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Roland v. United States

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Statesville Division

October 17, 2019

JENNIFER LEANN ROLAND, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent.

          ORDER

          KENNETH D. BELL, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Petitioner's Motion to Vacate, Set Aside or Correct Sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. [Doc. 1].

         I. BACKGROUND

         On August 7, 2017, Pro Se Petitioner Jennifer Leann Roland (“Petitioner”) pleaded guilty pursuant to a written plea agreement to one count of conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and 846 (Count One). [Criminal No. 5:17-cr-00011-KDB-DCK-3 (“CR”), Doc. 57: Acceptance and Entry of Guilty Plea]. Count One further alleged that, “with respect to the offense charged in Count One, five hundred (500) grams or more of a mixture and substance containing a detectable amount of methamphetamine … and fifty (50) grams or more of [actual] methamphetamine” are attributable to and reasonably foreseeable by Petitioner pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(A). [CR. Doc. 43: Second Superseding Indictment]. In pleading guilty, Petitioner admitted to being in fact guilty of Count One. [CR Doc. 56 at ¶ 1: Plea Agreement]. A Factual Basis was filed contemporaneously with the Plea Agreement. [CR Doc. 55: Factual Basis]. In signing the Plea Agreement, Petitioner attested to having read and understood the Factual Basis and stipulated that it may be used by the Court and the United States Probation Office without objection to determine the applicable advisory guideline range or the appropriate sentence under 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a), unless explicit reservation was made to object to a particular fact(s). [CR Doc. 56 at ¶ 4; see CR Doc. 55]. The Factual Basis states, in pertinent part, as follows:

         From in or around about 2016 to in or about January 2017, in Caldwell County, North Carolina, and elsewhere, Petitioner was a member of a conspiracy to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute methamphetamine. [CR Doc. 55 at ¶ 1]. On December 22, 2016, an investigative team conducted an undercover controlled purchase of approximately one ounce (28 grams) of methamphetamine from Chuck Allen Church, Jr., (“Church”) at his residence in Caldwell County, where he lived with Petitioner. Petitioner was present during the transaction. Later that day, a search warrant was obtained and executed at the residence, resulting in the seizure of an additional 84 grams of 97.8% pure methamphetamine, a “sawed-off” short-barrel shotgun (located in plain view in a closet in a spare bedroom), and approximately $11, 658 in cash. The shotgun was manufactured outside the State of North Carolina. It, therefore, travelled in and affected interstate commerce. Petitioner objected to and reserved her right to challenge a weapon enhancement, asserting she had no knowledge of the shotgun's presence. [Id. at ¶ 2].

         On January 31, 2017, the investigative team arrested Church and Petitioner who was traveling with Church at the time. The team seized approximately 3.5 grams of methamphetamine, scales, and empty and unused baggies from the residence where Church was located and found approximately $3, 500 in his vehicle. Church and Petitioner both provided videotaped post-Miranda confessions in which they admitted trafficking in well over 500 grams of methamphetamine. [Id. at ¶ 4].

         On May 31, 2017, Petitioner was charged in a Criminal Complaint with Count One as described above; one count of possession with intent to distribute at least 50 grams of actual methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a), 841(b)(1)(A) (Count Two); and one count of possession of a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) (Count Three). [CR Doc. 1: Criminal Complaint]. On June 20, 2017, Petitioner was charged in a Second Superseding Bill of Indictment with the same three counts. [CR Doc. 43: Second Superseding Bill of Indictment]. In exchange for Petitioner's agreement to plead guilty to Count One, the Government agreed to dismiss Counts Two and Three. [CR Doc. 56 at ¶¶ 1-2].

         A United States Magistrate Judge accepted Petitioner's guilty plea after conducting a thorough plea colloquy, during which Petitioner was represented by counsel. [CR Doc. 112: Plea Hearing Tr.; see CR Doc. 57]. Under oath, Petitioner told the Court that she received a copy of the indictment and discussed it with her attorney. [CR Doc. 57 at ¶ 8; CR Doc. 112 at 4]. The Court read the charge aloud to the Petitioner during the hearing and advised Petitioner of any maximum penalties and mandatory minimum sentences that applied. [Id.; CR Doc. 112 at 4-5]. Petitioner then told the Court that she fully understood the charge against her, including the maximum and minimum penalties she faced. [Id. at ¶ 9; CR Doc. 112 at 5]. The Petitioner further attested that she had spoken with her attorney regarding how the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines might apply to her case and that, in some circumstances, Petitioner may receive a sentence higher or lower than that called for in the Guidelines. [Id. at ¶¶ 13, 15; CR Doc. at 5-6]. Petitioner stated, under oath, that she was in fact guilty of Count One. [Id. at ¶ 24; CR Doc. at 7].

         Petitioner further acknowledged her understanding that her right to appeal her conviction and/or sentence and her right to challenge her conviction and/or sentence in a post-conviction proceeding had been expressly waived in the Plea Agreement. [Id. at ¶¶ 27-28; CR Doc. 112 at 11]. Petitioner also told the Court that she was aware that a Factual Basis had been filed in her case and that she had read it, understood it, and agreed with it. [Id. at ¶¶ 30-31]. Petitioner stated that no one had threatened, intimidated, or forced her to enter her plea of guilty. [Id. at ¶ 32]. She told the Court that she was “satisfied with the services of [her] lawyer in this case.” [Id. at ¶ 35].

         Several months later, Petitioner was sentenced. Before the sentencing hearing, a probation officer prepared a Presentence Investigation Report (PSR). [CR Doc. 80: Presentence Report]. Petitioner's Total Offense Level (TOL) was 27, which included a 2-point firearm enhancement under U.S.S.G. § 2D1.1(b)(1), and Petitioner's criminal history category was II, which yielded a guidelines range of 78 to 97 months' imprisonment. [Id. at ¶¶ 17, 25, 35, 73]. However, because the charge carries a statutory minimum term of 10 years' imprisonment, 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(A), the guidelines term of imprisonment was 120 months, U.S.S.G. § 5G1.1(b). [Id. at ¶ 72-73].

         Petitioner's attorney filed several objections to the PSR. [CR Doc. 79: Objections to PSR]. In pertinent part, Petitioner objected to the offense level computation, including the firearm enhancement based on Petitioner's assertions that she did not use the bedroom in which the firearm was found and had no knowledge of its existence. Petitioner further argued that she met the criteria of U.S.S.G. § 5C1.2 and should receive the benefit of the safety valve. And, finally, pursuant the objections regarding the offense level computation, Petitioner argued that she should have been deemed to have an Adjusted Offense Level of 26 and a TOL of 23. [Id. at 1-2]. Petitioner also objected to the determination of her adult criminal convictions, contending that one of her prior convictions for which a point was applied related to the instant offense. Had this point not been added, Petitioner submitted that her Criminal History Category was I. [Id. at 2]. Finally, Petitioner argued that, based on a TOL of 23 and criminal history category of I, her guideline range for imprisonment should have been 46 to 57 months. [Id.].

         At the sentencing hearing, Petitioner reaffirmed that she understood the charge against her, that she was guilty of the offense, and that she was satisfied with her attorney's services. [CR Doc. 111 at 3: Sentencing Transcript]. Petitioner stated that she carefully reviewed the PSR with her attorney. [Id. at 4]. Petitioner's attorney argued that the two-level firearm enhancement should not apply because the firearm was found in a closet in a bedroom located at the opposite end of single-wide trailer Petitioner shared with Church. Petitioner's attorney argued that the bedroom was occupied by another individual and was not used by Petitioner in any way. Further, counsel argued that Petitioner was completely unaware of the existence of the firearm. [Id. at 5-6]. Counsel also asserted that Petitioner needed drug treatment and that having the firearm enhancement would prevent her from receiving any credit toward her sentence for participating in the drug treatment program. [Id. at 7].

         Ultimately, the Court overruled the Petitioner's objections and concluded that the two-level firearm enhancement was applicable, and that Petitioner's criminal history point was accurately assessed. [CR Doc. 87: Statement of Reasons; CR Doc. 111 at 7-8]. Defense counsel conceded that Petitioner would not qualify for the safety valve due to her criminal history points. [CR Doc. 111 at 8]. The Court found that Petitioner's TOL was 27 and her Criminal History Category was II, which yielded a guidelines range of 120 months due to the mandatory minimum. [CR Doc. 87]. The Court, however, varied downward from this range to a TOL of 21, resulting in a guidelines range of 41 to 51 months, based on Petitioner's substantial assistance. [Id. at 2]. The Court entered its Judgment on December 6, 2017, and sentenced Petitioner to 41 months' imprisonment and a term of supervised release of five years. [CR Doc. 86: Judgment]. Petitioner did not file a direct appeal. On April 13, 2018, Petitioner timely filed the instant Section 2255 Motion to Vacate. The Government responded [Doc. 3] and Petitioner replied [Doc. 3]. This matter is now ripe for adjudication.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A federal prisoner claiming that her “sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or the laws of the United States, or that the court was without jurisdiction to impose such sentence, or that the sentence was in excess of the maximum authorized by law, or is otherwise subject to collateral attack, may move the court which ...


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