United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
WILLIAM L. OSTEEN, Jr., District Judge.
Petitioner Joseph Bethea, a federal prisoner, has brought a motion to vacate, set aside, or correct sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (the "Petition"). (Doc. 16.) In pertinent part, Petitioner was indicted for, and pled guilty to, (1) possession with intent to distribute heroin, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(C) (Count One) and (2) possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A)(i) (Count Two). (Docs. 8, 11, 12; Minute Entry 6/16/2011.) He was sentenced to 262 months of imprisonment. (Doc. 13; Minute Entry 11/21/2011.)
Petitioner did not appeal, but instead filed his current Motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence. (Petition (Doc. 16).) The Government has filed a response (Doc. 20), and Petitioner has replied (Doc. 22). The matter is now before the court for a ruling. See Rule 8, Rules Governing Section 2255 Proceedings.
Petitioner sets out two overlapping claims. First, Petitioner contends that the court violated Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure by entering judgment for a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) without a supporting factual basis. (Petition (Doc. 16), Ground One.) Second, Petitioner contends that the court incorrectly advised Petitioner as to the elements of the § 924(c) charge thereby rendering his plea unknowing and involuntary. ( Id., Ground Two.) As explained below, neither claim has merit.
A. Claim One
First, Petitioner contends that the court violated Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure by entering judgment for a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) without a supporting factual basis. ( Id., Ground One.) Where, as here, "a defendant is represented by counsel when making his guilty plea, that plea is presumed valid when later attacked in a habeas corpus proceeding.... [T]o rebut that strong presumption of validity, the defendant must make a factual showing that his plea of guilt was not voluntary and intelligent." United States v. Custis, 988 F.2d 1355, 1363 (4th Cir. 1993) (citations omitted). Furthermore, "[s]tatements of fact by a defendant in Rule 11 proceedings may not ordinarily be repudiated, and, similarly, findings by a sentencing Court in accepting a plea constitute a formidable barrier to attacking the plea." United States v. Wilson, 81 F.3d 1300, 1308 (4th Cir. 1996) (internal quotation marks omitted) (alteration in original). Absent "extraordinary circumstances, the truth of sworn statements made during a Rule 11 colloquy is conclusively established, and a district court should, without holding an evidentiary hearing, dismiss any § 2255 motion that necessarily relies on allegations that contradict the sworn statements." United States v. Lemaster, 403 F.3d 216, 221-22 (4th Cir. 2005).
Here, Petitioner's assertion that the court adjudged him guilty without a proper factual predicate is conclusively foreclosed by the record of his Rule 11 hearing. Instead, Petitioner's own statements indicate that he made a knowing and voluntary guilty plea after a full Rule 11 colloquy. (See Tr. of Change of Plea Hr'g (Doc. 25-1).) At his Rule 11 hearing, Petitioner was placed under oath, and stated that he had received and reviewed the indictment, which he understood; that he had fully discussed the charges in the indictment and the case in general with his counsel; that he had discussed any possible defenses he might have to the charges; and that he was fully satisfied with the services of his attorney. (Id. at 2-5.) This court then summarized the plea agreement for Petitioner, which he stated he understood and which he stated was the entire plea agreement between the parties. (Id. at 5-6.) Petitioner also acknowledged that no one had threatened him or coerced him to plead guilty. (Id. at 7-8.) This court then covered the maximum penalties he faced and the advisory nature of the guidelines. (Id. at 8-12.) Petitioner also acknowledged that he might receive a sentence different than that anticipated by his counsel. (Id. at 11-12.) The court then instructed Petitioner of his constitutional rights and the elements of the charged crimes, which Petitioner said he understood. (Id. at 13-16.)
Petitioner then pled guilty to Counts One and Two of the indictment, indicating that he was pleading guilty because he was, in fact, guilty. (Id. at 16-17.) The court found Petitioner competent and capable of entering an informed plea, and found further that he was aware of the nature of the charges and the consequences of his plea, and that his plea was both knowing and voluntary. (Id. at 17.) The Government then provided to the court a factual basis, without objection, and Petitioner agreed that he had reviewed it and that he agreed with his counsel that there were no objections to the facts outlined in the factual basis. (Id.)
The factual basis provided by the Government and adopted by Petitioner reads as follows:
Beginning in the month of November 2010, members of the High Point, North Carolina Police Department's Vice/Narcotics Unit began purchasing heroin from an individual identified as JOSEPH BETHEA (Defendant BETHEA). Members of the unit utilized an undercover officer (UC) to purchase heroin from Defendant BETHEA. The undercover officer and/or the vehicle used by the undercover officer contained concealed recording equipment in order to record the purchases.
On or about November 2, 2010, until on or about November 30, 2010, heroin purchases were made from or at the direction of Defendant BETHEA to the UC. On December 1, 2010, the UC arranged to purchase three (3) bricks of heroin from Defendant BETHEA. One brick of heroin contains 50 individual dosage units. The individual dosage units are referred to as bindles. Narcotics detectives obtained state arrest warrants for Defendant BETHEA for the previous heroin buys. In addition, a state search warrant was obtained for Defendant BETHEA's residence, 700-B Redding Drive in High Point, North Carolina.
On December 1, 2010, Defendant BETHEA arrived to meet the UC and was arrested without incident. Members of the police department then executed the state search warrant and found the following: a box of empty heroin bindles in the closet of Defendant BETHEA's bedroom; a digital scale located on the table in Defendant BETHEA's bedroom; $75 in United States currency from Defendant BETHEA; a black coat located in the closet of Defendant BETHEA's bedroom; a cellular telephone from Defendant BETHEA; and paperwork from Defendant BETHEA's bedroom and vehicle.
Officers asked Defendant BETHEA if there were any weapons in the residence and Defendant BETHEA told the officers a firearm was under the mattress in his bedroom. Officers also located 150 glassine bags of heroin in his front jacket pocket. A silver Cobra Enterprises, model FS380, .380 caliber handgun, bearing serial number FS041995, was found under the mattress in Defendant BETHEA's bedroom. According to the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation laboratory report of a statistically ...