United States District Court, D. New Jersey
L. LINARES,.Chief Judge
before the Court is the amended motion pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 2255 of Rassol China ("Petitioner") to
vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence. (ECF No. 6).
Following an order to answer, the Government filed a response
to the amended motion. (ECF No. 12). Petitioner thereafter
filed a letter in reply. (See ECF No. 13). For the
following reasons, this Court will deny Petitioner's
amended motion and will deny Petitioner a certificate of
November 2013, police and federal agents raided a suspected
heroin mill in Newark, New Jersey. (PSR at ¶ 9-15).
While authorities entered the apartment in which the mill was
thought to be located pursuant to a federally issued search
warrant, Petitioner and several other individuals fled the
apartment by way of a third story window. (Id. at
¶ 14-15). Petitioner, who appeared to have injured his
legs in the process, then fled via car, nearly hitting an
officer attempting to stop him in the process. (Id.
at ¶ 15). Although Petitioner and some of his
coconspirators initially escaped from the scene of the crime,
Petitioner was eventually arrested at a nearby hospital in
which he was being treated for injuries from the fall and a
car accident that occurred following Petitioner's flight
from the heroin mill. (Id. at ¶ 20-23). The
search of the apartment from which Petitioner and his cohorts
had fled uncovered more than a kilogram of heroin.
(Id. at¶ 17-18). Based on these events,
Petitioner was indicted on one count of conspiracy to
distribute and possess with the intent to distribute more
than one kilogram of heroin in violation of 21 U.S.C.
§§ 841(a)(1), 841(b)(1)(A), and 846; and one count
of distribution and possession with intent to distribute more
than a kilogram of heroin in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2
and 18 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(A).
(Docket No. 15-203 at ECF No. 19).
26, 2015, the Government offered Petitioner a plea agreement
which he ultimately chose to sign. (Document 1 attached to
ECF No. 12). Pursuant to the agreement, Petitioner agreed to
plead guilty to both counts of the indictment in exchange for
receiving no further charges related to the heroin mill and
certain sentencing stipulations. (Id. at 1). In the
agreement, Petitioner was informed that his plea of guilty
exposed him to "a statutory mandatory minimum term of
imprisonment of ten years and a maximum prison sentence of
life, " and that his sentence would be "imposed . .
. [in] the sole discretion of the sentencing judge, subject
to the provisions of the Sentencing Reform Act . . . and the
sentencing judge's consideration of the United States
Sentencing Guidelines ... [which] are advisory, not
mandatory." (Id. at 2). In the agreement, the
parties also stipulated to various sentencing factors,
including a three level reduction for acceptance of
responsibility, a base offense level of 30, and that
Petitioner's offense involved between one and three
kilograms of heroin. (Id. at 7). These stipulations
also noted that Petitioner "may be a career
offender" but the agreement "reserve[d] the right
[of both parties] to argue their respective positions [on the
career offender enhancement] at sentencing."
(Id.). Ultimately, these stipulations resulted in a
total offense level of 34 "if [Petitioner] is determined
by the Court to be a career offender" under the
Guidelines, or a level of 27 if he were not found to be a
career offender. (Id. at 8). Although Petitioner was
permitted to address the career offender issue and argue for
a low sentence within the guidelines range, the plea
agreement specifically denied either party the ability
"to seek or argue for any upward or downward departure,
adjustment or variance" not provided for in the
stipulations. (Id.). Both Petitioner and his
attorney signed the agreement on September 10, 2015.
(Id. at 6).
appeared before this Court to plead guilty on September 10,
2015. (Document 2 attached to ECF No. 12). In accordance with
his decision to plead guilty, Petitioner also submitted to
the Court an application to plead guilty, in which he
certified that he had been informed that he faced a maximum
sentence of life and a minimum sentence of 10 years, and that
he would be subject to a sentence equivalent to a level 27
under the guidelines if found not to be a career offender and
equivalent to a level 34 if found to be a career offender.
(Docket No. 15-203 at ECF No. 43). After establishing that
Petitioner was aware of his situation and could adequately
understand his plea proceedings, this Court conducted the
following colloquy with Petitioner regarding his plea
THE COURT: . . . Did you have an opportunity to read the plea
agreement letter with your lawyer and read it yourself?
THE COURT: Did you have an opportunity to ask your lawyer any
questions that you may have had with regard to the plea
THE COURT: Did he answer those questions to your
THE COURT: Having read the plea agreement letter and having
talked to your lawyer about it, do you feel that it sets
forth accurately what you expect to get in exchange for
THE COURT: Are there any questions that you need to ask me or
your lawyer about the plea agreement letter?
THE COURT: Did anyone force you or threaten you into having
to sign the plea agreement letter?
THE COURT: After you read the agreement letter, did you then
sign the agreement letter?
[The Court then ascertained that the signatures on the
agreement were those of Petitioner and counsel.]
THE COURT: Now, I want to explain to you that if you do plead
guilty, there are certain consequences here that you should
be aware of. Number one: The plea agreement letter is only a
contract between you and the Government, but the Government
has to abide by the plea agreement letter and so do you. I
don't have to abide by the plea agreement letter. Now,
normally I go along with the plea agreement letter absent
some special circumstance, but I am not bound by the plea
agreement letter, and you would not be allowed to take back
your guilty ...