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United States v. Hebert

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

November 6, 2014

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
STEVEN HEBERT

ORDER AND REASONS

SARAH S. VANCE, District Judge.

Before the Court is petitioner Steven Hebert's motion to vacate his guilty plea pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255.[1] Petitioner contends that his plea was a consequence of the ineffective assistance of counsel, and therefore should be vacated. Because the Court finds that petitioner has failed to show that his guilty plea was the product of ineffective assistance of counsel, petitioner's motion is DENIED.

I. BACKGROUND

On February 18, 2010, the Government filed a superseding indictment charging Hebert with two counts of distributing narcotics, two counts of possession of narcotics with the intent to distribute, and two counts of unlawfully possessing firearms.[2] The Government also filed a bill of information to establish that Hebert had four prior felony drug convictions.[3]

On the morning that his trial was to begin, Hebert entered into a plea agreement with the Government under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(c)(1)(C), in which Hebert agreed to plead guilty to Counts Three, Four, and Five of the indictment, and to the bill of information establishing Hebert's prior felony drug convictions.[4] Under the agreement, the Government and Hebert agreed that "a specific sentencing range of not less than 15 years and maximum of life imprisonment is appropriate in the disposition of this case."[5] The Government also agreed to move to dismiss Counts One, Two, and Six of the indictment at sentencing.[6] In exchange, and in addition to his guilty plea, Hebert waived his right to appeal his conviction or sentence, except that he reserved the right to bring a direct appeal of any sentence above the statutory maximum.[7] Hebert also waived his right to contest his conviction or sentence in any collateral proceeding, except by establishing that ineffective assistance of counsel directly affected the validity of his waiver of appeal rights and collateral challenge rights or the validity of the guilty plea itself.[8]

Hebert pleaded guilty to the bill of information establishing his prior felony drug convictions and to Counts Three, Four, and Five of the superseding indictment.[9] At the rearraignment proceeding, the Court ensured that Hebert understood that by pleading guilty to the bill of information he admitted to having four prior felony drug convictions and that, if he had gone to trial without such an admission, the government would have had to prove his prior convictions beyond a reasonable doubt before his sentence could be enhanced because of the prior convictions.[10] The Court then made sure that Hebert understood his maximum sentence exposure without a plea agreement affecting his sentence:

The Court: Based on your prior convictions for felony drug offenses, pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and § 841(b)(1)(B), this [Third Count] carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years imprisonment, a maximum possible sentence of life imprisonment.... [The Fourth Count] carries a mandatory minimum of ten years, and a maximum possible sentence of life imprisonment.... If the Court determines that you are an armed career offender pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 924(e), meaning that you have at least three prior convictions for violent felony and/or serious drug offenses, then there is a 15-year mandatory minimum term of imprisonment and a maximum penalty of life imprisonment for this [Fifth Count].
* * *
The Court: Do you understand that I could impose the maximum sentence I described to you this morning?
Mr. Hebert: Yes, ma'am.[11]

The Court then had the lawyers explain the plea agreement and confirmed that Hebert understood it:

The Court: Mr. Hebert, do you understand the plea agreement to be what the lawyers represented to me?
Mr. Hebert: Yes, ma'am.[12]

The Court specifically asked:

The Court: Do you understand that although the government has agreed that a specific sentencing range of not less than 15 years imprisonment and a maximum of life imprisonment is appropriate in this case that I'm not bound to accept that agreement?
Mr. Hebert: Yes, ma'am.[13]

The Court then informed Hebert:

The Court: I'm going to defer my decision whether to accept the plea agreement until I have an opportunity to review the presentence investigation report. I'll advise you before sentencing if I accept the plea agreement. If I decide not to accept the plea agreement, I will give you an opportunity to withdraw your guilty plea; but if you do not withdraw your guilty plea, I may dispose of your case in a manner less favorable to you than would have resulted under the agreement. Do you understand that, sir?
Mr. Hebert: Yes, ma'am.[14]

Hebert also assured the Court that no one promised or otherwise told him what specific sentence the Court would impose:

The Court: Are there any agreements between you and the government concerning your plea other than what's in that agreement?
Mr. Hebert: No, ma'am.
The Court: Have you been persuaded to plead guilty because of any promises that are not in that agreement?
Mr. Hebert: No, ma'am.
The Court: Have you been influenced, induced, or persuaded to plead guilty because of any ...

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