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United States v. James

United States District Court, Western District of New York

March 3, 2015

FIRKON JAMES, Defendant.


DAVID G. LARIMER, United States District Judge.

Firkon James ("James" or "defendant") has filed a motion (Dkt. #96) that he has styled as a "Motion to Modify Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1651(a) For Constitutional Violation (Not a 2255)." On the same day that he filed that motion, James filed another motion (Dkt. #95), which he describes as a "Motion to Withdraw Plea Agreement Applicable to Rule 11."

The Government has responded by filing a motion to dismiss (Dkt. #98). James has filed a response (Dkt. #101) to the Government's motion to dismiss. For the reasons that follow, James's motion is denied, and the Government's cross-motion to dismiss is granted.


The Government's motion to dismiss accurately sets forth the relevant procedural background in this case, including the remarkable number of attorneys--five--who were either appointed to represent James or retained by him, and who eventually asked to be relieved as counsel because of conflicts caused by James. When James eventually pleaded guilty to the charges, he was represented by his sixth lawyer, Bryan Oathout.

The procedural history is fairly straightforward. On September 17, 2012, defendant (then represented by his third attorney, Avik Ganguly) pleaded guilty pursuant to a plea agreement, which contained an agreed-upon sentence of 300 months imprisonment pursuant to FED. R. CRIM. P. 11(c)(1)(C). James pleaded guilty to Count 1 of the indictment, which charged conspiracy to distribute 280 grams or more of cocaine base. That count contained a mandatory minimum sentence of 240 months to life imprisonment.

In the factual basis contained in the plea agreement, James admitted engaging in a narcotics conspiracy from January 2008 to September 2010, and that the conspiracy involved at least 280 grams of cocaine base. James also admitted manufacturing the cocaine base, packaging it, and directly distributing the drugs to others. James also acknowledged having possessed a firearm during the conspiracy.

In addition to the drug quantity, the sentence was affected by James's prior drug felony conviction. Prior to entry of the plea, the Government filed an information pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 851 alleging that conviction.

There was an extensive colloquy pursuant to Rule 11 at the time of the anticipated plea, and the Government has attached the transcript of that proceeding to its motion to dismiss. (Dkt. #98-2.) The first sixteen pages of that transcript reflect both the choices facing James and his reluctance to follow the advice of counsel and take advantage of the plea agreement, which spared him possible life imprisonment without parole should he be convicted after trial.

It is apparent that plea offers had been extended to James several months, if not a year, prior to that plea proceeding. Eventually, a trial date was set with James and his then-attorney, Ganguly, but the matter was rescheduled one last time to see if James wanted to take the plea offer of 300 months imprisonment, pursuant to Rule 11(c)(1)(C). Such a sentence--though considerably better than what James was facing, if he went to trial--was obviously not insubstantial, and the Court spent quite some time explaining the realities of the situation to James.

Part of that discussion related to James's multiple prior drug convictions. If he pleaded guilty, the Government would agree to rely on only one of his prior convictions, with respect to sentencing. But if James went to trial and was convicted, the Government would file an information relating to all of James's prior drug convictions, which would have subjected him to a possible mandatory life sentence. See Dkt. #98-2 at 7.

All of this was set out for James in the course of the plea colloquy. James's options were presented to him, and the plea proceeding was adjourned for about five hours to give James and his attorney a further opportunity to decide what James wanted to do. Id. at 16. When the parties reconvened, the Court was advised that James did want to accept the plea offer, and James confirmed that on the record. Id. at 17. There followed an extensive discussion about the plea agreement, James's understanding of it, and the fact that the plea was an 11(c)(1)(C) plea with a sentence of 300 months imprisonment.

Once again, the prosecutor advised the Court of James's multiple prior drug convictions, and the concomitant possibility of a mandatory life sentence. James freely admitted to the Court that one of the reasons he was taking the plea offer was that he knew that he would face mandatory life imprisonment if he were to be convicted after trial. Id. at 22.

In addition to several other provisions that were discussed, the Court specifically drew James's attention to Section VI, on page 10 of the plea agreement, which provided for his waiver of the right to file either a direct appeal, a habeas corpus petition, or a § 2255 motion. James acknowledged that he was aware of and understood those provisions. Id. at 30-31. James was also advised that any motions ...

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