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Betts v. United States

May 22, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Norman A. Mordue, Chief U.S. District Judge



The record reflects that on June 19, 2003, following a criminal investigation conducted by law enforcement agents which sought to curtail illegal drug sales in the Syracuse, New York area, petitioner pro se Waliek Betts and numerous other individuals were indicted by a federal grand jury sitting in the Northern District of New York. See 03-CR-0243, Dkt. No. 1. That accusatory body subsequently returned a Superceding Indictment against Betts and others. See 03-CR-0243, Dkt. No. 69 ("Superceding Indictment"). In that instrument, Betts was charged with conspiring to violate 18 U.S.C. § 1962, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act ("RICO"), through his membership in a criminal enterprise that involved himself and numerous other individuals. See Superceding Indictment, Count One. Betts was also charged in that indictment with possessing with intent to distribute and distributing marijuana, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), 846. Superceding Indictment, Count Two.

On March 3, 2004, following negotiations between Betts's retained counsel, Linda Stock, Esq. and United States Attorney John Katko ("AUSA Katko"), the parties filed a plea agreement with the Court in which Betts agreed to plead guilty to the first count in the Superceding Indictment, which charged him with violating 18 U.S.C. § 1962(d), in satisfaction of the charges brought against him in that accusatory instrument. See 03-CR-0243, Dkt. No. 286 (copy of

Betts's plea agreement with Government) (hereinafter "Plea Agreement"). In that agreement, Betts also agreed to waive his right to appeal, or collaterally attack through a Motion to Vacate brought pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, his judgment of conviction as well as any sentence of imprisonment of 235 months or less. See id. at ¶ 11.

At the proceeding over which this Court presided wherein Betts formally entered his change of plea, he admitted that he had engaged in the conduct alleged in the first count of the Superceding Indictment. See Transcript of Change of Plea (3/3/04) (03-CR-0243, Dkt. No. 642) ("Plea Tr.") at pp. 6-7. AUSA Katko then discussed in detail the factual and legal bases for the charges brought against Betts (see Plea Tr. at pp. 12-14), who thereafter agreed with the accuracy of the prosecutor's statements regarding Betts's participation in the criminal enterprise. Plea Tr. at p. 14. An extensive colloquy was then placed on the record during which Betts: i) admitted that his attorney had discussed with him the Superceding Indictment; ii) acknowledged that he was freely pleading guilty freely to the RICO conspiracy charge; iii) was made aware of the evidence which the Government possessed against him that would be utilized by the prosecutor at trial; iv) admitted that he was responsible for between 150 and 500 grams of cocaine base, and 40 to 60 kilograms of marijuana, related to the conspiracy; and v) acknowledged that he was aware that if he was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of 235 months or less that he could not appeal or collaterally attack his sentence. See id. at pp. 14-17. This Court thereafter concluded that Betts was voluntarily pleading guilty to the charge, that he was competent to enter the plea, and that he understood the nature of the charge against him and the consequences of his guilty plea. Id. at p. 20. This Court therefore accepted Betts's guilty plea. Id. at pp. 20-21.

On November 19, 2004, Betts appeared before this Court for sentencing. See Transcript of Sentencing (11/19/04) (03-CR-0243, Dkt. No. 643) ("Sentencing Tr."). At that proceeding, this Court noted that the total offense level applicable to Betts was 33 and that his criminal history category was level VI. Id. at p. 7. Consequently, the Court noted that he was subject to a range of imprisonment under the United States Sentencing Guidelines of between 235 and 293 months. Id. After concluding that Betts's criminal history score substantially overrepresented the seriousness of that history, this Court made a downward departure pursuant to United States Sentencing Guidelines § 4A1.3(b)(1), and ultimately sentenced Betts to a term of imprisonment of 210 months. Id. at p. 8. A judgment reflecting that sentence was thereafter entered by the Clerk of the Court in the related criminal matter. 03-CR-0243, Dkt. No. 505.*fn2 Betts did not file any appeal relating to his conviction or sentence.

On November 16, 2005, Betts filed his Motion to Vacate, Set Aside or Correct his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. See 05-CV-1434, Dkt. No. 1 ("Motion to Vacate"). In his application, Betts asserts several different theories in support of his claim that his trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance. See Motion to Vacate, Grounds One through Four.

The Government filed a memorandum of law in opposition to Betts's Motion to Vacate on February 9, 2006. 05-CV-1434, Dkt. No. 7 ("Resp. Mem."). Petitioner thereafter filed a "Traverse" in further support of the present motion. 05-CV-1434, Dkt. No. 10 ("Traverse").


The Court initially considers Betts's claim that his attorney wrongfully failed to file a notice of appeal despite his timely request that he do so. Motion to Vacate, Ground Four.*fn3

Respondent claims that Betts "provides no sworn statements to support this completely self-serving statement. Moreover, it is in contradiction with the plea agreement and the record at both the plea and sentencing hearings...." See Resp. Mem. at p. 19.

In Campusano v. United States, 442 F.3d 770 (2d Cir. 2006), the Second Circuit specifically addressed the issue of whether an attorney may be found to have rendered ineffective assistance by failing to file a notice of appeal despite the fact that the defendant expressly waived his right to pursue an appeal through a plea agreement. In that case, the Second Circuit noted that although waivers of appeal are generally enforceable, "important constitutional rights require some exceptions to the presumptive enforceability of a waiver." Campusano, 442 F.3d at 774 (citation omitted). Because the Second Circuit "take[s] very seriously the need to make sure that defendants are not unfairly deprived of the opportunity to appeal, even after a waiver appears to bar appeal," Campusano, 442 F.3d at 775 (citation omitted), the Campusano court determined that when a district court is confronted with a claim by a habeas petitioner that his trial attorney wrongfully failed to file a notice of appeal despite the petitioner's explicit instructions to pursue that course of conduct, "the district court is ... to determine whether [petitioner] in fact instructed his attorney to file an appeal. If [petitioner] did give such an instruction, he is to be allowed a direct appeal." Campusano, 442 F.3d at 777.*fn4

Turning to the facts of the case sub judice, Betts plainly alleges, under oath, that his attorney failed to comply with his directive to file a notice of appeal. See Motion to Vacate, Ground Four. Respondent has not provided an affidavit from Betts's counsel or any other evidence that refutes this claim. Nor has it cited the Campusano case in its responsive papers or otherwise explained ...

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