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Barnett v. United States

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

October 3, 2018

CARL ANTHONY BARNETT, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent.

          OPINION

          FREDA L. WOLFSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Petitioner, Carl Anthony Barnett (“Barnett” or “Petitioner”), is a federal prisoner proceeding pro se with a motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. For the following reasons, Barnett's § 2255 motion is denied, and the Court also denies a certificate of appealability.

         II. BACKGROUND AND PLEADINGS

         A. The Underlying Criminal Proceeding

         In October 2011, Barnett and numerous others, [1] all allegedly members of a gang known as the Detroit Boyz, were indicted before this Court on various criminal charges. United States v. Barnett, Crim. No. 11-452 (FLW) (D.N.J.), Superseding Indict., ECF No. 150. Specifically, Barnett was indicted for 1) conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine (Count One), 2) conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute 28 grams or more of crack cocaine (Count Two), 3) conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute 100 grams or more of heroin (Count Three), and 4) distribution and possession with intent to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine (Count Ten), pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 2 and 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a), 841(b)(1)(A), and 846. Id. A second superseding indictment added additional defendants, and included a count against Barnett for distribution and possession with intent to distribute a quantity of cocaine. See Crim. No. 11-452, ECF No. 161. In April 2012, a grand jury returned a third superseding indictment, which added counts against Barnett for distribution and possession with intent to distribute 28 grams or more of crack cocaine (Count Twelve), distribution and possession with intent to distribute heroin (Count Thirteen), both under 18 U.S.C. § 2 and 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(B), as well as possession of a firearm in furtherance of drug-trafficking crimes, under 18 U.S.C. §§ 2 and 924(c)(1)(A)(i).[2] See Crim. No. 11-452, ECF No. 210.

         On May 4, 2012, Barnett pleaded guilty before this Court to Count One, conspiracy to distribute cocaine, and Count Nineteen, use and carry of a firearm during and in relation to drug crime. Crim. No. 11-452, ECF Nos. 277, 278, 327. The plea agreement acknowledged that the conviction on Count One, taking account of prior-crime enhancements, carried a statutory minimum sentence of 20 years' imprisonment and a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, while Count Two carried a minimum sentence of five years, to run consecutive to the other sentence. Id., ECF No. 278 at 2 & Sched. A. On May 17, 2012, Barnett moved for the appointment of new counsel, claiming, essentially, that his original attorney, Edward Burch, did not adequately represent him. Crim. No. 11-452, ECF No. 318. The Court granted that request, and Barnett was subsequently represented by Frederick W. Klepp (“Klepp”). Crim. No. 11-452, ECF No. 319.

         Meanwhile, during the pendency of Barnett's first criminal matter, referenced above, on May 17, 2012, Barnett was again indicted by a grand jury for attempt to distribute or to possess with the intent to distribute 500 grams or more of a substance containing cocaine, under 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), 841(b)(1)(B), and 846. United States v. Barnett, Crim. No. 12-349 (FLW) (D.N.J.), Indict., ECF No. 10. On August 8, 2012, Barnett pleaded guilty to the offense indicted. Id., ECF Nos. 15-17. The plea agreement noted that the offense carried a statutory minimum sentence of five years' imprisonment and a maximum sentence of 40 years. Id., ECF No. 17 at 1-2.

         After various delays, a joint sentencing hearing occurred before the Court on June 30, 2014. See Crim. No. 11-452, ECF Nos. 441 & 476; Crim. No. 12-349, ECF Nos. 27 & 30. At sentencing, the Court explained that the firearm offense carried a mandatory minimum sentence of five years, to run consecutive to any other sentence. Crim. No. 11-452, Tr. of Hr'g (June 30, 2014), ECF No. 476, at 4; Crim No. 12-349, ECF No. 30. While the Court found that the Sentencing Guidelines would result in an adjusted offense level on the conspiracy charge of 31, as Barnett conceded that he was a career offender due to predicate felony drug offenses, the Court applied an offense level of 34, with a criminal-history level of 6. Id. at 5-7. On the drug distribution charge from the 2012 indictment, the Court found that, as a career offender, Barnett's adjusted offense level was a 31, with a criminal history level of 6. Id. at 12-14.

         Notably, due to Barnett's substantial cooperation, the government moved for a 15-level downward departure and waiver of statutory minimum sentences, requesting that Barnett be sentenced under an offense level of 19 on the 2011 drug charges and an offense level of 16 on the 2012 drug charge, but a consecutive five-year sentence for the firearm offense remained. Id. at 14-16. The Court granted this application and sentenced to Barnett to 72 months on the 2011 drug charge, with 60 months to run consecutively for the firearms offense, and to 46 months, to run concurrently, on the 2012 drug charge, resulting in an aggregate sentence of 132 months. Id. at 16-19, 41-43; see also Crim. No. 11-452, J. (July 2, 2014), ECF No. 443; Crim. No. 12-349, J. (July 2, 2014), ECF No. 30. On March 13, 2015, Petitioner also received a further reduction from 132 months to 111 months pursuant to USSG § 1B1.10. See Crim No. 11-452 at ECF No. 454.

         B. Petitioner's § 2255 Motion

         Petitioner did not file a direct appeal. On October 23, 2016, he filed the instant § 2255 petition, raising a single ground for relief based on the Supreme Court's decision in Mathis v. United States, 579 U.S. --, 136 S.Ct. 2243, 195 L.Ed.2d 604 (2016). Civil No. 16-7940, ECF No. 1. Petitioner subsequently filed two “motions” to amend his petition. Id. at ECF Nos. 2, 4. The first motion to amend provides additional arguments in support of Petitioner's Mathis claim. Id. at ECF No. 2. The second motion to amend appears to raise a new claim arguing that Petitioner's guilty plea on the weapons charge was involuntary. Id. at ECF No. 4. On June 29, 2017, the Court directed the government to answer the petition, Id. at ECF No. 9, and the answer was filed on August 14, 2017. Id. at ECF No. 11. In its answer, the government argues, in relevant part, that the motion is untimely and without merit.[3] Petitioner filed his traverse on September 1, 2017. Id. at ECF No. 12. The matter is now fully briefed and ready for disposition.

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Courts may afford relief under Section 2255 on a number of grounds including, “that the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or the laws of the United States.” Id. § 2255(a); see also 28 U.S.C. § 2255 Rule 1(a). The statute provides that, as a remedy for an unlawfully-imposed sentence, “the court shall vacate and set the judgment aside and shall discharge the prisoner or resentence him or grant a new trial or correct the sentence as may appear appropriate.” 28 U.S.C. § 2255(b). The court accepts the truth of the defendant's allegations when reviewing a Section 2255 motion unless those allegations are “clearly frivolous based on the existing record.” United States v. Booth, 432 F.3d 542, 545 (3d Cir. 2005). Additionally, “[i]t is the policy of the courts to give a liberal construction to pro se habeas petitions.” Rainey v. Varner, 603 F.3d 189, 198 (3d Cir. 2010). A criminal defendant nevertheless bears the burden of establishing his entitlement to § 2255 relief. See United States v. Davies, 394 F.3d 182, 189 (3d Cir. 2005). A court is required to hold an evidentiary hearing when the motion “allege[s] any facts warranting § 2255 relief that are not clearly resolved by the record.” United States v. Tolliver, 800 F.3d 138, 141 (3d Cir. 2015) (quoting Booth, 432 F.3d at 546).

         IV. ANALYSIS

         A one-year limitations period applies under the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”). See 28 U.S.C. § 2255(f) (“[a] 1-year period of limitation shall apply to a motion under this section.”) This is Petitioner's first § 2255 motion; however, he filed it over a year after his convictions became final. See 28 U.S.C. § 2255(f)(1). The motion is thus untimely unless he can prove that each of his claims fall within an exception to the general one-year limitation period for habeas petitions. See Id. Timeliness of habeas claims is determined on a claim by claim basis. See Fielder v. Varner, 379 F.3d 113, ...


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