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United States v. Grandison

United States District Court, N.D. Florida, Pensacola Division

May 28, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
KENNETH GRANDISON

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          HOPE THAI CANNON, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant Kenneth Grandison's Motion Under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence (ECF Doc. 42); Motion to Amend (ECF Doc. 47); and Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF Doc. 61). In his § 2255 motion, Grandison seeks post-conviction relief on the basis that his counsel was ineffective at his guilty plea. He seeks to amend his motion to add a claim for actual innocence and further seeks summary judgment on that claim, contending there is no dispute of fact that the Government has failed to provide sufficient evidence to support his convictions. The case was referred to the undersigned for the issuance of all preliminary orders and any recommendations to the district court regarding dispositive matters. See N.D. Fla. Loc. R. 72.2; see also 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b). After reviewing the record and the arguments presented, the undersigned recommends that the three motions be DENIED without an evidentiary hearing.

         I. BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On January 19, 2016, a federal grand jury returned a 2-count indictment against Grandison. ECF Doc. 15. Count One of the Indictment charged Grandison with conspiracy to commit money laundering of proceeds derived from violations of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)[1] and 846 in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1956(a)(1), 1956(h).[2] Count Two charged Grandison with conspiracy to use a communication facility to facilitate the commission of a felony drug offense under 21 U.S.C. § 841(a), in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 843(b) and 846.

         On February 29, 2016, Grandison entered a guilty plea to both counts of the Indictment at a hearing held before United States Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Timothy. ECF Doc. 44. He was represented by retained counsel, Christopher Crawford. ECF Doc. 14. During that hearing, Grandison and the Government presented the Court with an executed Plea Agreement, Statement of Facts, and sealed Supplement to Plea. ECF Docs. 29-31, 44. After engaging in an extensive colloquy with Grandison, the Magistrate Judge found the plea was being given knowingly and voluntarily and that it was supported by a factual basis. ECF Doc. 44 at 26. Thus, the Magistrate Judge recommended the plea be accepted, which it was by the District Judge. ECF Docs. 32, 33.

         On May 24, 2016, the Court sentenced Grandison to 108 months' imprisonment on Count 1 and 48 months on Count 2, to be served concurrently. ECF Docs. 39-41. Grandison did not appeal his judgment of conviction. In January 2017, Grandison filed the instant pro se motion to vacate.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         “Section 2255 does not provide a remedy for every alleged error in conviction and sentencing.” Spencer v. United States, 773 F.3d 1132, 1138 (11th Cir. 2014). Collateral review is not a substitute for direct appeal, and therefore the grounds for collateral attack on final judgments pursuant to § 2255 are extremely limited. A prisoner is entitled to relief under § 2255 if the court imposed a sentence that (1) violated the Constitution or laws of the United States, (2) exceeded its jurisdiction, (3) exceeded the maximum authorized by law, or (4) is otherwise subject to collateral attack. See 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a); McKay v. United States, 657 F.3d 1190, 1194 n.8 (11th Cir. 2011). A prisoner may pursue ineffective assistance of counsel claims via a § 2255 motion. Massaro v. United States, 538 U.S. 500, 503 (2003).

         III. GRANDISON'S § 2255 MOTION

         Grandison's § 2255 motion contains one single ground for relief: ineffective assistance of counsel (“IAC”). ECF Doc. 1 at 4. In support of his IAC claim, Grandison maintains his attorney was constitutionally ineffective for advising him to enter a plea agreement that, in his words, “DOES NOT comport with basic Contract Law, ” and claims “the contract is INCOMPLETE as it fails to identify a factual basis to which the Petitioner pleads guilty to, therefore, leaving the Petitioner with no reasonable expectation of outcome under the Contract.” ECF Doc. 42 at 4. He also claims he “was threatened” by his counsel and “recited all required and coached responses in order to avoid having to suffer an unreasonable sentence threatened by counsel.” Id. at 4-5.

         Grandison's motion also contains the following purported “supporting facts, ” attacking the plea hearing and plea agreement, generally.[3] Grandison claims, for example, the hearing “was nothing more than a dogmatic display concerning appropriate steps to solidify a contract.” Id. at 4. He says, the “Trial Court determined the Petitioner's guilt based upon coached yes and no answers, most of which, concerning Rule 11 steps, the Petitioner DID NOT understand.” Id. at 5. He claims the plea agreement “is voidable because it was engineered and executed as a misleading device intended to defraud the court, the Petitioner, and the public's interest in justice.” Id. at 6. He also asserts the plea agreement “was based on omissions of fact and law.” Id. at 7. Finally, he claims the Government committed “fraud during contract negotiations” by including a collateral waiver in the plea agreement. See Id. at 9. There is, however, no collateral waiver in Grandison's Plea Agreement. ECF Doc. 30.

         To prevail on a constitutional claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, the moving party must demonstrate both that counsel's performance was below an objective and reasonable professional norm and that he was prejudiced by this inadequacy. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 686 (1984). In applying Strickland, the court may dispose of an ineffective assistance claim if a defendant fails to carry his burden on either of the two prongs. Id. at 697; Brown v. United States, 720 F.3d 1316, 1326 (11th Cir. 2013). Here, Grandison fails to meet the first prong of Strickland because he has failed to show that his counsel's performance was deficient.

         Grandison's claim is based on the flawed premise that the Plea Agreement was an “incomplete contract.” The Plea Agreement was not incomplete; it contained the following agreed upon terms: (1) Grandison was pleading guilty to Counts One and Two of his Indictment; (2) by doing so Grandison was giving up his right to a trial and its associated rights, such as the right to confront witnesses and to require the Government to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt; (3) Grandison was pleading guilty because he was indeed guilty and (4) the Government would not file any further criminal charges against him arising out of the same transactions or occurrences to which he was pleading. ECF Doc. 30. The Plea Agreement further advised Grandison of the maximum sentences as to each offense and that his sentence was left to the District Judge to decide. Id. The Plea Agreement was executed by Grandison, his counsel and the Government's counsel and followed the standard format used in this district. There were simply no contractual deficiencies in the Plea Agreement and, therefore, his counsel's performance could not have been ineffective. Moreover, at the plea hearing, Grandison admitted he went over the Plea Agreement “very carefully” with counsel, that he “read every page, every line, every word, ” and that he understood “everything in the document.” Id. at 16. Also, before asking Grandison how he wished to plead, the Court asked whether he had any questions, and he stated he did not. Id. at 25. Moreover, Grandison told the Court he was satisfied with the representation Crawford provided to him. See Id. at 12.

         Grandison's claim that the Plea Agreement was incomplete because it lacked factual recitations is without merit. There is no legal authority requiring factual recitations to be set forth in a written plea agreement. Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11, which governs pleas, states that “[b]efore entering a judgment on a guilty plea, the court must determine that there is a factual basis for the plea.” Fed. R. Crim. P. 11(b)(3). As discussed more below, the transcript of the plea hearing shows the Court did just that here. ECF Doc. 44.

         The Plea Agreement was accompanied by a Statement of Facts, also executed by Grandison. ECF Doc. 29. During the plea hearing, Grandison admitted “under oath this afternoon that the facts contained in [the Statement of Facts] were true and correct.” ECF No. 44 at 14. Grandison also admitted he went over the Statement of Facts “very carefully with [his] attorney.” Id. He acknowledged he “read every page, every word, every line” and that he understood “every word, every line.” Id. Grandison further agreed with the Government that “[t]he defense has had [the Plea Agreement, Statement of Facts and Sealed Supplement] for quite some time.” Id. In fact, Grandison confirmed to the Court that the “factual basis has been tweaked over time”; that “the ...


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