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Powell v. United States

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

May 28, 2015



L. PATRICK AULD, Magistrate Judge.

This case comes before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge for a recommended ruling on Petitioner's Motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence (Docket Entry 15) ("Section 2255 Motion"), Supplemental Motion to Petitioner's [Section] 2255 [Motion] (Docket Entry 23), and Supplemental Motion (Docket Entry 24), as well as for disposition of his Motion for Production of the Record (Docket Entry 22) and Motion for Disposition of the Case (Docket Entry 25).[1] For the reasons that follow, the latter two Motions will be denied and the former three Motions should be denied.


On April 9, 2013, this Court (per Senior United States District Judge N. Carlton Tilley, Jr.) entered a Judgment against Petitioner imposing, inter alia, a total prison term of 141 months, upon his guilty plea to attempted interference with commerce by robbery and interference with commerce by robbery, both in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1951(a), as well as to carrying/using a firearm (by brandishing) during and in relation to a crime of violence, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(a)(ii). (Docket Entry 12; see also Docket Entry 1 (Indictment); Docket Entry 11 (Plea Agt.); Docket Entry 18 (Plea Hrg. Tr.); Docket Entry dated Dec. 7, 2012 (documenting guilty plea); Docket Entry dated Mar. 15, 2013 (documenting sentencing).) Petitioner did not appeal (see Docket Entry 15, ¶ 8; see also Docket Entries dated Mar. 15, 2013, to present), but did timely file his instant Section 2255 Motion (Docket Entry 15). The United States responded (Docket Entry 19) and Petitioner replied (Docket Entry 21). Subsequently, on July 9, 2013, the Clerk stamped-as-filed Petitioner's instant Supplemental Motion to Petitioner's [Section] 2255 [Motion] (Docket Entry 23 at 1), which he dated as signed on July 3, 2014 (id. at 9) and as served via mail on July 7, 2014 (id. at 10). Petitioner thereafter filed his instant Supplemental Motion. (Docket Entry 24 at 1.)[2]


Petitioner's Section 2255 Motion asserts these two claims:

1) "The Court lacked Exclusive Legislative and Subject Matter Jurisdiction over this case, and [Petitioner]" (Docket Entry 15, ¶ 12 (Ground One); see also id., ¶ 12 (Ground One)(a) ("[Petitioner] was arrested on private property within the boundaries of the state of North Carolina, property that was not acquired, purchased or owned by the United States, nor did the [C]ourt/government produce any documents proving that the state of North Carolina had ceded jurisdiction over this private property to the Government nor any documents proving that the Government accepted said jurisdiction.")); and

2) "Ineffective Assistance of Counsel" (id., ¶ 12(Ground Two)), [3] premised on the allegation(s) that "[t]he attorney appointed in this case took advantage of [ ] Petitioner's inability to read and write and coerced him into pleading guilty to a court that had no jurisdiction to hear the case... [and] failed to challenge the [C]ourt's jurisdiction" (id., ¶ 12(Ground Two)(a)).

Ground One lacks merit. "The district courts of the United States shall have original jurisdiction, exclusive of the courts of the States, of all offenses against the laws of the United States." 18 U.S.C. § 3231. "To successfully challenge [this] [C]ourt's jurisdiction, a defendant who enters a guilty plea must establish that the face of the indictment failed to charge the elements of a federal offense." United States v. Turner, 272 F.3d 380, 389-90 (6th Cir. 2001). "It is generally sufficient that an indictment set forth the offense in the words of the statute itself, as long as those words of themselves fully, directly, and expressly, without any uncertainty or ambiguity, set forth all the elements necessary to constitute the offense... accompanied with such a statement of the facts and circumstances as will inform the accused of the specific offense, coming under the general description, with which he is charged." United States v. Perry, 757 F.3d 166, 171 (4th Cir. 2014) (internal brackets and quotation marks omitted).

The plain language of Section 1951(a), also known as the Hobbs Act, makes it an offense to "in any way or degree obstruct[], delay[], or affect[] commerce or the movement of any article or commodity in commerce, by robbery... or attempt[]... so to do...." 18 U.S.C. § 1951(a); see also 18 U.S.C. § 1951(b)(3) ("The term commerce' means commerce within the District of Columbia, or any Territory or Possession of the United States; all commerce between any point in a State, Territory, Possession, or the District of Columbia and any point outside thereof; all commerce between points within the same State through any place outside such State; and all other commerce over which the United States has jurisdiction."). "A Hobbs Act crime, then, has two elements: (1) robbery... and (2) interference with commerce. With regard to the second element, ... the Hobbs Act requires only that the government prove a minimal effect on interstate commerce." United States v. Taylor, 754 F.3d 217, 222 (4th Cir. 2014) (internal citation and quotation marks omitted); see also id. ("To determine whether a robbery affects commerce, we do not simply examine the effect of the individual action in question; it is sufficient that the relevant class of acts has a measureable impact on interstate commerce." (internal quotation marks omitted)).

Consistent with the plain language of Section 1951(a) and its above-quoted construction by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, the Indictment in this case asserted that Petitioner violated Section 1951(a), in that he "did unlawfully attempt to obstruct, delay, and affect commerce, as that term is defined in... Section 1951(b)(3), and the movement of articles and commodities in such commerce, by robbery" of a specified business (Docket Entry 1 at 1), and in that he "did unlawfully obstruct, delay, and affect commerce, as that term is defined in... Section 1951(b)(3), and the movement of articles and commodities in such commerce, by robbery" of another specified business (id. at 3). Further, the Indictment expressly alleged that the victim businesses engaged in specified retail activity "in interstate and foreign commerce and... which affects interstate and foreign commerce." (Id. at 1, 2.) Finally, the Indictment contained an explicit allegation that Petitioner attempted to take and took, respectively, property that belonged to the victim businesses. (Id. at 1-2, 3.) Under these circumstances, the Court should deem Ground One meritless, as the Indictment adequately charged violations of Section 1951(a) and thereby sufficiently invoked this Court's jurisdiction under Section 3231.

Ground Two, which (as quoted above) alleges ineffective assistance because Petitioner's counsel did not raise the jurisdictional issue presented in Ground One and allegedly coerced Petitioner to plead guilty despite the Court's purported lack of jurisdiction, similarly fails as a matter of law. To establish ineffective assistance, Petitioner must show that his counsel's performance fell below a reasonable standard for defense attorneys and that prejudice resulted. See Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687-94 (1984). In this case, the facial sufficiency of the Section 1951(a) charges lodged against Petitioner (as shown above) would have rendered futile any effort by his counsel to "challenge the [C]ourt's jurisdiction" (Docket Entry 15, ¶ 12(Ground Two)(a)); as a result, any ineffective assistance claim based on the absence of such a challenge cannot succeed. See Oken v. Corcoran, 220 F.3d 259, 269 (4th Cir. 2000) ("[C]ounsel [i]s not constitutionally ineffective in failing to [take action if]... it would have been futile for counsel to have done so....").

Further, the record of Petitioner's guilty plea hearing refutes any allegation that counsel coerced Petitioner to enter an unknowing, involuntary guilty plea and, indeed, conclusively establishes that (pursuant to a colloquy that fully complied with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11(b)) Petitioner pleaded guilty freely and with a full understanding of all relevant matters. (See Docket Entry 18 at 3-42.) "[C]ourts must be able to rely on the defendant's statements made under oath during a properly conducted Rule 11 plea colloquy.... Thus, in the absence of extraordinary circumstances, ... 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). Petitioner has identified no extraordinary circumstances that would permit the Court to disregard his sworn statements voluntarily and knowingly pleading guilty. (See Docket Entry 15, ¶ 12(Ground Two)(a); Docket Entry 21 at 1-4.)

Simply put, Petitioner has failed to show any basis for relief on the two grounds set forth in his ...

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