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United States v. Andrew

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

December 18, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
DON M. ANDREW, JR.

         SECTION: “E” (2)

          ORDER AND REASONS

          SUSIE MORGAN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court is Defendant Don M. Andrew's Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255.[1] The Government opposes the motion.[2] For the following reasons, the motion is DENIED.

         BACKGROUND

         On October 4, 2012, Defendant Don M. Andrew, Jr., (“Andrew”) was charged in a twenty-seven count indictment.[3] On December 4, 2014, Andrew pleaded guilty to Counts 1 through 16 of the Fourth Superseding Bill of Information.[4] Specifically, Andrew pleaded guilty to Conspiracy to Commit Arson (Count 1); Conspiracy to Commit Mail and Wire Fraud (Count 2); Mail Fraud (Counts 3-8); Wire Fraud (Counts 9-12); Arson (Counts 13 and 16); Use of Fire to Commit a Felony (Count 14); and Mail Fraud (Count 15).[5] On February 25, 2015, Andrew was sentenced to 240 months in prison pursuant to a Rule 11(c)(1)(C) plea agreement.[6]

         Andrew filed a direct appeal with the Fifth Circuit.[7] On April 11, 2016, the Fifth Circuit affirmed the judgment of conviction on the grounds that Andrew's right to appeal was knowingly and voluntarily waived in his plea agreement.[8] On April 4, 2017, Andrew, proceeding pro se, filed this motion to vacate, set aside, or correct sentence pursuant to Title 28, United States Code, Section 2255.[9] In his motion, Andrew asserts: (1) the evidence on the record is insufficient to support his conviction, and (2) his attorney pressured him to sign the plea agreement.[10]

         In its Opposition, the Government argues Andrew's sufficiency of the evidence is not cognizable on § 2255 review because he waived his rights to collateral review in his plea agreement.[11] The Government also argues Andrew is procedurally barred from bringing a sufficiency of the evidence claim for the first time on collateral review, and that Andrew's sworn statements at his rearraignment and sentencing hearings refute his claims.[12]

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, a federal prisoner may move the court that imposed his sentence to vacate, set aside or correct the sentence.[13] Section 2255 identifies only four bases on which the motion may be made: (1) the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States; (2) the court was without jurisdiction to impose the sentence; (3) the sentence exceeds the statutory maximum sentence; or (4) the sentence is “otherwise subject to collateral attack.”[14] A claim of error that is neither constitutional nor jurisdictional is not cognizable in a Section 2255 proceeding unless the error constitutes a “fundamental error” that “renders the entire proceeding irregular or invalid.”[15]

         As mandated by Rule 4 of the Rules Governing Section 2255 Proceedings, the Court must examine a Section 2255 motion promptly and “if it plainly appears from the motion, any attached exhibits, and the record of prior proceedings that the moving party is not entitled to relief, the judge must dismiss the motion and direct the clerk to notify the moving party.”[16] If the motion raises a non-frivolous claim to relief, the Court must order the Government to file a response or take other appropriate action.[17] Should the Court find that there is a need to expand the record, with good cause shown, limited discovery can be authorized.[18] After reviewing the Government's response and the record, the Court must determine whether an evidentiary hearing is warranted.[19] An evidentiary hearing need not be held if “the motion and the files and records of the case conclusively show that the prisoner is entitled to no relief.”[20] Furthermore, no evidentiary hearing is required if the prisoner fails to produce any “independent indicia of the likely merit of his allegations.”[21]

         As stated by Judge Vance in Caston:

Ultimately, the petitioner bears the burden of establishing his claims of error by a preponderance of the evidence. For certain “structural” errors, relief follows automatically once the error is proved. For other “trial” errors, the court may grant relief only if the error “had substantial and injurious effect or influence” in determining the outcome of the case. If the Court finds that the prisoner is entitled to relief, it “shall vacate and set the judgment aside and shall discharge the prisoner or resentence [his] or grant a new trial or correct the sentence as may be appropriate.[22]

         LAW AND ANALYSIS

         Andrew moves to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence on the grounds that (1) his conviction not supported by sufficient evidence, and (2) his counsel was ineffective and coerced Andrew into signing his plea agreement. Neither argument is meritorious.

         I. Sufficiency of the Evidence

         Andrew argues that he is actually innocent of the crimes to which he pleaded guilty.[23] In support of this argument, Andrew makes several uncorroborated assertions. In an affidavit attached to his motion, Andrew states that he was not at the location of the arson at the time in question, and accuses his co-defendants of lying as to his involvement in the criminal offenses.[24]

         Andrew is unable to raise this argument in a § 2255 motion, however, because he waived his right to collateral review. So long as the waiver was knowing and voluntary, a defendant's “claims regarding the sufficiency of the government's evidence . . . are not valid grounds for relief under 28 U.S.C. 2255 after a guilty plea.”[25]

         Andrew's plea agreement states that he:

[w]aives and gives up his right to challenges his sentence collaterally, including but not limited to any and all rights which arise under Title 28, United States Code, Sections 2244 and 2241, Rule 60 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 36 of the Federal Rules of Criminal procedure, writs of coram nobis and audita querala, and any other collateral challenges to his sentence of any kind . . .[26]

         At Andrew's rearraignment hearing, the Court engaged in an extensive colloquy to ensure that Andrew understood the consequences of his plea agreement. Andrew repeatedly affirmed that his waiver of his appeal rights was knowing and voluntary:

THE COURT: Do you understand that under your plea agreement you have expressly waived your right a direct appeal as set forth in the plea agreement, but that you are not waiving your right to appeal a sentence imposed in excess of the statutory maximum?
THE DEFENDANT: Yes, your Honor.
THE COURT: Do you also understand that you can only bring a post conviction proceeding if you can show that ineffective assistance of counsel affected the validity of your guilty plea or your waiver of appeal and collateral challenge rights?
THE DEFENDANT: Yes, your Honor.
THE COURT: Has your attorney advise you of your appeal rights and the affect [sic] of waiving those rights?
THE DEFENDANT: Yes, your Honor.
THE COURT: Do you voluntarily agree to waive your appeal rights as set forth in the plea agreement?
THE DEFENDANT: Yes, your Honor.

         In denying Andrew's direct appeal, the Fifth Circuit found “the record reflects that Andrew knew that he had a right to appeal and that he was giving up that right; thus the waiver was knowing and voluntary.”[27] Although the Fifth Circuit did not consider Andrew's collateral review waiver, the Court finds that the record is likewise clear. Contrary to Andrew's assertions, there is no indication that his plea agreement was not knowing and voluntary. Accordingly, his plea agreement bars his present motion under § 2255

         Even if Andrew had not waived his collateral rights, his claim alleging insufficient evidence is foreclosed by Fifth Circuit precedent. “A challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence is not cognizable in a § 2255 proceeding.”[28] As a result, Andrew's claim ...


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