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Williams v. United States

February 19, 2008

JAMES WILLIAMS, PETITIONER,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, RESPONDENT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Irenas, Senior District Judge

OPINION

Before the Court is Petitioner's Motion to Vacate, Set Aside or Correct Sentence brought under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Petitioner presents the following claims: (1) his sentence to 84 months in prison should be reduced pursuant to amendments to the sentencing guidelines proposed by the United States Sentencing Commission (the "Commission") on May 1, 2007, as they relate to the sentencing disparity between powder cocaine and cocaine base, commonly known as crack cocaine; (2) his counsel's assistance was constitutionally ineffective because counsel allowed him to plead guilty despite alleged coercion by the Government; (3) he was subjected to an unconstitutional search and seizure, the fruits of which resulted in a two-level sentence enhancement; and (4) his criminal history calculation used at sentencing overstated the true nature of his prior criminal conduct. For the reasons set forth below, Petitioner's motion will be denied in part without an evidentiary hearing and dismissed in part without prejudice.

I.

On January 17, 2006, Petitioner James Williams and the Government reached a plea agreement. Pursuant to the agreement, Petitioner pled guilty to one count of possession with intent to distribute at least five grams, but less than twenty grams, of crack cocaine in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(B). (Judgment p. 1.) As it pertained to the amount of crack cocaine, the agreement constituted a significant reduction in the amount that Petitioner admitted to possessing, which was 196.18 grams. (PSR ¶ 15.)

This Court accepted Petitioner's guilty plea during a plea hearing, held pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11 on March 31, 2006, after concluding that Petitioner understood the significance of the plea agreement and finding that Petitioner was satisfied with his counsel's representation. This 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. (Plea Hearing Tr. pp. 6-26.)

On August 25, 2006, Petitioner was sentenced to a prison term of 84 months followed by a four-year term of supervised release.*fn1 (Sentence Tr. pp. 8-9.) Petitioner did not file a notice of appeal, but filed this § 2255 motion on May 23, 2007.

II.

Section 2255 provides, in pertinent part: 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. Therefore, 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 motion made under § 2255. See Gov't of V.I. v. Forte, 865 F.2d 59, 62 (3d Cir. 1989). When exercising that discretion, the court must first determine whether the petitioner's claims, if proven, would entitle him to relief, and if so, if an evidentiary hearing is needed to determine the truth of the allegations. See Zettlemoyer v. Fulcomer, 923 F.2d 284, 291 (3d Cir. 1991). A district court may dismiss a motion brought under § 2255 without a hearing where the "motion, files, and records 'show conclusively that the movant is not entitled to relief.'" United States v. Nahodil, 36 F.3d 323, 326 (3d Cir. 1994) (quoting United States v. Day, 969 F.2d 39, 41-42 (3d Cir. 1992); Forte, 865 F.2d at 62).

III.

A.

Petitioner first argues that his 84-month prison sentence should be reduced pursuant to the Commission's May 1, 2007, amendments to the sentencing guidelines. These amendments became effective November 1, 2007. The Court will dismiss Petitioner's claim without prejudice because the retroactive application of the amendment related to crack cocaine does not become effective until March 3, 2008, and because a § 2255 motion is not the appropriate means by which Petitioner should raise this claim.

As of November 1, 2007, the Commission amended Sentencing Guideline Section 2D1.1 as it relates to quantities of crack cocaine by effectively reducing a defendant's Base Offense Level by two for most crack cocaine offenses. See U.S.S.G. Supp. App. C, Amend. 706. On December 11, 2007, the Commission added Amendment 706 to the list of Amendments that may be applied retroactively pursuant to Sentencing Guideline Section 1B1.10(c), effective March 3, 2008.

Section 1B1.10 states, in pertinent part: Where a defendant is serving a term of imprisonment, and the guideline range applicable to that defendant has subsequently been lowered as a result of an amendment to the Guidelines Manual listed in subsection (c) . . . a reduction in the defendant's term of imprisonment is authorized under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2).

U.S.S.G. § 1B1.10(a) (emphasis added). Section 3582(c)(2) provides, in relevant part:

[I]n the case of a defendant who has been sentenced to a term of imprisonment based on a sentencing range that has subsequently been lowered by the Sentencing Commission . . . upon motion of the defendant . . . the court may reduce the term of imprisonment, ...


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