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Hill v. United States

United States District Court, W.D. New York

February 21, 2018

CEBRIN HILL, Petitioner,


          Richard J. Arcara, Judge

         Petitioner Cebrin Hill seeks relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. For the reasons stated below, Petitioner's motion is denied.


         On August 3, 2015, Petitioner waived indictment and pled guilty to a one-count information charging him with discharging a firearm in furtherance of crimes of violence, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A)(iii) and § 2. Several months later, the Court sentenced Petitioner to the mandatory-minimum sentence of 120 months' imprisonment. Judgment was entered on February 3, 2016. Petitioner did not file a notice of appeal.

         Petitioner now seeks to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Docket No. 41. Petitioner raises a number of arguments in support of his motion, most of which allege that Petitioner's attorney was constitutionally ineffective for failing to challenge the factual basis for Petitioner's plea and for failing to seek relief based on Petitioner's age when he committed his crime.


         1. The plea agreement's collateral-attack waiver bars the majority of Petitioner's claims

         In his plea agreement, Petitioner “knowingly waive[d] the right to . . . collaterally attack any component of a sentence imposed by the Court which falls within or is less than” the Guideline sentencing range of 120 months' imprisonment. As noted, the Court sentenced Petitioner to 120 months' imprisonment. Petitioner's § 2255 motion therefore falls within the plea agreement's collateral-attack waiver.

         A collateral-attack waiver is “‘presumpti[vely] . . . enforceabl[e].” Sanford v. United States, 841 F.3d 578, 580 (2d Cir. 2016) (quoting United States v. Gomez-Perez, 215 F.3d 315, 319 (2d. Cir 2000)) (brackets omitted). A court may disregard a collateral-attack waiver in only a few narrow circumstances, “‘such as (1) when the waiver was not made knowingly, voluntarily, and competently, (2) when the sentence was imposed based on constitutionally impermissible factors, such as ethnic, racial or other prohibited biases, (3) when the government breached the plea agreement, or (4) when the sentencing court failed to enunciate any rationale for the [petitioner's] sentence, thus amounting to an abdication of the judicial responsibility subject to mandamus.'” Id. Moreover, it is well settled that, “[e]ven if the plain language of the plea agreement” prohibits a collateral attack, a court should “not enforce . . . a waiver” when a petitioner “is challenging the constitutionality of the process by which he waived” his collateral-attack rights. United States v. Hernandez, 242 F.3d 110, 113 (2d Cir. 2001) (addressing waiver of appellate rights). See also Id. at 114 (“The rationale is that the very product of the alleged ineffectiveness cannot fairly be used to bar a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel.”) (quotation marks omitted).

         Petitioner's pleadings, read in a charitable light, raise two arguments for why the Court should disregard the plea agreement's collateral-attack waiver: (1) because Petitioner did not knowingly and voluntarily enter into his plea agreement; and (2) because Petitioner did not receive effective assistance of counsel when he decided to plead guilty.

         A. Petitioner's guilty plea was knowing and voluntary

         The transcript of Petitioner's plea hearing plainly shows that Petitioner's plea was knowing and voluntary.[1] During his plea hearing, Petitioner affirmed, under oath, that he was “fully satisfied with the advice and counsel [he] received from [his] attorney.” He also stated, among other things, that he understood the maximum penalties he faced, as well as the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines; that he understood the elements of the crime to which he was pleading guilty; that he understood the detailed factual basis underlying his plea; that he waived “any defense based on the [s]tatute of [l]imitations”; that the plea agreement-which was read in open court-contained “all the terms and conditions of the plea agreement”; and that nobody had “made any other promises” or threatened him to plead guilty. Finally, Petitioner stated repeatedly that he understood the many rights he was giving up by pleading guilty, including his right to appeal or collaterally attack his conviction.

         This record undermines any claim that Petitioner's plea was not knowing and voluntary. Cf. United States v. Torres, 129 F.3d 710, 715 (2d Cir. 1997) (“A defendant's bald statements that simply contradict what he said at his plea allocution are not sufficient grounds to withdraw the guilty plea.”) Petitioner's conclusory allegations to the contrary are insufficient to rebut his sworn statements made during the “grave and solemn act” of pleading guilty. United States v. Hyde, 520 U.S. 670, 677 (1997). Indeed, if Petitioner's “plea can be attacked by assertions that it was coerced and that his counsel was ineffective despite the evidence to the contrary in the plea hearing transcript, then no guilty plea will ever be safe from attack by a [petitioner] who has second thoughts.” Browder v. United States, 14-CV-17(LJV), 10-CR-263(LJV), 2017 WL 262604, at *7 (W.D.N.Y. Jan. 20, 2017).

         Thus, the record does not support the claim that Petitioner's plea was not knowing and voluntary. As a result, the Court will not disregard the plea ...

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