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Rucker v. United States

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

November 18, 2019

CURTIS LEE RUCKER, JR., 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. No. 1), in which he raises a claim pursuant to Rehaif v. United States, 139 S.Ct. 2191 (2019).

         I. BACKGROUND

         Petitioner pled guilty in the underlying criminal case to a single count of possession of a firearm by a felon in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1) and 924 in exchange for the Government's dismissal of a second count. (3:18-cr-57, Doc. Nos. 3, 15). Petitioner voluntarily entered into a Plea Agreement in which he admitted to being factually guilty of the offense as charged. (Id., Doc. No. 15 at 1) (Plea Agreement). The Plea Agreement contains express waivers of Petitioner's right to pursue a direct appeal and post-conviction remedies except for claims of ineffective assistance of counsel or prosecutorial misconduct. (Id., Doc. No. 15 at 4).

         A United States Magistrate Judge conducted a thorough plea colloquy pursuant to Rule 11 during which Petitioner was represented by counsel. See (Id., Doc. No. 17). Petitioner stated under oath that he received a copy of the Indictment and discussed it with his attorney. (Id., Doc. No. 17 at 1). He confirmed that he fully understood the charges and his sentencing exposure. (Id., Doc. No. 17 at 1). Petitioner had spoken to his attorney about how the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines might apply to his case, that the Court would not be able to determine the applicable Sentencing Guidelines range until after a Presentence Investigation Report (“PSR”) had been prepared, and that he would still be bound by his plea and would not have the right to withdraw it even if the sentence was more severe than he expected or if the Court does not accept the Government's sentencing recommendation. (Id., Doc. No. 17 at 2). Petitioner acknowledged the rights he was waiving by pleading guilty, that the plea was freely and voluntarily entered, and that he was expressly waiving his appellate and post-conviction rights. (Id., Doc. No. 17 at 2-3). Petitioner had discussed with his attorney any possible defenses to the charges and that he was satisfied with counsel's services. (Id., Doc. No. 17 at 3). Petitioner also stated that he read, understood, and agreed with the Factual Basis that was filed as an attachment to his Plea Agreement. (Id., Doc. No. 17 at 3).

         The Factual Basis states, in pertinent part:

On or about January 30, 2018, the defendant … possessed a firearm and ammunition at the Time Gas Station, located at 1205 E. Garner Bagnal Blvd. in Statesville, North Carolina. The Defendant was arrested after a domestic dispute where he pointed the firearm at a female and assaulted the female in the face with the firearm.
The defendant …, on or about June 30, 2018, in Iredell County, within the Western District of North Carolina, and elsewhere, having been previously convicted of one or more crimes punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year, did knowingly and unlawfully possess a firearm, in and affecting interstate commerce.
At the time of the incident, the defendant … was previously convicted of one or more crimes punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year.

(Id., Doc. No. 16 at 1).

         The Magistrate Judge accepted Petitioner's plea after finding that the plea was knowingly and voluntarily entered, that Petitioner understood the charges, potential penalties, and consequences of his plea, and that the plea was supported by an independent factual basis containing each of the elements of the offense to which he was pleading. (Id., Doc. No. 17 at 4).

         The PSR identified the underlying felony conviction as possession of a firearm in Iredell County, case number 2014CRS4296, for which Petitioner was sentenced to 19-32 months in prison. (Id., Doc. No. 24 at ¶ 10). The PSR scored Petitioner's base offense level as 20 for a violation of § 922(g)(1). (Id., Doc. No. 24 at ¶ 16). Two levels were added pursuant to U.S. Sentencing Guidelines § 2K2.1(g)(4)(A) because a firearm was stolen. (Id., Doc. No. 24 at ¶ 17). Four more levels were added pursuant to § 2K2.1 because Petitioner used or possessed a firearm or ammunition in connection with another felony offense, i.e., aggravated assault. (Id., Doc. No. 24 at ¶ 18). Three levels were deducted for acceptance of responsibility, resulting in a total offense level of 23. (Id., Doc. No. 24 at ¶¶ 23-27). The PSR's criminal history section scored 24 criminal history points and a criminal history category of VI. (Id., Doc. No. 24 at ¶¶ 51-52). The resulting advisory guidelines range was 92 to 115 months' imprisonment and between one and three years of supervised release. (Id., Doc. No. 24 at ¶¶ 87, 90). Neither party filed objections to the PSR. See (Id., Doc. No. 24 at 22).

         The Court adjudicated Petitioner guilty of violating § 922(g)(1) and 924, adopted the PSR without change, and sentenced Petitioner within the advisory range to 96 months' imprisonment followed by three years of supervised release in a Judgment docketed on July 19, 2019. (Id., Doc. No. 27); see (Id., Doc. No. 28) (Statement of Reasons). Petitioner did not appeal.

         Petitioner filed the instant pro se § 2255 Motion to Vacate on November 7, 2019[1] and it was docketed on November 13, 2019. He argues that his § 922(g) conviction is invalid pursuant to Rehaif because the Government failed to prove Petitioner's knowledge that he both possessed a gun and belonged to the relevant category of persons barred from possessing a firearm, i.e., ...


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