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Sparrow v. United States

United States District Court, D. Maine

May 31, 2017



          John C. Nivison U.S. Magistrate Judge

         In this action, Petitioner Wayman Sparrow moves, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, to vacate, set aside or correct his sentence. (Motion, ECF No. 52.) In 2016, following a guilty plea, Petitioner was convicted of conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute controlled substances, pursuant to 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), 841(b)(1)(C), 846; and discharging a firearm during and in relation to a drug trafficking crime, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. §§ 924(c)(1)(A), 924(c)(1)(A)(iii). (Judgment, ECF No. 49 at 1.) The Court sentenced Petitioner to a total of 196 months in prison. (Judgment at 2.) Consistent with the appeal waiver in his plea agreement, Petitioner did not appeal from his conviction or sentence.

         Petitioner asserts four grounds in support of his section 2255 motion. First, he contends that his counsel “failed to file a timely notice of appeal or any appeal, ” despite being asked to do so, and further “failed to file a[n] Anders brief.”[1] (Motion at 2.) Second, he challenges the “mathematical conversions weight” used to estimate drug quantities for purposes of sentencing. (Id.) Third, Petitioner asserts that counsel should have filed a motion to suppress “false claims and hearsay allegations that unfairly and without corroboration” produced the allegedly excessive drug quantity. (Id. at 3.) Fourth, Petitioner argues his plea was not a knowing and intelligent waiver of his trial rights because neither the Court nor counsel explained to Petitioner that he would have the right to confront witnesses, citing Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36 (2004), in order to address the alleged “unfair attribut[ion] of a higher grade of controlled substance” to his drug distribution activity. (Id.)

         The Government argues that Petitioner's motion should be summarily dismissed because, among other things, Petitioner was sentenced based on the drug quantity finding to which he agreed as part of the plea agreement, and because Petitioner has not demonstrated that he pleaded guilty or suffered prejudice at sentencing because of the alleged shortcomings in counsel's performance. (Response, ECF No. 66.)

         Following a review of Petitioner's motion and the Government's request for dismissal, I recommend the Court grant the Government's request, and dismiss Petitioner's motion.

         I. Factual Background and Procedural History

         On December 9, 2015, the Government filed a superseding indictment charging Petitioner with two offenses: (1) conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute mixtures of substances containing heroin, cocaine, and cocaine base, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), 846; and (2) use and discharge of a firearm during a drug trafficking crime, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A).[2] (ECF No. 31.) On December 22, 2015, Petitioner pleaded guilty to the charges. At the time, Petitioner was party to a plea agreement by which he waived his right to appeal his guilty plea, any other aspect of his conviction, and any sentence of imprisonment that did not exceed 209 months. (Plea Agreement, ECF No. 38.) The Court sentenced Petitioner to a prison term of 196 months (76 months on the distribution charge and 120 months on the firearm charge, to be served consecutively) to be followed by a term of supervised release. (Judgment at 2.) Petitioner did not file an appeal, but timely filed the instant § 2255 motion.

         A. The Plea Agreement

         Through the plea agreement, Petitioner agreed to enter a plea of guilty to both counts of the superseding indictment, and to be sentenced on the charges. (Plea Agreement at 1, ¶¶ 1 - 2.) The parties agreed they would make certain “binding recommendations” to the Court. (Id. at 2, ¶ 3.) In particular, the parties agreed to recommend jointly that the drug quantity attributable to Petitioner's relevant conduct would be the quantity that corresponded with a Guidelines base offense level (BOL) of 32; that the Government would recommend a sentence of 209 months; and that Petitioner would recommend a sentence of 185 months. (Id.) The parties further agreed that the Government would be relieved of its obligations under the plea agreement if the Court arrived at a sentence of less than 185 months, and Petitioner would be permitted to withdraw his guilty plea if the Court imposed a sentence of more than 209 months.

Paragraph 4 of the plea agreement read:
4. Appeal Waivers. Defendant is aware that Title 18, United States Code, Section 3742 affords a defendant the right to appeal the sentence imposed. Knowing that, Defendant waives the right to appeal the following:
A. Defendant's guilty plea and any other aspect of Defendant's conviction in the above-captioned case; and B. A sentence of imprisonment that does not exceed 209 months.
The Defendant's waiver of his right to appeal shall not apply to appeals based on a right that has been newly recognized by the Supreme Court and made retroactively applicable to cases on collateral review.

(Plea Agreement at 4, ¶ 4.)

         Under the terms of the agreement, the Court could not impose a sentence that exceeded 209 months without allowing Petitioner to withdraw his guilty plea. (Rule 11 Transcript at 19.) When asked if he was confident that Petitioner understood the appeal waiver provision, defense counsel responded affirmatively. (Id. at 20). When the Court reiterated that Petitioner's “rights of appeal are somewhat limited because of the appeal waiver, ” Petitioner acknowledged he understood. (Id. at 22.)

         B. The Rule 11 Hearing

         On December 22, 2015, Petitioner appeared with counsel to enter his plea to the superseding indictment. (Rule 11 Transcript, ECF No. 56 at 2 - 3.) Petitioner told the Court he understood the proceedings and the Court found him competent to enter a plea. (Id. at 4.) He further informed the Court that he reviewed the superseding indictment and discussed it with counsel. Counsel informed the Court that he approved the plea and recommended the Court accept it. (Id. at 4 - 6.) Petitioner then pled guilty to both counts. (Id. at 6.)

         In the ensuing colloquy, Petitioner informed the Court that he pled guilty because he was actually guilty, and that his counsel explained to him the elements and the nature of the crimes and charges, and the applicable penalties. (Id. at 7 - 8.) The Court then described the charges and the maximum possible penalties, which information Petitioner stated he understood. (Id. at 8 - 10.) The Court explained to Petitioner the trial rights he would forego by entering a plea of guilty, including his right, through counsel, to cross-examine the Government's witnesses. (Id. at 10 - 11.)

         The Court then informed Petitioner that before the Court would accept his plea, the Court must find that there was a factual basis for the plea of guilty. Upon the Court's inquiry, Petitioner acknowledged that he was familiar with the facts set forth in the Government's version of the offense (ECF No. 35), that his counsel read to and discussed with him the content of the document, and that he did not disagree with anything in the document.[3] (Id. at 12 - 14.) Based on this representation, and the ...

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