United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Jacksonville Division
TIMOTHY J. CORRIGAN United States District Judge
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). 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
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.
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
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). 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).
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
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).
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). Petitioner did
not object to the sentence. (Id. at 63).
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).
The § 2255 Motion
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
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).
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).
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).
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.”).
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
(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 ...