Weeks-Tolman v. United States

Decision Date27 July 2015
Docket NumberNo. 1:10-CR-13,No. 1:11-CV-337,1:10-CR-13,1:11-CV-337
PartiesDENISE WEEKS-TOLMAN, Petitioner, v. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Tennessee

Judge Curtis L. Collier

MEMORANDUM & JUDGMENT ORDER

Pro se Petitioner Denise Weeks-Tolman ("Petitioner") timely filed a motion to vacate, set aside, or correct her sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (Court File No. 644). The government responded in opposition to Petitioner's § 2255 motion (Court File No. 650). Petitioner contends that: (1) the Court lacked jurisdiction over her case; (2) counsel rendered constitutionally ineffective assistance; (3) petitioner is actually innocent (this issue is raised in Petitioner's Memorandum at pp. 645,646); and (4) petitioner is entitled to a reduction in sentence under 18 U.S.C. § 3582 (See generally Court File No. 644, § 2255 Motion; R. 645, Memorandum in Support of § 2255 Motion).

The underlying criminal case that gave rise to this matter is United States of America v. Denise Weeks-Tolman, Case No. 1:10-cr-13, filed on January 26, 2010. The Court has determined that the motions, together with the files and record of this case, conclusively show Petitioner is entitled to no relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Accordingly, an evidentiary hearing is unnecessary and the Court DENIES Petitioner's motion (Court File No. 644).

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

In 2003, law enforcement agents began investigating a conspiracy involving the trafficking of methamphetamine from Atlanta, Georgia, to Chattanooga, Tennessee. (Final Presentence Investigation Report ("Final PSR") at ¶ 45). Because changes were made to petitioner's criminal history calculations between the first revised PSR (dated September 30, 2010), and the final PSR (dated November 1, 2010), the two documents will be referred to as "First Revised PSR" and "Final PSR" for clarity.

During the course of the investigation, agents identified, arrested, and interviewed several co-conspirators, who named petitioner as a source of methamphetamine for customers in Georgia and Tennessee (Court File No. 288, Plea Agreement at ¶ 5). Specifically, methamphetamine distributors from McMinn County, Tennessee, informed agents that they had purchased large amounts of methamphetamine from petitioner and then redistributed it in Tennessee (Id). Additionally, a mobile phone recovered from one of the co- conspirators contained a photograph of petitioner lying on top of a large quantity of cash which, the co-conspirator explained, was proceeds from methamphetamine trafficking activities (Id).

On July 24, 2008, law enforcement agents interviewed petitioner regarding her role in the conspiracy (Id). Petitioner admitted to receiving, possessing, and distributing large quantities of methamphetamine (Id). Petitioner explained that she had assisted one of her co-conspirators in distributing a pound of methamphetamine to another co-conspirator (Id). Petitioner also confessed that she had traveled with another co-conspirator on multiple occasions to pick up a total of three and one-half pounds of methamphetamine, which she then distributed to others (Id). Petitioner's admissions were corroborated by statements from co-conspirators (Id).

Petitioner was subsequently indicted on January 26, 2010 (Court File No. 1). She was charged, along with 23 co-defendants, with conspiring to distribute at least fifty grams of methamphetamine actual and five hundred (500) or more grams of a mixture and substance containing a detectable amount of methamphetamine, a Schedule II controlled substance, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 846, 841(b)(1)(A) (Count One).

On April 29, 2010, petitioner signed a written plea agreement, in which she admitted that she had "knowingly joined and participated in [a] conspiracy" to distribute and possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine (Court File No. 288, Plea Agreement at ¶ 4). Petitioner specifically acknowledged that, as a result, she faced "imprisonment for a term of no less than ten (10) years and up to life." (Id. at ¶ 1). Petitioner agreed that "no promises ha[d] been made by any representative of the United States to [petitioner] as to what the sentence [would] be in [her] case." (Id. at ¶ 12).

On May 25, 2010, during a re-arraignment before Magistrate Judge Lee, petitioner stated under oath that she had adequate time to discuss her case with her attorney, was satisfied with her attorney's representation, understood the legal rights she was giving up by pleading guilty, and was doing so voluntarily (Court File No. 626, Re-arraignment Hearing, Tr. at 14-16, 24). The magistrate judge confirmed that the plea agreement constituted petitioner's full agreement with the United States and that no "promise or assurance . . . not contained in the plea agreement" had been made to petitioner to "persuade" her to plead guilty (Id. at 18.) Petitioner was then asked whether, aside from the plea agreement, "anyone promised or suggested that [she would] receive a lighter sentence or any other form of leniency if [she] plead[ed] guilty." (Id. at 23.) Petitioner replied, "No your Honor." (Id. at 24.)

After the indictment was read aloud, the magistrate judge explained the elements of theoffense, and petitioner swore that she understood them and wished to plead guilty (Id. at 24-26). The United States stated petitioner's sentencing exposure, noting that the statute required a minimum sentence of ten years' imprisonment and permitted a maximum sentence of life imprisonment (Id. at 26). Petitioner reiterated that, knowing her possible maximum sentence and having discussed with counsel the likely application of the Sentencing Guidelines to her case, she nonetheless wanted to plead guilty (Id. at 31-32). Petitioner also indicated that she understood that the sentence ultimately imposed might "be different from any estimate of the sentence that [her] attorney may have given" her and that her prior convictions might "increase [her] sentence under the sentencing guidelines." (Id. at 32-33). Petitioner confirmed that the factual basis set forth in the plea agreement was true and accurate and that she was pleading guilty because she was in fact guilty. (Id. at 36-37). Accordingly, the Court accepted her plea (Id. at 37; Court File No. 308, Report and Recommendation; Court File No. 359, Order).

A sentencing hearing was held on November 4, 2010. Using the 2009 version of the Guidelines, the probation officer calculated petitioner's base offense level as 34 based on her distribution of at least 2.052 kilograms of methamphetamine mixture: the one pound (453 grams) petitioner admitted to helping a co-conspirator distribute, and the three and one-half pounds (1,599 grams) she admitting to obtaining with a co-conspirator (Final PSR at ¶¶ 48, 50, 55). The probation officer then applied a three-level reduction for acceptance of responsibility, resulting in a total offense level of 31 (Id. at ¶¶ 61-64). The probation officer assessed petitioner five criminal history points for her prior convictions, plus two for being on probation when she committed her offense, placing her in criminal history category IV (First Revised PSR at ¶ 76.) Her advisory Guidelines range was thus 151 to 188 months imprisonment (Id. at ¶ 103.)

Petitioner, through counsel, objected to the probation officer's calculation of her criminalhistory category (Final PSR, Addendum at 1). Specifically, she objected to the two points added for being on probation during the commission of her offense, arguing that her involvement in the conspiracy had concluded in 2006 and that she had not been placed on probation until 2008 (Id). Petitioner also objected to the imposition of criminal history points for her prior misdemeanor convictions for giving a false birth date and possessing dangerous drugs (Id).

The probation officer declined to deduct the points assessed for the misdemeanor convictions (Id). However, the probation officer did note that the United States had confirmed that petitioner's involvement in the conspiracy had concluded in 2006 when petitioner was not yet on probation. (Id). Accordingly, the probation officer reduced petitioner's criminal history score to five points, placing her in criminal history category III. (Final PSR at ¶¶ 75-76). As a result, petitioner's advisory Guidelines range became 135 to 168 months (Id. at ¶ 102).

The Court accepted that revised calculation of petitioner's Guidelines range and, after considering the 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) factors, sentenced petitioner to the bottom of that range—135 months imprisonment (R. 603, Courtroom Minutes; R. 607, Judgment at 2).

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

A prisoner in federal custody may file a motion to vacate, set aside, or correct a sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 "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 collateral attack." 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a). Relief under § 2255 is limited to: (1) errors involving lack of jurisdiction; (2) constitutional violations; and (3) those non-constitutional errors that constitute "fundamental defect[s] which inherently result[] in a complete miscarriage of justice." Reed v. Farley, 512 U.S. 339, 348-49 (1994) (quoting Hill v.United States, 368 U.S. 424, 428 (1962)); see also United States v. Addonizio, 442 U.S. 178, 185 (1979).

The petitioner bears the burden of establishing any claim asserted in the petition. See Bowers v. Battles, 578 F.2d 1, 5 (6th Cir. 1977); Mayes v. United States, 93 F. Supp. 2d 882, 886 (E.D. Tenn. 2000). This Court is collaterally reviewing the petitioner's claims. It is a "well-settled principle that to obtain collateral review relief a prisoner must clear a significantly higher hurdle than would exist on direct...

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