Court is Petitioner's Motion to Vacate, Set Aside or Correct Sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Petitioner argues that his Sixth Amendment right to counsel was violated because his lawyer: (1) failed to put on an adequate defense; (2) "coerced" Petitioner into signing the plea agreement; and (3) failed to correctly calculate the sentence Petitioner would receive under the Sentencing Guidelines. (Pet. Mot. at 5) Petitioner also asserts that the Supreme Court's holdings in United States v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220 (2005), and Blakely v. Washington, 542 U.S. 296 (2006), necessitate that his sentence be vacated and his counsel was ineffective for failing to raise the issue. (Id. at 6) For the reasons set forth below, Petitioner's application will be denied without an evidentiary hearing.

I.

A federal grand jury indicted Steven Walker on November 12, 2002, for possessing a firearm after having been convicted of a felony offense in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) and (2). Walker and the Government reached a plea agreement that was signed by Petitioner and his attorney. (See Gov't Ex. 2--Plea Agreement) In the agreement, Walker admitted that he knowingly and willfully possessed a loaded Glock 19, 9mm handgun on August 21, 2002, while escaping from a halfway house, resulting in an upward adjustment of four levels to Petitioner's sentence pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 2K2.1. (Id. at 5) Petitioner's acceptance of responsibility and timely plea resulted in a downward departure of three levels. (Id.)

Concluding that Petitioner understood the significance of the plea agreement and finding Petitioner to be satisfied by his counsel's representation, this Court accepted Petitioner's guilty plea during a hearing, held pursuant to Fed. R. Crim. P. 11, on October 23, 2003 (hereafter the "Plea Hearing"). The Court spent considerable time questioning Petitioner regarding the voluntariness of his plea and his understanding of the plea agreement's terms before concluding that Petitioner's decision to plead guilty was voluntary and knowing. (Gov't Ex. 3-- Plea Hearing Tr. at 19:11:25; 21:1-20)

On January 23, 2004, Petitioner was sentenced to a prison term of 77 months to be followed by a three-year term of supervised release. (See generally Gov't Ex. 5-- Sentencing Tr.)

Petitioner filed this Section 2255 motion on October 18, 2004.

II.

Section 2255 provides, in pertinent part, that: 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 Constitutional 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 (2000); see also Rules Governing § 2255 Cases, Rule 1(1). Thus, Petitioner is entitled to relief only if he can establish that he is in custody in violation of federal law or the Constitution.

A district court is given discretion in determining whether to hold an evidentiary hearing on a habeas petition under Section 2255. See Gov't of the V.I. v. Forte, 865 F.2d 59, 62 (3d Cir. 1989). In exercising that discretion, the court must first determine whether the petitioner's claims, if proven, would entitle him to relief, and then consider whether an evidentiary hearing is needed to determine the truth of the allegations. See Zettlemoyer v. Fulcomer, 923 F.2d 284, 291 (3d Cir. 1991). Accordingly, a district court may summarily dismiss a motion brought under Section 2255 without a hearing where the "motion, files and records, 'show conclusively that the movant is not entitled to relief.'" U.S. v. Nahodil, 36 F.3d 323, 326 (3d Cir. 1994) (quoting U.S. v. Day, 969 F.2d 39, 41-42 (3d Cir. 1992)); Forte, 865 F.2d at 62.

For the reasons outlined below, the Court finds that the evidence in the record conclusively demonstrates that Petitioner is not entitled to the relief sought. Accordingly, Petitioner's application will be denied without an evidentiary hearing.

III.

A.

Petitioner asserts that his counsel's constitutionally ineffective assistance prevented Petitioner from making a knowing and voluntary guilty plea. Petitioner asserts two arguments in support of his contention: (1) his lawyer, Troy Archie failed to visit Petitioner at his place of detention in order to consult with Petitioner about crafting a defense strategy and (2) his counsel "coerced" him into signing a plea agreement by promising him that he would receive credit for his state sentence against his federal sentence. (Pet. Mot. at 5)

To succeed on this claim, Petitioner "'must show that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's errors, he would not have pleaded guilty and would have insisted on going to trial.'" Dickerson v. Vaughn, 90 F.3d 87, 92 (3d Cir. 1996) (quoting Hill v. Lockhart, 474 U.S. 52, 59 (1985)). We must also keep in mind that, "'[t]he representations of the defendant, his lawyer, and the prosecutor at the plea hearing as well as any findings made by the judge in accepting the plea, constitute a formidable barrier in any subsequent collateral proceedings. Solemn declarations made in open court carry a strong presumption of verity.'" Zilich v. Reid, 36 F.3d 317, 320 (3d Cir. 1994)(quoting Blackledge v. Allison, 431 U.S. 63, 73-74 (1977)). Thus, "a petitioner challenging the voluntary nature of a facially valid guilty plea based on unfulfilled promises or representations by counsel must advance specific and credible allegations detailing the nature and circumstances of such promises or representations." Id. (emphasis added)

Whether or not Mr. Archie actually visited Petitioner while incarcerated, Petitioner's claim that his counsel failed to adequately consult with and represent him is directly contradicted by Petitioner's own certification and statements made under oath. More importantly, the Court provided Petitioner with ample opportunity to consult with his lawyer at the plea hearing.

At the Plea Hearing, Petitioner testified that he reviewed the plea agreement with his attorneys and that they answered any questions Petitioner had regarding the agreement. (Gov't Ex. 3--Plea Hearing Tr. at 19:19-25; 20:1-3)*fn1 The Court specifically advised Petitioner ...


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