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United States v. Lane

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Tampa Division

June 19, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
PAMELA LANE

          ORDER

          STEVEN D. MERRYDAY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Lane moves under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (Doc. 1) to vacate and challenges the validity of her conviction for conspiracy to distribute and for possession with the intent to distribute five hundred grams or more of methamphetamine, for which offenses she is imprisoned for eighty-seven months. Lane's motion lacks merit because in the plea agreement Lane waived the right to raise each ground she asserts in the motion to vacate.

         Rule 4, Rules Governing Section 2255 Cases, requires a preliminary review of the motion to vacate. Section 2255 requires denial of the motion without a response if the “motion and the files and records of the case conclusively show that the prisoner is entitled to no relief . . . .” Accord Wright v. United States, 624 F.2d 557, 558 (5th Cir. 1980)[1] (finding the summary dismissal of a Section 2255 motion was proper “[b]ecause in this case the record, uncontradicted by [defendant], shows that he is not entitled to relief”); Hart v. United States, 565 F.2d 360, 361 (5th Cir. 1978) (“Rule 4(b) [Rules Governing § 2255 Proceedings], allows the district court to summarily dismiss the motion and notify the movant if ‘it plainly appears from the face of the motion and any annexed exhibits and the prior proceedings in the case that the movant is not entitled to relief . . . .'”). See United States v. Deal, 678 F.2d 1062, 1065 (11th Cir. 1982) (citing Wright and Hart).

         FACTS[2]

From an unknown date, but at least late in 2013, through and on or about November 13, 2014, the defendants Linda Tallent, Pamela Lane, Joseph Lane, and others known and unknown, conspired and agreed to distribute and possess with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of methamphetamine in and around Hillsborough County, in the Middle District of Florida and elsewhere.
More specifically, during the above time frame, Pamela and Joseph LANE, commercial truck drivers, had been transporting multiple pound quantities of methamphetamine on a monthly basis from Phoenix, AZ, to the Middle District of Florida. During that time, they had sold multiple ounce quantities of methamphetamine to Linda Tallent on numerous occasions. Linda Tallent had also received pound quantities from another source of supply (“SOS”). Tallent sold a large amount of that methamphetamine to an individual who later became a confidential informant (CI) with the DEA. The CI often went with Tallent to the SOS's residence to get the methampheta-mine.
On November 13, 2014, the CI agreed to cooperate with the DEA and made arrangements to purchase two ounces of methamphetamine from Tallent for $2600. The CI met with Tallent and gave her the $2600. Tallent told CI that she needed to go pick up the drugs from one of her SOS's in Gibsonton, Florida. Agents followed Tallent to the residence of Pamela and Joseph Lane at 8010 Nundy Avenue, Gibsonton, Florida, where she was observed going into the residence, meeting with the Lanes, and leaving. A traffic stop was conducted on her vehicle and she admitted there were two ounces of methamphetamine in her car. The drugs were located in the car and $600 of the pre-recorded funds were in her pocket. After waiving her Miranda rights, Tallent admitted that she had just purchased the drugs from her girlfriend on Nundy Ave, and she had seen additional money in that house before she left.
A search warrant was executed at the Lane's residence at 8010 Nundy Avenue, Gibsonton, Florida. Agents found approximately 114 grams of methamphetamine in the master bedroom; multiple small baggies commonly used to distribute methamphetamine; one loaded Charter Arms .357 Revolver, and 5 rounds of ammunition located in the dresser drawer next to the bed in the master bedroom; a Remington .870 express magnum pump shotgun and 5 rounds of ammunition and a Browning Bar .243 Rifle with 30 rounds of ammunition located in the closet of the master bedroom; one Savage Arms .12 gauge single shotgun model 94 (with a cut off butt stock) with several rounds of ammunition in second bedroom; and two safes containing $74, 610.00 in United States Currency. Contained among the money was $1700.00 in pre-recorded “buy” money.

         The motion to vacate asserts five grounds of ineffective assistance of counsel. (Doc. 1) Lane contends that counsel rendered ineffective assistance by challenging neither the search warrant nor the United States' evidence, ostensibly because counsel failed to conduct an independent investigation. Lane alleges that counsel was ineffective at sentencing by advising Lane that she would get a light sentence (Ground Three), by allowing the United States to confiscate her life savings (Ground Four), and by failing to present character witnesses at sentencing (paragraph number four in the supporting memorandum). In a supplement (Doc. 4) Lane alleges that counsel was ineffective for not seeking a minor role reduction.

         GROUNDS WAIVED BY GUILTY PLEA

         Lane contends that counsel rendered ineffective assistance by challenging neither the search warrant nor the United States' evidence, ostensibly because counsel failed to conduct an independent investigation (Grounds One and Two). By pleading guilty Lane waived her right to challenge both the search warrant and the United States' evidence. Tollett v. Henderson, 411 U.S. 258, 267 (1973), holds that a guilty plea[3] waives a non-jurisdictional defect:

[A] guilty plea represents a break in the chain of events which has preceded it in the criminal process. When a criminal defendant has solemnly admitted in open court that he is in fact guilty of the offense with which he is charged, he may not thereafter raise independent claims relating to the deprivation of constitutional rights that occurred prior to the entry of the guilty plea.

         This waiver of rights precludes most challenges to the conviction. “[W]hen the judgment of conviction upon a guilty plea has become final and the offender seeks to re-open the proceeding, the inquiry is ordinarily confined to whether the underlying plea was both counseled and voluntary.” United States v. Broce, 488 U.S. 563, 569 (1989). See also United States v. Patti, 337 F.3d 1217, 1320 (11th Cir. 2003) (“Generally, a voluntary, unconditional guilty plea waives all non-jurisdictional defects in the proceedings.”) and Wilson v. United States, 962 F.2d 996, 997 (11th Cir. 1992) (“A defendant who enters a plea of guilty waives all non-jurisdictional challenges to the constitutionality of the conviction, and only an attack on the voluntary and knowing nature of the plea can be sustained.”). A guilty plea waives a claim based on a pre-plea event, including a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. Wilson, 962 F.2d at 997. See also McMann v. Richardson, 397 U.S. 759, 766 (1970) (holding that a plea waives the right to trial and, therefore, waives the “right to contest the admissibility of any evidence the State might have offered against the defendant”).

         Lane's allegation that counsel should have both challenged the search warrant (Ground One) and conducted an independent investigation (Ground Two) are refuted by her testimony when she pleaded guilty. In response to the magistrate judge's questions, Lane testified that “there [was not] anything [defense counsel] should have done that he did not do in this case” and that she was “satisfied with the way [defense counsel] represented [her] in this case.” (Doc. 143 at 23) Lane's earlier testimony bars the present claims. “[T]he representations of the defendant . . . [at the plea proceeding] as well as any findings made by the judge accepting the plea, constitute a formidable barrier in any subsequent collateral proceedings. Solemn declarations in open court carry a strong presumption of verity.” Blackledge v. Allison, 431 U.S. 63, 73S74 (1977). Accord Marquez v. United States, 2017 WL 1279044 (11th Cir. April 6, 2017) (quoting Blackledge); Connolly v. United States, 568 Fed. App'x 770, 771 (11th Cir. 2014) (quoting Blackledge). See also United States v. Lagrone, 727 F.2d 1037, 2038 (11th Cir. 1984) (“When a defendant pleads guilty relying upon his counsel's best professional judgment, he cannot later argue that his plea was due to coercion by counsel.”).

         As Wilson explains, the entry of a guilty plea waives a claim that occurred before entry of the plea, including both a substantive claim and a purported failing of counsel but neither a jurisdictional challenge nor a voluntariness challenge to the plea. Lane asserts neither a jurisdictional challenge nor a voluntariness challenge. As a consequence, by pleading guilty Lane waived presenting the claims asserted in Grounds One and Two.

         GROUNDS PRECLUDED BY THE APPEAL WAIVER

         Lane's conviction is based on a negotiated plea. The plea agreement specifically states that Lane “expressly waives the right to appeal defendant's sentence on any ground, including the ground that the Court erred in determining the applicable guidelines range pursuant to the United States Sentencing Guidelines, ” except for three inapplicable exceptions. Plea Agreement ¶7 at 13 (Doc. 67).

         During the entry of the guilty plea the magistrate judge ensured that Lane understood that she could not withdraw her plea even if the sentence imposed was greater than expected (Doc. 143 at 30):

THE COURT: In paragraph seven, the Government agrees to recommend that you be sentenced within the guideline range as determined by the Court under the guidelines as adjusted by any departure the Government has agreed to recommend, but it goes on to say that for some reason the Court does not do that, you would not have a right to withdraw your plea of guilty. Mr. Lane, do you understand that?
Mr. Lane: Yes, sir.
THE COURT: And Ms. Lane, do you?
THE DEFENDANT: Yes, Sir.
THE COURT: I will tell you that in some circumstances the court can go above the sentencing guidelines and in other circumstances can go below the sentencing guidelines. Do you understand that?
THE DEFENDANT: Yes, sir.

         Lane stated that she understood that this preclusion against withdrawing the guilty plea applies even if the district judge rejects the United States' recommendation for a downward adjustment based on Lane's acceptance of responsibility. (Doc. 143 at 31-32) The magistrate judge also ensured that Lane understood the significance of the appeal waiver (Doc. 143 at 34-35):

THE COURT: I also want to emphasize paragraph seven. I will tell you that even though you are pleading guilty, you have a right to appeal your sentence. But under paragraph seven, you limit the extent to which you can appeal your sentence. Under paragraph seven, you can only appeal if the sentence exceeds the guideline range as determined by the Court under the guidelines, or if the sentence exceeds the statutory maximum penalty, or if the sentence violates the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution which prohibits excessive fines and cruel and unusual punishment. Those are the only three things about your sentence ...

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