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United States v. Lockhart

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

February 27, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
JESMENE LOCKHART, a/k/a Jesmene Laquin-Montre Lockhart, a/k/a Jasmene Lockhart, Defendant-Appellant.

          Argued: November 15, 2018

          Appeal from the United States District Court No. 3:15-cr-00034-RJC-1 for the Western District of North Carolina, at Charlotte. Robert J. Conrad, Jr., District Judge.

         ARGUED:

          Joshua B. Carpenter, FEDERAL DEFENDERS OF WESTERN NORTH CAROLINA, INC., Asheville, North Carolina, for Appellant.

          Amy Elizabeth Ray, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Asheville, North Carolina, for Appellee.

         ON BRIEF:

          Anthony Martinez, Federal Public Defender, FEDERAL DEFENDERS OF WESTERN NORTH CAROLINA, INC., Charlotte, North Carolina, for Appellant.

          R. Andrew Murray, United States Attorney, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Charlotte, North Carolina, for Appellee.

          Before GREGORY, Chief Judge, and KEENAN and FLOYD, Circuit Judges.

          BARBARA MILANO KEENAN, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         Jesmene Lockhart appeals his conviction for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1), and his mandatory minimum 15-year sentence of imprisonment imposed under the Armed Career Criminal Act, 18 U.S.C. § 924(e) (ACCA). Lockhart contends that the magistrate judge plainly erred by failing to advise him during the Rule 11 plea colloquy of his potential exposure to the 15-year mandatory minimum. Lockhart asserts that if he had been properly informed of his sentencing exposure, there is a "reasonable probability" that he would not have pleaded guilty.

         Our holding today is restricted by this Court's decision in United States v. Massenburg, 564 F.3d 337 (4th Cir. 2009), which imposes an extreme burden on a defendant seeking plain error review of a court's failure to provide correct sentencing information before accepting a guilty plea. Under Massenburg, irrespective of the extent of the court's error, a defendant on plain error review affirmatively must show a reasonable probability that he would not have pleaded guilty if he had been correctly advised of his sentencing exposure. See id. at 343-46. The defendant is held to this standard even though the Rule 11 error committed by the district court left him in the dark regarding one of the most critical considerations in the guilty plea calculus, namely, his sentencing exposure. But because we are bound by the holding in Massenburg, we conclude that Lockhart has failed to satisfy his evidentiary burden and we affirm the district court's judgment.

         I.

         In September 2014, officers with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department in North Carolina responded to a report of suspicious activity involving individuals in a parked car. When they arrived at the scene, an officer saw Lockhart sitting in the driver's seat of the vehicle. The officer observed Lockhart use his right hand to provide his identification, "while reaching down by his left leg with his left hand, where the officer saw the butt of [a] gun with a magazine clip." The officers recovered the loaded handgun and an additional magazine from the driver's side of the car, and the authorities later determined that the firearm was stolen.

         Lockhart pleaded guilty without a written plea agreement to a single count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). During the Rule 11 plea colloquy, the magistrate judge asked the government to "summarize the charge and the penalty." The government responded that the "maximum penalty" Lockhart faced was 10 years' imprisonment. At no time during the plea colloquy did the court or the government clarify that Lockhart's criminal history could result in a 15-year mandatory minimum sentence under the ACCA.

         The probation officer prepared a presentence report (PSR), and recommended sentencing Lockhart as an armed career criminal under the ACCA based on three prior convictions for North Carolina robbery with a dangerous weapon. In the PSR, the probation officer explicitly highlighted the error in the plea colloquy, noting that Lockhart "was informed that his statutory penalties . . . were not more than ten years['] imprisonment," but that "based on [Lockhart's] three prior convictions for violent felonies, [his] statutory penalties . . . are not less than fifteen years['] imprisonment."

         Lockhart's counsel objected to the proposed ACCA designation on the grounds that (1) his North Carolina convictions, which were consolidated for judgment, should count as a single ACCA predicate, and (2) an ACCA sentence would violate the Eighth Amendment. Notably, Lockhart did not assert that he previously had been unaware of his potential ACCA designation, nor did he seek to withdraw his guilty plea.

         After overruling the objections of Lockhart's counsel, the district court concluded that Lockhart qualified as an armed career criminal under the ACCA and imposed the mandatory minimum term of 15 years' imprisonment. Following the court's imposition of ...


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