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Valentine v. United States

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

August 7, 2019



          TIMOTHY J. CORRIGAN United States District Judge

         This case is before the Court on Petitioner Freddie Lamar Valentine's Motion Under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence (Civ. Doc. 1, § 2255 Motion).[1] Petitioner raises two claims: first, that the United States breached the plea agreement by failing to move for a sentence reduction under Rule 35, Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, and second, that trial counsel gave ineffective assistance by negotiating a plea agreement in which the substantial assistance provision was vague. The United States responds that the § 2255 Motion is untimely (Civ. Doc. 4, Response). Petitioner filed a reply and a notice of supplemental authority, both of which the Court has considered. (Civ. Doc. 5, Reply; Civ. Doc. 6, Notice of Supplemental Authority). Thus, the case is ripe for a decision.

         Under Rule 8(a) of the Rules Governing Section 2255 Proceedings, the Court has determined that an evidentiary hearing is not necessary to decide the motion. See Rosin v. United States, 786 F.3d 873, 877 (11th Cir. 2015) (an evidentiary hearing is not required when the petitioner asserts allegations that are affirmatively contradicted by the record or patently frivolous, or if in assuming that the facts he alleges are true, he still would not be entitled to any relief). For the reasons set forth below, Petitioner's § 2255 Motion is due to be denied.

         I. Background

         On September 29, 2010, a federal grand jury returned a seven-count Superseding Indictment against Petitioner and numerous co-defendants. (Crim. Doc. 307, Superseding Indictment). The grand jury charged Petitioner with one count of conspiracy to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), 841(b)(1)(A), and 846 (Count One). (Id. at 2-3). The United States also filed an Information to Establish Prior Conviction, pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 851. (Crim. Doc. 330, § 851 Information). The United States notified the Court that in 2001 in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida, Petitioner was convicted of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine and fifty grams or more of cocaine base. (Id. at 1-2); (see also Crim. Doc. 330-1, Judgment of Prior Conviction). The prior conviction increased the mandatory minimum sentence for the instant offense from 10 years to 20 years in prison. (See Crim. Doc. 330 at 2). Petitioner initially pled not guilty to the charge. (Crim. Doc. 334, Minute Entry of Arraignment).

         On October 29, 2010, Petitioner pled guilty to Count One pursuant to a written plea agreement. (Crim. Doc. 439, Plea Agreement); (see also Civ. Doc. 10-1; Plea Transcript).[2] In exchange for his guilty plea, the United States agreed to recommend a two-level downward adjustment under U.S.S.G. § 3E1.1(a) for acceptance of responsibility, to recommend an additional one-level downward adjustment under § 3E1.1(b) if Petitioner qualified, and to consider whether to move for a sentence reduction under § 5K1.1 if, in the United States' sole discretion, it determined that Petitioner provided substantial assistance and that such a reduction was warranted. (Crim. Doc. 439 at 3-5). The Magistrate Judge who presided over the change-of-plea colloquy recommended “that the guilty plea was knowledgeable and voluntary, and that the offense charged [was] supported by an independent basis in fact containing each of the essential elements of [the] offense.” (Crim. Doc. 440, Report and Recommendation Concerning Plea of Guilty). The Court accepted Petitioner's guilty plea and adjudicated him accordingly. (Crim. Doc. 445, Acceptance of Plea).

         At the sentencing hearing, Petitioner admitted he was convicted in 2001 of a felony drug offense, such that his mandatory minimum sentence was 20 years in prison. (Crim. Doc. 879, Sentencing Tr. at 5-10). According to the Presentence Investigation Report (PSR), Petitioner's advisory sentencing range under the United States Sentencing Guidelines was 240 to 293 months in prison, based on a total offense level of 35 and a Criminal History Category of IV. (Crim. Doc. 879 at 11); PSR at ¶ 147. The Court adopted the Guidelines calculation without objection. (Crim. Doc. 879 at 11-12).

         Consistent with the plea agreement, the United States moved for a four-level reduction under U.S.S.G. § 5K1.1 to recognize that Petitioner provided substantial assistance to the government. Specifically, the motion was based on Petitioner's cooperation against three individuals: Amadeo Hernandez Jaimes, a high-level drug dealer who was ultimately convicted and sentenced to 25 years in prison, as well as Tavaris Rembert and Shiron Brooks. (See id. at 12-14). The United States also recognized that Petitioner assisted state prosecutors in bringing charges against a homicide suspect named Marco Denson, but the United States made clear that it did not think this cooperation warranted a sentence reduction. (Id. at 15). The United States opined that if Petitioner had information that could assist a homicide investigation, he should have come forward with that information regardless of whether he was charged with a crime or pursuing cooperation. (Id.). The United States further expressed disappointment that, in its view, Petitioner did not fulfill “his potential to lead to other types of electronic surveillance cases, wiretap cases, and things of that nature, ” especially given that Petitioner had been a high-level participant in drug dealing. (Id. at 15-16). Still, the United States recommended a four-level reduction under § 5K1.1, which would reduce Petitioner's offense level to 31 and his advisory sentencing range to between 151 and 188 months in prison. (Id. at 16, 24). Nonetheless, the United States also recommended a variance above the reduced Guidelines range because the previous federal drug conviction did not deter Petitioner from violating the conditions of supervised release and continuing to engage in drug dealing (id. at 17-20), and because he “made a conscious decision to get back involved in higher levels [of drug dealing] than he was before, ” (id. at 21). The United States argued that a sentence of 204 months in prison was required to promote respect for the law, just punishment, and deterrence. (Id. at 23-24).

         After hearing from Petitioner's counsel, several of Petitioner's family members, and Petitioner himself, the Court granted the government's § 5K1.1 motion, thereby reducing Petitioner's advisory sentencing range to between 151 and 188 months. (Id. at 46-47). The Court observed that “getting the 5K was a significant benefit to Mr. Valentine.” (Id. at 46). After considering the sentencing factors in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a), the Court declined to vary above the reduced Guidelines range. Instead, the Court sentenced Petitioner to a term of 160 months in prison, followed by a five-year term of supervised release. (Id. at 56-57).[3] Petitioner did not object to the sentence. (Id. at 63).

         The Court entered judgment on December 19, 2012. (Crim. Doc. 683, Judgment). Petitioner did not pursue an appeal. As such, Petitioner's conviction and sentence became final 14 days later, on January 2, 2013, when time expired to file a notice of appeal. See Adams v. United States, 173 F.3d 1339, 1342 n.2 (11th Cir. 1999) (when a defendant does not pursue a direct appeal, his conviction and sentence become final when the time to file a notice of appeal expires). Petitioner did not file the § 2255 Motion until more than three years later. (See Civ. Doc. 1 at 13). Houston v. Lack, 487 U.S. 266, 276 (1988) (a pro se prisoner's court filing is deemed filed on the date it is delivered to prison authorities for mailing).

         II. The § 2255 Motion

         Petitioner raises two claims in the § 2255 Motion. First, Petitioner contends that the United States breached the plea agreement when it did not move for an additional substantial assistance reduction based on Petitioner's testimony in state court against Marco Denson. (Civ. Doc. 1 at 4, 14-15). Petitioner states that in 2011 he agreed to cooperate with Florida law enforcement officials in prosecuting an individual suspected of committing murder. (Id. at 14). According to Petitioner, he “debriefed with the investigators on several occasions; he testified before the grand jury; and in 2015, he testified at the trial of the alleged murder[er] Marco Denson. The jury convicted Mr. Denson of murder (No. 2012-1417-CF).” (Id.). Afterward, Petitioner alleges that state authorities “reported to the United States Attorney's Office that Mr. Valentine cooperated fully and made a significant contribution to the conviction of Mr. Denson, ” but that federal authorities “decided that Mr. Valentine's assistance did not warrant the filing of a Rule 35 [motion].” (Id.). Petitioner argues that the United States' failure to reward his state-court testimony with a Rule 35 motion constitutes a breach of the plea agreement.

         Second, and relatedly, Petitioner contends that “[t]rial counsel failed to provide constitutionally adequate representation in the plea-agreement stage of the proceeding.” (Civ. Doc. 1 at 5). Petitioner complains that the plea agreement's substantial assistance provision was “inherently vague since it provides that the United States will decide whether to file a Rule 35(b) motion in its sole discretion.” (Id. at 14). Petitioner also complains that the plea agreement “does not identify … who will make the decision for the United States Attorney's Office.” (Id.) (emphasis added). With respect to timeliness, Petitioner asserts that the § 2255 Motion is timely under 28 U.S.C. § 2255(f)(4) because he filed it “within one year of an operative fact for the claim being available.” (Id. at 12).

         The United States responds that the § 2255 Motion is untimely because Petitioner filed it well over a year after his conviction and sentence became final. (Civ. Doc. 4 at 1, 2-3). Additionally, the United States argues that Petitioner is not entitled to tolling of § 2255(f)'s statute of limitations because the facts underlying Petitioner's claims have been known since the sentencing hearing. (Id. at 4-5). The United States points out that at the sentencing hearing, the prosecutor told the Court that Petitioner was cooperating with state authorities in the murder case against Marco Denson, but that such cooperation did not warrant a sentence reduction. (Id.); (see also Crim. Doc. 879 at 15). Moreover, the United States argues that the plea agreement's substantial assistance provision “is clear and unambiguous” insofar as it commits the decision whether to file a Rule 35 motion to the sole discretion of the United States Attorney, and that Petitioner cannot collaterally attack that determination. (Civ. Doc. 4 at 5) (citing Crim. Doc. 439 at 4-5).

         III. Discussion

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, a person in federal custody may move to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence. Section 2255 permits such collateral challenges on four grounds: (1) the imposed sentence was in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States; (2) the court did not have jurisdiction to impose the sentence; (3) the imposed sentence exceeded the maximum authorized by law; or (4) the imposed sentence is otherwise subject to collateral attack. 28 U.S.C §2255(a) (2008). Only jurisdictional claims, constitutional claims, and claims of error that are so fundamental as to cause a complete miscarriage of justice will warrant relief through collateral attack. United States v. Addonizio, 442 U.S. 178, 184-86 (1979). A petitioner's challenge to his sentence based on a Sixth Amendment claim of ineffective assistance of counsel is normally considered a collateral attack. United States v. Teague, 953 F.2d 1525, 1534 n. 11 (11th Cir. 1992).

         To succeed on a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, a petitioner must show both (1) that counsel's performance was deficient, and (2) that as a result of counsel's deficient performance, the petitioner suffered prejudice. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984). In determining whether counsel performed deficiently, the Court adheres to the standard of reasonably effective assistance. Weeks v. Jones, 26 F.3d 1030, 1036 (11th Cir. 1994). The petitioner must show, in light of all the circumstances, that counsel's performance fell outside the “wide range of professionally competent assistance.” Id. To show that counsel's deficient performance prejudiced the defendant, the petitioner must show that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's error, the result of the proceeding would have been different. Id. at 1036-37 (citing Strickland, 466 U.S. at 694). A “reasonable probability” is a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome. Strickland, 466 U.S. at 694. In determining whether a petitioner has met the two prongs of deficient performance and prejudice, the Court considers the totality of the evidence. Id. at 695. However, because both prongs are necessary, “there is no reason for a court… to approach the inquiry in the same order or even to address both components of the inquiry if the defendant makes an insufficient showing on one.” Id. at 697; see also Wellington v. Moore, 314 F.3d 1256, 1261 n. 1 (11th Cir. 2002) (“We need not discuss the performance deficiency component of [petitioner's] ineffective assistance claim because failure to satisfy the prejudice component is dispositive.”).

         Additionally, the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA), imposes a one-year statute of limitations for federal prisoners who seek to vacate, set aside, or correct their sentences. 28 U.S.C. § 2255(f). The statute of limitations runs from the latest of:

(1) the date on which the judgment of conviction becomes final;
(2) the date on which the impediment to making a motion created by governmental action in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States is removed, if the movant was prevented from ...

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