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Ali v. United States

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

September 28, 2018

TYREN ALI, Petitioner,

          Tyren Ali, #63465-050 Federal Correctional Institution - Berlin Petitioner, pro se

          Diana V. Carrig, Esq. Office of the United States Attorney Counsel for Respondent


          NOEL L. HILLMAN, U.S.D.J.

         Presently before the Court is the Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence of Tyren Ali (“Petitioner”) brought pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (the “Petition”). ECF No. 1. In response to this Court's Order to Answer, ECF No. 7, Respondent the United States of America (the “Government” or “Respondent”)

         filed its Answer, ECF No. 14, and Petitioner filed a Reply, ECF No. 18. Subsequently, Petitioner filed a Motion to Amend the Petition pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15. ECF No. 20. The Government filed an opposition to the Motion to Amend. ECF No. 29. Petitioner also filed a reply in support of his request to amend. ECF No. 32. For the following reasons, the Court will deny Petitioner's Motion to Amend, deny the Petition, and decline to issue a certificate of appealability.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Criminal Proceedings

         On September 10, 2010, West Deptford, New Jersey police officers stopped a vehicle driven by Petitioner. ECF No. 14 at 3. During the traffic stop, the officers discovered $16, 000 in cash, a hidden firearm, and paper that appeared to be a coded drug ledger. Id. A few months later, on November 18, 2010, officers searched Petitioner's home and seized a small amount of marijuana and $30, 000. Id.

         In 2011, through discussions with a confidential informant, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (“DEA”) discovered that Petitioner operated a drug distribution ring in Camden, New Jersey. Id. at 4. With this information, the DEA set up a series of controlled drug purchases of cocaine and crack cocaine between the CI and Petitioner and his brother. Id. These transactions occurred between March 3, 2011, and May 5, 2011.

         Petitioner was arrested on May 19, 2011, pursuant to a federal criminal complaint, arising from an investigation into a conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute more than 28 grams of a mixture and substance containing detectable amounts of cocaine base contrary to 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(B), and in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846. No. 11-cr-752, ECF Nos. 1 (complaint); 13 (executed arrest warrant).[1] The next day, Petitioner met with law enforcement agents and admitted to, inter alia, travelling to East Orange, New Jersey to purchase cocaine in kilogram quantities, repackaging the cocaine into smaller units, and paying his brother to conduct small transactions for him. No. 14-cv-7723, ECF No. 14 at 5.

         Several months into his criminal proceedings, Petitioner retained Peter Alfinito, Esq. as his attorney. No. 11-cr-752, ECF No. 15. Mr. Alfinito represented Petitioner throughout the remainder of his criminal proceeding, including his September 6, 2011, proffer session, his plea hearing, and ultimately his sentencing on June 25, 2012. Mr. Alfinito was present with Petitioner at the proffer, at which time Petitioner admitted to his conduct and provided detailed information regarding the conspiracy and the allegations of the complaint, admitting that these allegations were true and accurate. See No. 11-cr-752, ECF No. 28-2.

         On November 1, 2011, the Government indicted Petitioner on charges related to the criminal complaint. No. 11-cr-752, ECF No. 22. At his arraignment on November 4, 2011, Petitioner pleaded not guilty to the sole count of the indictment, and his case was scheduled for a jury trial to commence on January 9, 2012. No. 11-cr-752, ECF No. 23.

         Petitioner pled guilty on December 9, 2011. See No. 11-cr-752, ECF Nos. 32 (minute entry), 41 (plea hearing transcript). The Court conducted a lengthy and thorough plea colloquy. No. 11-cr-752, ECF No. 41 (plea hearing transcript). The plea included a written plea agreement with the Government. See No. 11-cr-752, ECF No. 34 (plea agreement). The plea agreement laid out the statutory mandatory minimum term of five years' imprisonment, and the statutory maximum sentence of forty years' imprisonment. Id. at 1. The plea agreement did not include an agreed upon term of imprisonment, but it did contain a narrow waiver regarding a stipulated drug quantity that if accepted by the Court could not be challenged on appeal or collateral attack.[2] Id. at 2-3, Sch. A.

         At the Rule 11 hearing, Petitioner agreed that he had reviewed with Mr. Alfinito and understood the plea agreement, the charges contained in the various charging documents, and the rights and penalties defined in the Rule 11 form. Id. He also confirmed that he was satisfied with his counsel's representation and advice. Id.

         At the plea hearing, Petitioner and Mr. Alfinito signed and submitted a written Application for Permission to Enter Plea of Guilty. No. 11-cr-752, ECF No. 33. In the Application, Petitioner stated that he told his lawyer all the facts and circumstances known to him about the charges set forth in the indictment, that he was satisfied that his lawyer understood the information that he provided, and that his lawyer counseled and advised him on the nature of each charge and on all possible defenses he might have in this case. Id., ¶¶ 15-16. He also stated that his lawyer explained the plea agreement to him and that he understood it. Id., ¶ 37. Finally, Petitioner stated, “I believe that my lawyer has done all that anyone could do to counsel and assist me, AND I AM SATISFIED WITH THE ADVICE AND HELP MY LAWYER HAS GIVEN ME.” Id., ¶ 42.

         Before sentencing, the Probation Office determined that Petitioner qualified as a Career Offender within the meaning of U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1. ECF No. 14 at 6. Specifically, Petitioner had a heroin trafficking conviction stemming from an arrest on May 8, 2001 (violation of N.J. Stat. Ann. 2C:35-5(b)(3)), a cocaine trafficking conviction stemming from an arrest on August 4, 2001 (violation of N.J. Stat. Ann. 2C:35-7), and another cocaine trafficking conviction from an arrest on April 29, 2005 (violation of N.J. Stat. Ann. 2C:35-7). See ECF No. 14 at 7 (citing presentence investigation report). Given Petitioner's criminal history, the Probation Office then determined that Petitioner had a criminal history category VI and a total offense level of 31, which corresponds to an advisory guidelines range of 188 to 235 months of imprisonment. Id.

         On June 25, 2012, the parties appeared before the Court for sentencing. Petitioner's counsel first argued that although the Career Offender guideline may apply to him, Petitioner was in reality a low-level street dealer and did not deserve the length of sentence contemplated by the advisory guidelines. No. 11-cr-752, ECF No. 40 (sentencing transcript). In addition, counsel requested a downward variance based on the relatively small quantities of drugs in this and prior cases, Petitioner's health because he had been shot twice, Petitioner's difficult upbringing with a drug addicted mother and the lack of a father, Petitioner's age, Petitioner's family support, and the sentencing disparity between the state and federal systems for the given offense. Id. See also ECF No. 1-3 (sentencing memorandum). At the sentencing hearing, counsel for Petitioner had Petitioner's mother speak on behalf of her son. No. 11-cr-752, ECF No. 40 (sentencing transcript). Petitioner's mother detailed Petitioner's difficult upbringing, her prior addiction to drugs, and Petitioner's instrumental role in supporting her recovery from the addiction. Id.

         After hearing argument from both parties, the Court declined to grant a downward variance and sentenced Petitioner to 204 months of imprisonment, a sentence roughly in the middle of the advisory range, along with a term of supervised release and restitution. No. 11-cr-752, ECF Nos. 36 (judgment of conviction), 40 (sentencing transcript). The Court explained its reasoning for the sentence given as follows:

Mr. Ali is not an atypical Career Offender in the federal system. He is the typical Career Offender. And I see nothing in this record to deviate from the sentencing guideline provision which raises his offense level to 34 and mandates an advisory sentencing range of 188 and 235 months, and, more importantly, I see nothing in the record to cause me to vary from that offense - from the range, which I find reflects the seriousness of the offense, the repeated conduct. It's only a sentence of this long or a sentence within that range [that] will promote respect for the law, that will provide just punishment, that will protect the public from further crimes of this defendant, who seems unwilling or unable to do anything with his life other than deal drugs.
And if one needed any more confirmation, it's his own statements to the DEA and his distribution of large amounts of cocaine in this city, which is plagued by drug dealing, drug abuse and drug crime, to confirm his status as a Career Offender.
I don't impose this sentence lightly and it pains me to do it. I'm sure Mr. Ali has good qualities. His mother and fiancée have attested to those. And I think, to some extent, he's a product of his environment. But I'm struck by a profound irony that he would save his mother from drug abuse and drug addiction, and yet repeatedly sell the same poison into the streets of Camden . . . .
I am convinced that a sentence within the sentencing guideline range promotes the statutory factors, reflects the seriousness of the crime, and is warranted ...

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