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Sanford v. United States

United States District Court, C.D. Illinois

February 8, 2018

GREGORY SANFORD, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent.

          ORDER AND OPINION

          James E. Shadid, Chief United States District Judge.

         Now before the Court is Petitioner Sanford's Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Doc. 1. For the reasons set forth below, Petitioner's Motion (Doc. 1) is DENIED and the Court declines to issue a Certificate of Appealability.

         Background[1]

         On March 26, 2014, a grand jury in the Central District of Illinois charged Gregory Sanford in a fourth superseding indictment with seven counts: conspiracy to distribute and possession with intent to distribute cocaine and cocaine base, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 846 and 841(b)(1)(A) (Count One); possession of cocaine base with intent to distribute, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(C) (Counts Two, Six); possession of cocaine with the intent to distribute, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and (b)(1) (Counts Five, Seven); possession of a firearm by a felon, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g) (Count Three); and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) (Count Four). R. 102.

         Prior to trial, the Government filed a notice (later amended) under 21 U.S.C. § 851 informing Sanford that it intended to use three of his prior felony drug convictions to enhance his sentence. R. 26, 111. Sanford proceeded to trial pro se. On the day of trial, the Court made the following remarks to Sanford:

Before we begin jury selection for-okay. Mr. Sanford, before we begin the jury selection, I want to go over a few things with you. You're facing a number of counts in the fourth superseding indictment. We will start with Count 1; that alleges the conspiracy-that alleges more than 5000 grams of a mixture and substance containing a detectable amount of cocaine and more than 280 grams of a mixture and substance containing a detectable amount of cocaine base. You are charged under Title 21, United States Code Section 841(b)(1)(A). I know that these have been gone over with you before. I just want to make sure you are aware of-I want to go over it again to assure myself that you completely understand what the risks are here. I'm not interfering at all. I'm not-I don't want my remarks to be interpreted in any way telling you what to do. But I do want to make sure that you understand what it is you are doing.
If you had a lawyer, I would leave this alone unless asked to do so. But I understand from you being in court last week that you and the government have been in some discussion about resolving the matter. I don't know the details of that discussion. If you wish for me to know, then that's fine. That will be up to you. But in the meantime, I just want you to know that if you are convicted of Count 1, and if you have a prior conviction, drug conviction, then the sentence would have to be a minimum of 20 years in prison. And if you are convicted of Count 1, and you have two or more prior drug convictions, then the sentence would have to be a mandatory term of life in prison. I would have no discretion under those scenarios to impose a sentence other than that.
So, I don't know-I know what you have said when you have been in pretrials. I know that you've mentioned numbers that you want. I know what the co-defendant got because I sentenced Mr. Jackson. I just-if you and the government have had negotiations and you can still come to some resolution, I will still accept it. If you can't, then we will go forward. I just want you to be aware of the risk that you're taking. And again, I don't want this to be interpreted in any way for me to tell you what to do. If you are not guilty of these charges, you should just go right on through with your trial, if that's what you want to do. But if you believe there is a chance that you could be found guilty, then I will give you-and [if] you want to have a moment with your family or with Mr. Chambers and Mr. Murphy if they are willing, we will do that, because once we start jury selection, generally the case will go to trial and they will decide. And once they decide, I may have no discretion but to impose a sentence that is really, really significant.
And you are not-I mean you're still a young person. So I just want you to make an informed choice here.

         Change of Plea Transcript, R. 147, at 2-4 (emphasis added). Sanford took the opportunity and met with the Assistant U.S. Attorney. When the proceedings resumed, the Government stated the following:

Your Honor, we have had a chance to talk, government counsel and the defendant, and I think we have reached an agreement-I'll let Mr. Sanford confirm this. He will plead to the original charge in this case, that's now Count 5, that's the car stop on February 28th with the kilo and a half of powder cocaine. He will plead guilty to that charge in return for two things. One-that's a [21 U.S.C. § 841] (b)(1)(B) charge, which means that his criminal history, prior felony drug conviction, he would be facing at least ten to life but the parties would agree to an agreed-to sentence of 15 years if the Court accepted it. And that he could reserve his right to appeal the Court's denial of his motion to suppress. Those are the only two terms of the plea agreement: 15 years firm, and he can reserve his right to appeal the Court's denial of his motion to suppress filed, I think, by Mr. O'D a y, a t least argued by Mr. O'D a y.

Id. at 5-6 (emphasis added). The Court proceeded with the usual plea colloquy to ensure that Sanford was making an informed and voluntary decision to plead guilty, and again informed him of the potential penalties under § 841(b)(1)(B) with and without prior felony drug convictions. Id. at 15. Following the examination by the Court, Sanford pleaded guilty. Id. at 19.

         The probation officer prepared a presentence report (“PSR”) prior to sentencing. The PSR designated Sanford as a career offender based on his two prior felony convictions for unlawful delivery of a controlled substance in Peoria County, Illinois, Case Nos. 00-CF-971 and 00-CF-972. PSR, R. 130, at ¶ 43. Sanford's guideline range was 262 to 327 months of imprisonment, id. at ¶ 86, but because Sanford pleaded guilty under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(c)(1)(C), the Court sentenced him to a term of 180 months of imprisonment and 8 years of supervised release. Sanford then appealed the denial of his prior motion to suppress as he was permitted to do as part of his conditional plea agreement, see Fed. R. Crim. P. 11(a)(2), and the conditions of his supervised release. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of his motion to suppress, but remanded for resentencing regarding the terms of supervised release. United States v. Sanford, 806 F.3d 954 (7th Cir. 2015). On February 25, 2016, the Court resentenced Sanford to the same term of imprisonment. R. 166.

         On January 5, 2017, Sanford filed the instant Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Doc. 1. Therein, Sanford argues that (1) the Court should not have adopted the findings in the PSR that held him accountable for an additional 236 grams of crack cocaine; (2) the Court incorrectly advised him that he faced a mandatory minimum sentence of life imprisonment; (3) the Court incorrectly designated him to be a career offender; and (4) the Government should not have filed a notice of prior convictions under § 851 based on a memorandum from the Attorney General to U.S. Attorneys. The Government responded and objected to Sanford's motion, arguing that (1) he procedurally defaulted his claims; (2) the alleged ...


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