United States v. Wright

Decision Date12 August 2014
Docket NumberCriminal No. 13–cr–0094 BAH
Citation63 F.Supp.3d 109
PartiesUnited States of America, v. Guthrie Wright, Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Columbia

Nalina Sombuntham, Opher Shweiki, U.S. Attorney's Office, Washington, DC, for Plaintiff.

Jonathan Jeffress, Federal Public Defender for D.C., Washington, DC, for Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

BERYL A. HOWELL, United States District Judge

The defendant Guthrie Wright filed this pro se motion, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, to vacate on grounds of ineffective assistance of counsel: (1) his conviction on his plea of guilty, pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(c)(1)(C), to two felony narcotics and firearm offenses, for which he faced a combined advisory sentencing range under the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines of at least 262 months; and (2) his sentence to the agreed-upon 120– month prison term. See Def.'s Mot. Vacate, ECF No. 24; Def.'s Mem. Supp. Mot. Vacate (“Def.'s Mem.”) at 1, ECF No. 27. For the reasons discussed below, the defendant's motion is denied.

I. BACKGROUND
A. Traffic Stop and Search of Defendant's Mother's Apartment

The facts in this case are undisputed. The defendant confirmed at least four times that he had reviewed the facts presented in the Statement of Offense submitted by the government and agreed to the accuracy of that factual presentation. In addition, to acknowledging, at the end of the Statement of Offense itself, that he had “carefully reviewed every part of it” and “voluntarily agree[d] to it,” Statement of Offense (“Stmt.Offense”), at 4, ECF NO. 12, the defendant executed the Plea Agreement, in which he agreed that the ‘Statement of the Offense’ fairly and accurately describes [defendant's] actions,” Plea Agreement ¶ 6, ECF No. 11. Then, at his plea hearing, the defendant stated, under oath that the Statement of Offense “fully and accurately set forth what happened in [his] case.” Plea Hr'g Tr., July 19, 2013, at 14:9–13. The defendant confirmed a fourth time his adoption of these facts at his sentencing hearing: when questioned by the Court, he raised no objection to the Court's adoption of the facts enumerated in Presentence Investigation Report (“PSR”), which repeated the facts set out in the Statement of Offense. Sentencing Hr'g Tr., Oct. 25, 2013, at 5:2–6:1; PSR ¶¶ 16–22, ECF No. 16. Nor does the defendant now contest the verity of these underlying facts for his conviction and sentence. See generally Def.'s Mem.

As set out in the Statement of Offense, the facts underlying the defendant's conviction and sentence are as follows. On November 9, 2012, Metropolitan Police Department (“MPD”) officers conducted a traffic stop of the defendant's van. Stmt. Offense at 1. The defendant had “the odor of alcohol on his breath” and, when questioned by officers, admitted that he had been drinking” and had ‘drinks' in a cooler in his van.” Id. The defendant was placed under arrest after the officers found “open bottles of alcohol” in the backseat of the defendant's vehicle. Id. The officers searched the defendant and found “in Defendant's pants” ziplock bags containing 3.9 grams of cocaine, 4.3 grams of marijuana, and 15 tablets of the drug Methylone. Id. The defendant was arrested, and “repeatedly voiced concerns that his mother and 13–year–old son would not know of his arrest ... indicat[ing] that he lived with his mother and his son at his mother's apartment.” Id. at 2.

After transporting the defendant to the police station, police officers went to the defendant's mother's apartment, where they obtained both “oral and written consent [from her] ... to search areas of the apartment where Defendant usually slept, specifically in the living room and in his [13–year–old] son's bedroom.” Id. The defendant's mother, who is the legal guardian of the defendant's son, gave police a written statement attesting “that she had daily access to the bedroom, which Defendant shared with his minor son.” Id. Upon searching the bedroom, the officers found a backpack and an attaché bag “stacked on top of each other” towards the front of an open closet. Id. The attaché bag contained mail in the defendant's name including photos and identification cards, and a loaded “.40 caliber semi-automatic ‘GLOCK’ firearm” with several rounds of ammunition. Id. The backpack also contained mail addressed to the defendant, “a 9mm semi-automatic ‘SKYY Arms' firearm,” which was also loaded, $1,180 in cash, 48.9 grams of cocaine, 68 Methylone tables, 4.1 grams of heroin, “hundreds of empty ziplock bags, a digital scale, measuring spoons,” and other “narcotics distribution paraphernalia.” Id. The defendant does not contest that the two bags belonged to him. Id. at 3.

At the time the defendant was arrested, he was on parole for a prior conviction for possession with intent to distribute heroin in District of Columbia Superior Court (“D.C. Superior Court”) case number 1999–FEL–009013. See PSR ¶¶ 46, 49. In addition to that felony narcotics conviction, the defendant had one other prior felony conviction for distribution of cocaine in D.C. Superior Court case number 1991–FEL–011533, both of which prior convictions qualified the defendant for classification as a “career offender” under the United States Sentencing Guideline (“U.S.S.G.”) § 4A1.1 and resulted in enhanced penalties. PSR ¶¶ 45, 51. In addition to these two prior felony narcotics offenses, the defendant had five previous convictions as an adult for: (1) possession with intent to distribute marijuana and possession of phencyclidine (“PCP”) in D.C. Superior Court case number 1986–FEL–004496; (2) attempted possession of cocaine in D.C. Superior Court case number 1987–CMD–001956; (3) attempted distribution of PCP in D.C. Superior Court case number 1987–FEL–007765; (4) distribution of cocaine in D.C. Superior Court case number 1989–FEL–000135; and (5) simple assault in D.C. Superior Court case number 2007–CMD–29702. PSR ¶¶ 41–44, 47. Related to these offenses, the defendant had his parole revoked a total of seven times. Id.

B. Procedural History

At the defendant's initial appearance following his arrest, Assistant Public Defender Jonathan Jeffress of the Federal Public Defender Service was appointed to represent him. See Nov. 9, 2012 Minute Entry. Thereafter, the defendant consented three times to exclude time from the thirty-day deadline for filing an indictment pursuant to the Speedy Trial Act, 18 U.S.C. § 3161, et seq., which usually indicates that the government and the defendant are contemplating or engaging in plea negotiations. See Nov. 30, 2012 Minute Entry for Status Hearing; Dec. 17, 2012 Minute Entry for proceedings (noting that that the [p]arties continue to discuss plea negotiations.”); Feb. 28, 2013 Minute Entry for Control/Status Hearing. Over four months after the defendant's arrest, the defendant was indicted by a grand jury on eight counts. See Indictment as to Guthrie Wright (“Indictment”), ECF No. 7.

After the indictment, the defendant, represented by Mr. Jeffress, agreed to five exclusions of time from the post-indictment deadline for bringing the defendant to trial under the Speedy Trial Act. See Apr. 11, 2013 Minute Entry (excluding fourteen days from the post-indictment calculation); Apr. 25, 2013 Minute Entry (excluding fifteen days); May 10, 2013 Minute Entry (excluding fourteen days); May 24, 2013 Minute Entry (excluding fourteen days); June 7, 2013 Minute Entry (excluding fourteen days). At the June 7, 2013 hearing, defense counsel Jeffress' oral motion to withdraw from the case was granted and, that same day, Jenifer Wicks was appointed by the Court to substitute as defense counsel. See June 7, 2013 Minute Entry; Notice of Appearance, ECF No. 10; see also June 7, 2013 Attorney Update (terminating attorney Jeffress). The defendant, represented by Ms. Wicks, agreed to a sixth exclusion of time under the Speedy Trial Act amounting to twenty-eight days. June 21, 2013 Minute Entry. Almost four months after his indictment and eight months after his arrest, the defendant entered, on July 6, 2013, a plea agreement with the government, pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(c)(1)(C). See Plea Agreement ¶ 10. Pursuant to this written plea agreement, the defendant agreed to enter guilty pleas to Count One, for unlawful possession with intent to distribute cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(C), and Count Eight, for using, carrying, and possessing a firearm during a drug trafficking offense, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1). See id. ¶ 1. The government agreed to dismiss the remaining counts, id. ¶ 5, and the parties agreed “that 120 months (10 years) is the appropriate sentence of imprisonment for the offenses to which [the defendant] is pleading guilty,”id. ¶ 10.

At his plea hearing, the Court did not “accept the term[s] of the plea agreement with the [ ] recommended term of imprisonment.” Plea Hearing Tr., July 19, 2013, at 9:13–15. Instead, the Court deferred decision on “whether or not 120 months is a reasonable time for” incarceration, “given [the defendant's] background, [and his] criminal history,” until after the Court had reviewed the defendant's Presentence Investigation Report prepared by the U.S. Probation Office. Id. at 9:13–10:03. When questioned by the Court at his plea hearing, the defendant affirmed that he was “completely satisfied with the services of [his] lawyer in this case and had “had enough time to talk to [his] lawyer about the charges against [him], about the plea agreement and whether or not [he] should accept the plea agreement[.] Id. at 5:07–15. The Court instructed the defendant that agreeing to accept the government's plea agreement was “a very important decision” and that he should “not hesitate to say, Judge, I need a moment to talk to my lawyer; I want to think about it [.] Id. at 3:20–4:01.

At the defendant's sentencing hearing three months later, the Court accepted the agreed-upon plea and sentenced the defendant...

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