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O'Neal v. United States

United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Dublin Division

March 16, 2017

MAURICE M. O'NEAL, Petitioner,



         Petitioner Maurice M. O'Neal has filed with this Court a second and successive motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence. The Court REPORTS and RECOMMENDS Respondent's motion to dismiss be GRANTED (doc. no. 4), Petitioner's § 2255 motion be DISMISSED, this civil action be CLOSED, and a final judgment be ENTERED in favor of Respondent.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Indictment and Agreement to Plead Guilty

         On May 4, 2011, the grand jury in the Southern District of Georgia charged Petitioner in a one-count indictment with possession of a firearm and ammunition by a convicted felon, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). United States v. O'Neal, CR 311-006, doc. no. 1 (S.D. Ga. May 4, 2011) (hereinafter “CR 311-006”). The Court appointed attorney Matthew Waters under the Criminal Justice Act to represent Petitioner. Id., doc. no. 9.

         On January 19, 2012, Petitioner pled guilty to the felon in possession charge, and in exchange the government agreed not to object to a recommendation for a two-point acceptance of responsibility reduction and to move for an additional one-point reduction under the Sentencing Guidelines. Id., doc. nos. 37-39. The government also agreed to recommend Petitioner receive a sentence in the bottom half of the final Guideline range determined by the Court at the sentencing hearing. Id., doc. no. 38, p. 2. For his part, Petitioner admitted that he had possessed a specific firearm and ammunition after having been previously convicted of two prior felonies: burglary and theft by taking. Id. at 4.

         After United States District Judge Dudley H. Bowen, Jr., conducted the change of plea proceedings and accepted Petitioner's guilty plea, the government requested that a supplemental plea colloquy be held and filed an amended penalty certification. Id., doc. nos. 40, 41, 56. The government made the request because the United States Probation Office discovered, while preparing the Presentence Investigation Report (“PSI”), Petitioner had additional convictions that were not previously known but which qualified him for an Armed Career Criminal Act (“ACCA”) enhancement under 18 U.S.C. § 924(e). The enhancement applies when a defendant has at least three prior convictions for a violent felony or serious drug offense. 18 U.S.C. § 924(e). The statutory minimum penalty for an ACCA conviction is fifteen years imprisonment, and the statutory maximum is life imprisonment. CR 311-006, doc. no. 41. Without the § 924(e) enhancement, the felon in possession count carried a possible statutory sentence of not more than ten years imprisonment. 18 U.S.C. § 924(a)(2).

         Petitioner acknowledged the government's request and the increased penalty certification, but he expressed his willingness to stand by his guilty plea and waive any supplemental plea proceedings. CR 311-006, doc. no. 42. When Judge Bowen convened the sentencing proceedings, he again reviewed the change in sentencing circumstances since entry of the guilty plea. Id., doc. no. 54, pp. 1-20. Judge Bowen confirmed with Petitioner, after giving him additional time to discuss the matter with counsel and revisiting the factual basis for the guilty plea, that Petitioner did indeed wish to proceed with sentencing. Id.

         B. Sentencing

         The PSI set Petitioner's Total Offense Level at thirty, Criminal History Category at V, and Guideline imprisonment range at 151 to 188 months. PSI ¶¶ 22, 52. However, the PSI specifically delineated that Petitioner had at least four previous convictions, two for burglary and two for aggravated assault, that made him subject to an ACCA enhancement under 18 U.S.C. § 924(e). PSI ¶¶ 19, 27. Because the sentence could not be less than the statutory minimum under the ACCA, the Guideline sentence was 180 to 188 months. PSI ¶ 52. No objections to the PSI were filed. See PSI Add.; see also CR 311-006, doc. no. 54.

         After hearing from defense counsel and Petitioner in mitigation, Judge Bowen imposed a sentence of 120 months imprisonment, along with a five-year term of supervised release, a $2, 500 fine, and a $100 special assessment. First Sent. Tr., pp. 26-27; CR 311-006, doc. no. 48. The judgment entered on May 11, 2012, and Petitioner signed a Notice of Post-Conviction Consultation Certification stating that after consulting with his attorney, he had decided not to file an appeal. CR 311-006, doc. nos. 47, 48.

         C. Direct Appeal

         The government, however, did file an appeal because Petitioner had been sentenced below the ACCA statutory minimum. Id., doc. no. 51. The Eleventh Circuit vacated the sentence with directions that Petitioner be sentenced in accordance with the ACCA's mandatory minimum fifteen-year sentence, based on findings that: (1) Petitioner's two prior burglaries and two prior aggravated assault convictions qualified as ACCA predicate offenses, (2) Petitioner was ineligible for safety-valve relief, and (3) the government did not file a substantial assistance motion. Id., doc. no. 59. On May 30, 2013, Judge Bowen vacated the 120-month sentence and re-sentenced Petitioner to fifteen years imprisonment, with all other terms to remain the same. Id., doc. nos. 64, 65, 74.

         This time, Petitioner did appeal. Id., doc. no. 66. On June 5, 2014, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the new sentence. Id., doc. no. 77. The Eleventh Circuit also granted the motion of Mr. Waters to withdraw from further representation of Petitioner. Id. at 2.

         D. First ...

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