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Knox v. United States

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Florence Division

July 19, 2018

Monique Teshura Knox, Petitioner,
v.
United States of America, Respondent.

          ORDER

          R. BRYAN HARWELL, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Petitioner Monique Teshura Knox's pro se motion to vacate, set aside, or correct her sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. See ECF No. 132. The Government has filed a Motion to Dismiss/Motion for Summary Judgment. See ECF No. 149. The Court denies Petitioner's § 2255 motion and grants the Government's motion for the reasons herein.[1]

         Background

         On January 9, 2017, Petitioner, represented by attorney James McBratney Jr. (“plea counsel”), pled guilty pursuant to a written plea agreement to Count 6 of the Superseding Indictment, which charged her with possession with intent to distribute and distribution of a quantity of heroin, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(C). See ECF Nos. 79, 82, & 84. The Court allowed Petitioner to remain on bond both before and after her guilty plea. See ECF No. 82. One condition of bond was that she “avoid all contact, directly or indirectly, with any person who is or may be a victim or witness in the investigation or prosecution.” ECF No. 34 at p. 2.

         On January 18, 2017, the United States Probation Office filed a Petition for Action on Conditions of Pretrial Release alleging Petitioner had “made threatening comments to a witness during December 2016.” See ECF No. 87. The Court signed the petition, an arrest warrant was issued, and Petitioner was arrested. See ECF Nos. 88 & 90.

         On January 25 and 26, 2017, the Magistrate Judge held a bond revocation hearing. See ECF Nos. 91-94. Agent Freddy M. Curry of the Fifteenth Judicial District Drug Force Unit testified that on December 7, 2016, Petitioner (out on bond at the time) was at a gas station when she approached an informant in the case and said, “I knew what you did, and we're going to get your a**.” ECF No. 149-2 at pp. 2-3, 7.[2] Agent Curry further testified he believed the information provided by the informant was reliable. Id. at p. 11. Plea counsel cross-examined Agent Curry and objected to his testimony. Id. at pp. 5-10. The Magistrate Judge concluded Petitioner's alleged conduct did in fact occur but noted it had happened before her guilty plea, and after hearing argument from plea counsel, the Magistrate Judge continued Petitioner on bond with added restrictions. Id. at pp. 12-16.

         Thereafter, the Probation Office prepared a presentence investigation report (“PSR”) determining Petitioner had a Category II criminal history and a base offense level of 24. PSR [ECF No. 122] at ¶¶ 34, 40. The PSR further determined that she had threatened a witness (based on the aforementioned December 7, 2016 incident at the gas station) and therefore applied a two-level enhancement for obstruction of justice under United States Sentencing Guideline (“U.S.S.G.”) § 3C1.1, resulting in a total adjusted offense level of 26. Id. at ¶¶ 11, 28, 44. The PSR also concluded Petitioner was not entitled to a three-level reduction for acceptance of responsibility under U.S.S.G. § 3E1.1, and thus her resulting advisory guideline range was 70 to 87 months' imprisonment. Id. at ¶¶ 29-30, 47, 74. Notably, plea counsel filed objections to the PSR-including to the obstruction of justice enhancement and to the denial of acceptance of responsibility. See Revised Addendum to PSR [ECF No. 122-2].

         On May 10, 2017, the Court conducted a sentencing hearing at which it heard argument from plea counsel and awarded Petitioner a three-level reduction for acceptance of responsibility, thereby reducing her offense level to 23 and resulting in an advisory guideline range of 51 to 63 months. See ECF Nos. 127 & 144. The Court further granted plea counsel's oral motion for a downward variance, and ultimately sentenced Petitioner to 48 months' imprisonment followed by three years' supervised release. See ECF Nos. 120 & 126. Judgment was entered the same day, see ECF No. 126, and Petitioner did not appeal.

         On September 25, 2017, [3] Petitioner filed the instant § 2255 motion. See ECF No. 132. On November 27, 2017, plea counsel filed an affidavit addressing his representation of Petitioner. See ECF No. 144. Thereafter, the Government filed a Motion to Dismiss/Motion for Summary Judgment, see ECF No. 149, and Petitioner filed a response in opposition to the Government's motion. See ECF Nos. 150 & 163.

         Legal Standard

         Prisoners in federal custody may attack the validity of their sentences pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. For a court to vacate, set aside, or correct a sentence under § 2255, a petitioner must prove one of the following occurred: (1) a sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States; (2) the court was without jurisdiction to impose such a sentence; (3) the sentence was in excess of the maximum authorized by law; or (4) the sentence is otherwise subject to collateral attack. 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a). The district court need not hold an evidentiary hearing on a § 2255 motion if “the motion and the files and records of the case conclusively show that the prisoner is entitled to no relief.” 28 U.S.C. § 2255(b); see United States v. Thomas, 627 F.3d 534, 538 (4th Cir. 2010). The determination of whether to hold an evidentiary hearing ordinarily is left to the sound discretion of the district court. Raines v. United States, 423 F.2d 526, 530 (4th Cir. 1970). “Letters, exhibits and other evidence not previously a part of the record may be considered by the court as part of the record in determining the necessity for an evidentiary hearing under Section 2255.” Id. at 530. “Affidavits also may be submitted and considered as part of the record.” Rule 7, Rules Governing § 2255 Proceedings.

         “When the district court denies § 2255 relief without an evidentiary hearing, the nature of the court's ruling is akin to a ruling on a motion for summary judgment.” United States v. Poindexter, 492 F.3d 263, 267 (4th Cir. 2007). “The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see generally Rule 12 of the Rules Governing Section 2255 Cases (“The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure . . ., to the extent that they are not inconsistent with any statutory provisions or these rules, may be applied to a proceeding under these rules.”). “A party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support the assertion by: (A) citing to particular parts of materials in the record . . .; or (B) showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). “The evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, with all reasonable inferences drawn in that party's favor. The court therefore cannot weigh the evidence or make credibility determinations.” Reyazuddin v. Montgomery Cty., 789 F.3d 407, 413 (4th Cir. 2015) (internal citation and quotation marks omitted).

         “The writ of habeas corpus and its federal counterpart, 28 U.S.C. § 2255, will not be allowed to do service for an appeal. For this reason, nonconstitutional claims that could have been raised on appeal, but were not, may not be asserted in collateral proceedings.” Stone v. Powell, 428 U.S. 465, 478 n.10 (1976) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). “Even those nonconstitutional claims that could not have been asserted on direct appeal can be raised on collateral review only if the alleged error ...


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