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United States v. Scott

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

February 21, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
STANLEY SCOTT

         SECTION “B”

          ORDER AND REASONS

         Before the Court is Petitioner Stanley Scott's Motion for Post-Conviction Relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §2255 (Rec. Doc. No. 523), and the Government's Response in Opposition (Rec. Doc. No. 533).

         For the reasons below, IT IS ORDERED that Petitioner's Motion for Post-Conviction Relief is DENIED.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         In December of 2014, a federal grand jury indicted Petitioner Stanley Scott (“Petitioner”) and five other defendants charging them with multiple criminal counts, including: RICO[1] conspiracy, conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, violent crimes in furtherance of or in relation to racketeering. Rec. Doc. 163. Specifically, the indictment charged Petitioner with a total of nine counts. Id. Petitioner accepted a plea agreement with the Government, where he plead guilty to six counts and waived his rights to challenge: 1) the Court's sentence, and 2) the “manner in which the sentence was determined[.]” Rec. Doc. 271 at 2-4. The terms of the plea agreement also provided that the Government would refrain from filing a bill of information containing two prior felony convictions. The plea agreement further stated that the Government would request dismissal of the remaining three counts. Rec. Doc. 271 at 2.

         On March 11, 2016, the Court held a plea hearing where petitioner acknowledged he reviewed the plea agreement with his counselor and that he understood and accepted all the terms of the plea agreement. Rec. Doc. 533; Rec. Doc. 391 at 9:4-9:10. At the same hearing, the Court informed petitioner of the mandatory minimum and maximum sentences applicable to his guilty plea on each of the six counts. Rec. Doc 533; Rec. Doc. 391 at 10:13-13:22. The Court further cautioned petitioner that any sentence suggested to him by his counsel, the Government, or anyone else was not binding upon the Court. Rec. Doc. 533; Rec. Doc. 391 at 24:2-24:12. Petitioner affirmed his understanding of the Court's caution and acknowledged his intent to maintain is guilty plea. Id. Although petitioner's counsel admitted that he provided petitioner with his expected sentencing range, Rec. Doc. 391 at 48:9-48:16, petitioner acknowledged that his lawyer never guaranteed him any specific sentence. Id. at 46:5-46:12.

         Following the plea hearing, the Government filed a sentencing memorandum for an upward departure of petitioner's sentencing. Rec. Doc. 374. In its memorandum, the Government asserted that petitioner and other defendants committed a murder in furtherance of the RICO enterprise conspiracy. Id. Petitioner's lawyer filed multiple objections to the enhancement. Rec. Docs. 337, 389, 404. Petitioner also filed objections to a pre-sentence investigation report (“PSR”) issued by the United States Probation Officer, Rec. Doc. 359, arguing that the PSR should not assessed as a first-degree murder. Id. at 51-54. The Court overruled petitioner's objections at the sentencing hearing, Rec. Doc. 461 at 37:13-39:15, and sentenced petitioner to 480 months (40 years) of imprisonment. Id. at 99:11 - 100:7.

         Petitioner appealed the Court's sentence, arguing that the Court erred in considering a related homicide as a first-degree murder in its sentencing calculation. United States V. Stanley Scott, No. 16-30311 (5th Cir. 2016). The Government filed a motion to dismiss, asserting to the Fifth Circuit that Petitioner waived his right to appeal sentencing matter as apart of terms of the plea agreement. Rec. Doc. 271 at 4. The Fifth Circuit agreed and granted the Government's motion to dismiss. United States V. Stanley Scott, No. 16-30311 (5th Cir. Oct. 12, 2016), ECF No. 00513715574. The instant pro se motion followed.

         PARTIES' CONTENTIONS

         Petitioner filed for post-conviction relief asserting four issues of error: (1) he made an unknowing and unintelligent guilty plea because trial court counsel was ineffective by failing to inform him that the Court could consider the homicide in its sentencing; (2) the Government breached the plea agreement by informing the Court of the homicide; (3) he received an illegal sentence because his trial lawyer promised him a lower sentence if he accepted the plea agreement; and (4) his trial counselor ineffectively assisted him by failing to challenge the Government's sufficiency of proof that Petitioner was involved in the homicide. Rec. Doc. 523 at 4-8.

         In his post-conviction motion, petitioner contends that he did not raise the breach of the plea agreement claim on direct appeal because his appellate counselor believed it held no merit. Id. at 7. Lastly, petitioner asserts that he did not raise the remaining claims on direct appeal because his appellate lawyer told him he could not. Id. at 4-5, 8.

         The Government filed a response, objecting to petitioner's motion. Rec Doc. 533. The Government argues that petitioner's claims are procedurally barred because petitioner did not raise instant claims on direct appeal, Id. at 8-9, and failed to show actual prejudice, e.g. but for his counselors advice he would have received a lower sentence or even went to trial. Id. at 21. The Government also argues that neither of petitioner's counselors were ineffective because petitioner's trial attorney correctly informed petitioner that the Court could consider relevant conduct for his sentencing, Id. at 14, and petitioners appellate counsel made a tactical decision, considering petitioner's plea wavier, to not raise the issue of the Government's sufficiency of the evidence regarding petitioner's involvement in the homicide. Id. at 19.

         LAW AND ANALYSIS

         According to 28 U.S.C. §2255, a federal prisoner serving a court-imposed sentence may move the imposing court to vacate, set aside or correct the sentence. Section 2255 provides four grounds for filing a pursuant motion: 1) that the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or law of the United States; 2) that the court lacked jurisdiction to impose the prisoner's sentence; 3) that the imposed sentence exceeded the maximum authorized by law; or 4) that the sentence is “otherwise subject to collateral attack.” An evidentiary hearing is not required when the ...


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