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Edwards v. United States

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

April 4, 2016

BRANDON EDWARDS, Movant,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent.

MEMORANDUM OF DECISION

Vanessa L. Bryant, United States District Judge

Brandon Edwards, pro se and incarcerated, challenges his 2012 guilty-plea conviction and sentence for unlawful possession of ammunition. In his 28 U.S.C. § 2255 motion, Edwards raises claims pertaining to the plea negotiation process, sentencing, and appeal. He first argues that the Government committed fraud by introducing, and Edwards’s first attorney erred by permitting, a collateral attack waiver. Edwards next argues that his second attorney, appointed after the plea proceedings, was generally uncommunicative and unprepared and failed to argue that Edwards’s prior state conviction did not constitute a serious drug offense under the Armed Career Criminal Act (“ACCA”) because the State recited facts from a police report after Edwards entered his plea and because those facts, even if confirmed by him, were too vague to ascertain the specific conduct or controlled substance involved. He finally argues that his second attorney, who also represented him on appeal, failed to brief Edwards’s preferred objections to the ACCA enhancement. Edwards requests an evidentiary hearing to resolve these claims. For the following reasons, the Court DISMISSES the claim pertaining to the plea negotiation process for want of jurisdiction and DENIES the remaining claims without an evidentiary hearing.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

A. Criminal Proceedings

1. Plea Negotiation Process

Edwards was charged with unlawful possession of ammunition by a convicted felon, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1) and 924(a)(2). ECF No. 3-1 (Indictment). While represented by Attorney Howard Gemeiner (“Attorney One”), Edwards and the Government entered into a plea agreement in which Edwards:

agree[d] not to appeal or collaterally attack in any proceeding, including but not limited to a motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 and/or § 2241, the conviction or sentence imposed by the Court if that sentence does not exceed 120 months of imprisonment, a term of supervised release of three years, and a $250, 000 fine . . . .

ECF No. 3-6 (Plea Agreement) at 6 (.pdf pagination). Edwards entered his plea before a magistrate judge, who recommended that the trial court accept Edwards’s plea as knowingly and voluntarily given. ECF No. 3-13 (Plea Tr.) at 36- 37. The trial court later accepted the plea, imposed a sentence exceeding 120 months’ imprisonment and exceeding three years’ supervised release, and waived a fine because of Edwards’s inability to pay. ECF Nos. 3-7 (Sentencing Tr.) at 49:16-20, 50:20-21; 3-15 (Text Order).

2. Sentencing Proceedings

Before Edwards entered into his plea agreement, the Government filed notice of its intent to seek a sentence enhancement pursuant to the ACCA, informing Edwards that the mandatory minimum sentence of fifteen years’ imprisonment applied because Edwards had three prior state narcotics convictions, all in violation of Connecticut General Statutes § 21a-277(a). ECF No. 3-2 (Notice). Edwards later filed a pro se sentencing memorandum objecting to the ACCA enhancement. D. Conn. 10-cr-232, ECF No. 71 (Pro Se Mem.). He reasoned that the plea colloquies from his underlying convictions were insufficient because the factual circumstances merely consisted of the State reading a police report into the record and Edwards could not have confirmed those facts because he pleaded guilty before they had been read into the record. Id. at 5-6. He also argued that “even were not the case, ” those facts were insufficient to establish the controlled substance involved. Id. at 7. Shortly thereafter, the trial court granted Edwards’s motion for new counsel and appointed Attorney Jonathan J. Einhorn (“Attorney Two”) to represent Edwards. D. Conn. 10-cr-232, ECF Nos. 61 (Mot.); 74 (Text Entry); 75 (Order).

In its sentencing memorandum, the Government argued for the ACCA enhancement. Conn. 10-cr-232, ECF No. 99 (Sentencing Mem.). The Government provided the change-of-plea transcripts from each of Edwards’s three prior narcotics convictions because the prior convictions under state law did not automatically qualify as serious drug offenses under the ACCA. Conn. 10-cr-232, ECF No. 99-1-99-33 (Exs.). According to the change-of-plea transcript from the last state conviction (the subject of Edwards’s challenge here), Edwards pleaded guilty to “possession of narcotics with intent to sell under 21a-277a, ” the prosecutor stated that the police seized “36.3 grams of cocaine” and various paraphernalia used to distribute narcotics, Edwards confirmed that he did what the State had accused him of, and the Court then accepted the plea as knowingly and voluntarily given. Conn. 10-cr-232, ECF No. 99-3 (Ex. C). In Edwards’s sentencing memorandum, Attorney Two argued that Edwards’s prior narcotics convictions could not serve as predicate offenses for three reasons: (1) none of the plea colloquies established that the state courts made a finding concerning the specific drugs; (2) none of the plea colloquies established that the state courts made a finding concerning the quantity of drugs; and (3) the plea colloquy concerning the last conviction did not indicate the statute of conviction. Conn. 10-cr-232, ECF No. 108 (Sentencing Mem.) at 3-7.

Edwards’s sentencing was scheduled for early September; however, the Court pushed the date back to late September because Edwards had articulated concerns about the adequacy of Attorney Two’s representation. Conn. 10-cr-232, ECF No. 121 (Hr’g Tr.). When Edwards appeared for sentencing in late September, the Court granted a short recess so that Edwards could iron out his disagreements with Attorney Two. ECF No. 3-7 (Sentencing Tr.) at 8:24-9:10. After the recess, both Edwards and Attorney Two indicated that they were ready to proceed with sentencing. Id. at 10:1-5. During sentencing, Attorney Two reiterated his arguments from his sentencing memorandum, including his argument that there was no specific finding concerning the narcotic involved, and emphasized that the findings from the plea colloquies were generally insufficient, “as your Honor knows from the Cohens decision.”[1] Id. at 14:14-19:21. Edwards also interjected, arguing that the plea colloquy from his last state conviction was insufficient because he only confirmed what was alleged in the police report. Id. at 20:15-22:2. The trial court nonetheless ruled that the ACCA enhancement applied. Id. at 49:12-15. Edwards was principally sentenced to 180 months’ imprisonment, to be followed by five years’ supervised release. Id. at 49:16-20. The trial court did not impose a fine. Id. at 50:20-21.

3. Appeal Proceedings

On appeal, Attorney Two argued that that Edwards’s prior narcotics convictions could not serve as predicate offenses for the reasons articulated in his sentencing memorandum and during sentencing. ECF No. 3-8 (Appellant Br.) at 8-14. Edwards also filed a pro se brief. ECF No. 3-9 (Pro Se Br.) Edwards argued that the ACCA enhancement did not apply, but his arguments differed slightly from the arguments that he raised below. Id. at 11-13. He argued that he confirmed his guilt of the offense, not the underlying facts as alleged in the police report. Id. at 11-12. He also argued that even if he had confirmed these facts, they did not identify the specific conduct involved in the underlying offense. Id. at 12-13. Edwards separately challenged the denial of his motion for appointment of new counsel, alleging that Attorney Two was generally not communicative, was generally unprepared, and had specifically failed to raise Edwards’s preferred preferred challenges to the ACCA enhancement. Id. at 13- 14. The Second Circuit summarily affirmed the judgment. ECF No. 10 (Summary Order). It ruled that “[b]ased on the record before it, the [trial] ...


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