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Briggs v. United States

United States District Court, S.D. New York

January 27, 2017

DONTRELL BRIGGS, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          LAURA TAYLOR SWAIN United States District Judge.

         Petitioner Dontrell Briggs (“Petitioner” or “Briggs”), was convicted, upon a guilty plea, of conspiring to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute a quantity of mixtures and substances containing a detectable amount of heroin, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(b)(1)(C) and 846, and, on September 15, 2015, was sentenced principally to a below-Guidelines custodial sentence of 96 months of imprisonment. (See J., Docket Entry No. 452.) Petitioner now moves, pro se, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to vacate, set aside or correct his sentence.

         The Court has reviewed thoroughly the parties' submissions in connection with Petitioner's 28 U.S.C. § 2255 motion (the “Petition”), construing Petitioner's arguments liberally to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest, Graham v. Henderson, 89 F.3d 75, 79 (2d Cir. 1996). For the following reasons, the Petitioner's motion is denied in its entirety.

         Background

         On February 20, 2014, Petitioner was charged in a ten-count Superseding Indictment captioned S3-13-Cr.-271 (the “S3 Indictment”) with, inter alia, participating in a criminal conspiracy to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute: (a) 1 kilogram and more of mixtures and substances containing a detectable amount of heroin, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(A); (b) 280 grams and more of mixtures and substances containing a detectable amount of cocaine base, in a form commonly known as “crack, ” in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(A); and (c) 500 grams and more of mixtures and substances containing a detectable amount of cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(B), from at least in or about February 2012, up to and including at least in or about February 2014, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846. (The S3 Indictment, Docket Entry No. 113.)

         Petitioner wrote to the Court in October 2014, complaining that he had been unable to reach his counsel and requesting a change of appointed counsel. The Court scheduled a conference for November 17, 2014. (See Docket Entry No. 258.) At the scheduled conference, the Court heard Petitioner and counsel regarding the issues raised in the letter, addressed the communications issues, and denied the request for change of counsel. (See Minute Entry for November 17, 2014; Mr. Briggs' letter and the relevant portion of the transcript have been filed under seal.)

         On January 13, 2015, pursuant to a plea agreement, Petitioner pleaded guilty before Magistrate Judge Gabriel W. Gorenstein to a lesser-included offense of Count One of the S3 Indictment, admitting his participation in a conspiracy to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute a quantity of mixtures and substances containing a detectable amount of heroin, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(b)(1)(C) and 846. (Change of Plea Hr'g Tr. (“Plea Hr'g Tr.”), at 13, Docket Entry No. 306.) This Court accepted the plea on February 6, 2015. (Docket Entry No. 304.)

         At his change of plea hearing, Petitioner represented that he understood his signed plea agreement, and acknowledged that the charge carried maximum penalties of imprisonment of 20 years and a life term of supervised release, as well as a mandatory minimum term of supervised release of three years (Plea Hr'g Tr. at 5); that his stipulated Sentencing Guidelines range for a custodial sentence was 151 to 188 months of imprisonment (“Stipulated Guidelines Range”) (id. at 8); and that the plea agreement provided that he would not file a direct appeal, nor bring a collateral challenge to his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 2255 and/or 2241, if his sentence fell within or below the Stipulated Guidelines Range (id. at 9). The Government and Petitioner expressly stipulated, however, that the Petitioner reserved his rights to assert claims of ineffective assistance of counsel, whether on direct appeal, collateral review, or otherwise, in his plea agreement. (Plea Agreement, at 6.) At the change of plea hearing, the Petitioner also confirmed that he had accepted the plea agreement and decided to plead guilty because he did in fact commit the offense that was charged in Count One of the Superseding Indictment. (Plea Hr'g Tr. at 10.)

         Prior to accepting Petitioner's guilty plea, Judge Gorenstein questioned Petitioner to satisfy himself that Petitioner was competent and was entering into the plea knowingly and voluntarily. Petitioner confirmed, inter alia, that: he had fully discussed his case with defense counsel, including the charges to which Petitioner intended to plead guilty (id. at 4); Petitioner was satisfied with defense counsel's representation of him (id.); Petitioner had read the plea agreement, and discussed it with defense counsel, who had explained all of its terms and conditions to him prior to the time Petitioner signed it (id. at 7-8); and Petitioner understood that he had the right to continue pleading not guilty and go to trial (id. at 6). Petitioner also confirmed that he understood that a decision as to the appropriate sentence would be entirely up to the sentencing Court and that, even if the Petitioner was surprised or disappointed by his sentence, he would still be bound by his guilty plea. (Id. at 7.)

         Following Petitioner's guilty plea, the Probation Department prepared a Pre-Sentence Report (“PSR”), dated April 3, 2015, which computed a Guidelines range consistent with the Stipulated Guidelines Range.

         On September 15, 2015, the Petitioner was sentenced by the Court. After the Government, the defense, and the Petitioner himself offered statements regarding the Petitioner's involvement in the criminal conduct at issue and his criminal history as detailed in the PSR (Sentencing Hr'g Tr., at 10-21, 24-46, Docket Entry No. 469), and the Petitioner's mother had spoken about his conduct during a specific period of time (id. at 21-24), the Court adopted the factual recitation set forth in the PSR with a change that had been discussed on the record regarding the Petitioner's substance abuse history, and the Court confirmed that it would take into account the contextual information that had been provided at the hearing in considering the Petitioner's criminal history (id. at 49). The Court concluded that the applicable Guideline offense level was 29 and the applicable criminal history category was VI, and that the advisory Guidelines range for a custodial sentence was from 151 to 188 months of imprisonment, and advised the parties that the Court had used the November 2014 edition of the Sentencing Guidelines manual in making those determinations. (Id. at 49-50.) The Court found that no departure within the Guidelines system was warranted by the facts of the Petitioner's case. (Id. at 50.) The Court further found that the Career Offender Guideline was applicable, but determined that a variance from the Career Offender Guideline was warranted in Petitioner's case. (Id. at 53-54.) The Court considered all the factors under 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a), and imposed a sentence of 96 months of imprisonment, to be followed by seven years of supervised release. (Id. at 50-55.)

         Following the entry of judgment, the Court issued an order on January 21, 2016, stating that the Court had received correspondence from the Petitioner, which the Court deemed a motion for modification of sentence pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3582, and that the Petitioner sought a two-offense-level reduction pursuant to Amendment 782 of the Sentencing Guidelines in the computation underlying his narcotics-related sentence. (Docket Entry No. 528.) The Court denied the motion because the Court had relied upon the November 1, 2014, Guidelines manual in determining the Petitioner's sentence, such that the Petitioner had already benefitted from the offense-level reduction put in place by Amendment 782. Petitioner filed the instant motion pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 on April 18, 2016.

         Discussion

         A petitioner may prevail on a motion to vacate, set aside or correct his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 if he can show that his sentence: (1) was imposed in violation of the Constitution or the laws of the United States; (2) was entered by a court without jurisdiction to impose the sentence; (3) exceeded the maximum detention authorized by law; or (4) is otherwise subject to collateral attack. The grounds for relief under Section 2255 are limited, out of “respect for the finality of criminal sentences, the efficient allocation of judicial resources, and an aversion to retrying ...


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