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Griffin v. United States

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Fort Myers Division

November 14, 2017

TAURI GRIFFIN, Petitioner,

          OPINION AND ORDER [1]


         Petitioner Tauri Griffin (Petitioner or Griffin) initiated this action by filing a Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 on September 14, 2016. (Doc. 1).[2] The United States filed a Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 10), which the Court construes as a response to the § 2255 motion, on December 13, 2016 (Doc. 10). Griffin filed a reply on March 20, 2017 (Doc. 14). For the following reasons, Petitioner's motion is denied.


         On November 13, 2013, a federal grand jury in Fort Myers, Florida returned a nine-count Indictment charging Petitioner with possession of cocaine and cocaine base with intent to distribute, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, and possession of firearms in furtherance of a drug-trafficking offense.[3] (Cr. Doc. 1). The Indictment lists seven prior felony convictions, all from the state of Florida: three convictions for sale of cocaine within 1, 000 feet of a place of worship in violation of Fla. Stat. § 893.13, three convictions for possession of cocaine with intent to distribute in violation of Fla. Stat. § 893.13, and one conviction for grand theft.[4] (Id.) Petitioner pleaded guilty to Counts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, and 8, and the Court, upon the Government's request, dismissed Counts 6 and 9. (Cr. Doc. 62). Griffin acknowledged in the plea agreement and during the plea colloquy that he understood that the Armed Career Criminal Act would apply to increase the mandatory minimum sentence for Counts 1, 4, and 7 to fifteen years, and the maximum penalties that could apply. (Cr. Doc. 39, ¶ 3).

         In his Presentence Investigation Report (“PSR”), it was recommended that Petitioner be classified as an armed career offender based in part upon his convictions for selling, manufacturing, or delivering a controlled substance within 1, 000 feet of a place of worship and using a firearm in connection with the offense (Cr. Doc. 46, ¶¶ 32-34).

         Petitioner had a recommended criminal history category of VI, based upon his criminal history and his career offender status, and he faced a United States Sentencing Guidelines imprisonment range of 292 to 365 months (Id. at ¶¶ 56, 99).

         At sentencing, the Court found Petitioner to be a career offender and adopted the PSR's advisory guidelines range. (Cr. Doc. 68). Petitioner was sentenced to 300 months in prison, to be followed by a term of supervised release. (Id.) Griffin appealed his sentence (Cr. Doc. 64). On June 25, 2015, the Eleventh Circuit granted the Government's motion to dismiss the appeal based on the appeal waiver in Griffin's plea agreement (Cr. Doc. 77).

         Petitioner's timely § 2255 motion raises five grounds for relief, all based upon ineffective assistance of counsel. (Docs. 1, 14). The United States argues in response that by pleading guilty Griffin agreed to waive his right to collaterally attack his sentence; that Petitioner is procedurally defaulted on his claims; that Petitioner qualifies as an armed career criminal; and the Petition otherwise fails on the merits. (Doc. 10).


         Title 28 U.S.C. § 2255 provides federal prisoners with an avenue for relief under limited circumstances:

A prisoner in custody under sentence of a court established by Act of Congress claiming the right to be released upon the ground that the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States, or that the court was without jurisdiction to impose such sentence, or that the sentence was in excess of the maximum authorized by law, or is otherwise subject to attack, may move the court which imposed the sentence to vacate, set aside or correct the sentence.

28 U.S.C. § 2255(a). If a court finds a claim under § 2255 to be valid, the court “shall vacate and set the judgment aside and shall discharge the prisoner or resentence him or grant a new trial or correct the sentence as may appear appropriate.” Id. at § 2255(b). To obtain this relief on collateral review, a petitioner must clear a significantly higher hurdle than would exist on direct appeal. See United States v. Frady, 456 U.S. 152, 166 (1982) (rejecting the plain error standard as not sufficiently deferential to a final judgment).

         Under § 2255(b), unless “the motion and the files and records of the case conclusively show that the prisoner is entitled to no relief, ” the court shall “grant a prompt hearing thereon, determine the issues and make findings of fact and conclusions of law with respect thereto.” The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals has explained, “[a] habeas corpus petitioner is entitled to an evidentiary hearing on his claim ‘if he alleges facts which, if proven, would entitle him to relief.'” Smith v. Singletary, 170 F.3d 1051, 1053 (11th Cir. 1999) (quoting Futch v. Dugger, 874 F.2d 1483, 1485 (11th Cir. 1989)). However, “if the record refutes the applicant's factual allegations or otherwise precludes habeas relief, a district court is not required to hold an evidentiary hearing.” Schriro v. Landrigan, 550 U.S. 465, 474 (2007); see also Aron v. United States, 291 F.3d 708, 715 (11th Cir. 2002) (explaining that no evidentiary hearing is needed when a petitioner's claims are affirmatively contradicted by the record or patently frivolous).

         Here, because each of the claims raised in the § 2255 motion is either time-barred, procedurally barred, contrary to law, or affirmatively contradicted by the record, an evidentiary hearing is not required. See Holmes v. United States, 876 F.2d 1545, 1553 (11th Cir. 1989) (“A hearing is not required on patently frivolous claims or those which are based upon unsupported generalizations. Nor is a hearing required where the petitioner's allegations are affirmatively contradicted by the record.”).

         A. Waiver

         The Court first addresses the Government's argument that Petitioner waived his right to collaterally attack his sentence - and easily rejects this argument. Although the Government argues that a § 2255 motion falls within the scope of the appeal waiver contained within the plea agreement, a review of the waiver shows this is not the case:

The defendant agrees that this Court has jurisdiction and authority to impose any sentence up to the statutory maximum and 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 United States Sentencing Guidelines, except (a) the grounds that the sentence exceeds the defendant's applicable guidelines range as determined by the Court pursuant to the United States Sentencing Guidelines; (b) the ground that the sentence exceeds the statutory maximum penalty; or (c) the ground that the sentence violates the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution; provided, however, that if the government exercises its right to appeal the sentence imposed, as authorized by 18 U.S.C. § 3742(b), then the defendant is released from his waiver and may appeal the sentence as authorized by 18 U.S.C. § 3742(a).

(Cr. Doc. 39, ¶ 7) (emphasis in original). During the plea colloquy the Magistrate Judge stated: “Under this plea agreement, however, you give up and waive your right to appeal or otherwise challenge the sentence which is imposed upon you, except in certain specific circumstances.” (Cr. Doc. 73, 21:15-19).

         The Court finds that although Petitioner did waive his right to direct appeal, he did not agree to waive his right to collaterally attack his sentence. Other than the cursory argument that the right to collaterally attack the sentence is within the scope of the waiver, the Government does not otherwise explain how this is so, and the Court will not construe the plea agreement in favor of the Government at the expense of ...

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