United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Augusta Division
MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT AND
K. EPPS, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
an inmate at the Federal Correctional Institution in
Edgefield, South Carolina, filed a motion under 28 U.S.C.
§ 2255 to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence.
For the reasons set forth below, the Court
REPORTS and RECOMMENDS the
motion to withdraw Ground One be GRANTED,
(doc. no. 26), Ground Two be DENIED, this
civil action be CLOSED, and a final judgment
be ENTERED in favor of Respondent.
Indictment and Pretrial Proceedings
6, 2016, the grand jury in the Southern District of Georgia
charged Petitioner in a four-count indictment. United
States v. Blount, CR 116-042, doc. no. 1 (S.D. Ga. July
6, 2016) (hereinafter “CR 116-042”). Along with
naming Petitioner in a forfeiture allegation, the grand jury
charged Petitioner with: possession with intent to distribute
marijuana and oxycodone (Counts One and Two), possession of
firearms in furtherance of drug trafficking crimes (Count
Three), and possession of firearms and ammunition by a
convicted felon (Count Four). Id. Count One carried
a possible statutory sentence of not more than five years, or
not more than ten years if convicted of a previous felony
offense. Id., doc. no. 2. Count Two carried a
possible term of imprisonment of not more than twenty years,
and Count Three carried a possible term of not less than five
years and up to life imprisonment consecutive to any
other sentence. Id. As to Count Four, Petitioner
faced a prison sentence of not more than ten years, or if
deemed to be an armed career criminal under 18 U.S.C. §
924(e), not less than fifteen years or more than life
retained attorney Tanya Jeffords to represent him.
Id., doc. no. 9. Ms. Jeffords filed thirty-one
pretrial motions, (id., doc. nos. 8, 10-12, 14-38,
40, 45), including a preliminary motion to suppress and a
motion for an extension of time to particularize the
suppression motion, (id., doc. nos. 38, 45). In
requesting the extension of time to particularize the motion
to suppress, Ms. Jeffords explained the parties were in the
process of working on a possible resolution of the case.
(Doc. no. 45, p. 1.) The Court granted an extension of time,
(doc. no. 46), but no additional motions were filed. The
Court received the plea agreement on September 26, 2016, and
a change of plea notice entered September 30, 2016. (Doc. no.
Agreement to Plead Guilty
October 12, 2016, Petitioner appeared with counsel and pled
guilty to possession of firearms and ammunition by a
convicted felon as charged in Count Four. Id., doc.
nos. 49-51. In exchange for the guilty plea, the government
agreed to (1) dismiss the remaining counts against Petitioner
in the indictment; (2) not object to a recommendation for a
two-point acceptance of responsibility reduction and move for
an additional one-point reduction under the Sentencing
Guidelines if Petitioner's offense level was sixteen or
greater prior to the acceptance of responsibility reduction;
and (3) consider filing a motion, based on any
“substantial assistance” provided by Petitioner,
for downward departure under U.S.S.G. § 5K1.1 or
requesting a reduction of Petitioner's sentence under
Fed. R. Crim. P. 35. Id., doc. no. 51, pp. 3-4.
Plea Agreement contained the following factual basis for his
The elements necessary to prove the offense charged in Count
Four are: (1) that the Defendant knowingly possessed a
firearm in or affecting interstate commerce; and (2) before
possessing the firearm, the Defendant had been convicted of a
felony - a crime punishable by imprisonment for more than one
Defendant agrees that he is, in fact, guilty of this offense.
He agrees to the accuracy of the following facts, which
satisfy each of the offense's required elements: that on
or about May 5, 2016, in Richmond County in the Southern
District of Georgia, the Defendant, who before that time had
been convicted of one or more felonies, crimes punishable by
imprisonment for a term exceeding one year, those are,
Attempted Robbery, convicted on September 1, 2010,
in the Superior Court of Richmond County, Georgia, No.
Possession of Marijuana, convicted on December 11,
2013 in the Superior Court of Richmond County, Georgia, No.
did knowingly possess, in and affecting commerce, firearms
and ammunition, those are, a Glock, Model 23, .40 caliber,
serial number PTC102 and a Sig Sauer, Model P220, a .45
caliber, serial number 37A012089; and eighty-three live
rounds of assorted ammunition, all of which previously had
been shipped or transported in interstate or foreign
commerce; all done in violation of Title 18, United States
Code, Sections 922(g)(1) and 924(a)(2).
Id. at 1-2. With his signature on the Plea
Agreement, Petitioner agreed he read and carefully reviewed
it with Ms. Jeffords, understood each provision, voluntarily
agreed to it, and “stipulate[d] that the factual basis
set out therein is true and accurate in every respect.”
Id. at 10.
signing the Plea Agreement, Petitioner further agreed to
“entirely waive his right to a direct appeal of his
conviction and sentence on any ground” unless the Court
(1) sentenced him above the statutory maximum, (2) sentenced
him above the advisory Sentencing Guidelines range, or (3)
the government appealed the sentence. Id. at 6-7.
Absent one of those three conditions, “[Petitioner]
explicitly and irrevocably instruct[ed] his attorney not to
file an appeal.” Id. Further, Petitioner
waived his right to collaterally attack his conviction and
sentence on any ground other than ineffective assistance of
counsel. Id. at 7. By signing the Plea Agreement,
Petitioner additionally attested Ms. Jeffords had
“represented him faithfully, skillfully, and
diligently, and he is completely satisfied with the legal
advice given and the work performed by his attorney.”
Id. at 8.
guilty plea hearing, Chief United States District Judge J.
Randal Hall first confirmed no one had threatened or
pressured Petitioner into pleading guilty and that he clearly
understood where he was and why he was in court.
Id., doc. no. 74 (“Rule 11 Tr.”), pp. 3,
6. Judge Hall reviewed all the charges against Petitioner in
the indictment, with specific focus on the charge in Count
Four to which Petitioner was pleading guilty. Id. at
6-7. Petitioner confirmed he had as much time as he needed to
go over the charges with Ms. Jeffords. Id. at 7.
Petitioner also testified under oath he was satisfied with
the assistance he had received from Ms. Jeffords and that he
had read and reviewed the Plea Agreement with counsel before
signing it. Id. at 8, 10.
Hall also explained the rights Petitioner would be waiving by
pleading guilty, and Petitioner affirmed he clearly
understood those rights. Id. at 8-10. Among the
rights explained, Judge Hall reviewed the right to trial by
jury, the presumption of innocence, the government's
burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the right to
present and cross-examine witnesses, and the right to remain
silent. Id. Judge Hall also specifically reviewed
the appeal and collateral attack waiver provisions of the
Plea Agreement. Id. at 11-12. Judge Hall confirmed
that other than the Plea Agreement, no one on behalf of the
government had promised anything to procure the guilty plea.
Id. at 12. Additionally, Judge Hall reviewed the
potential for a ten-year term of imprisonment for conviction
on the felon in possession charge. Id. at 13. When
asked, Petitioner confirmed that he understood the possible
imprisonment penalty, as well as the potential $250, 000 fine
and three years of supervised release after completion of the
term of imprisonment. Id. at 13.
Hall further explained that upon entry of the guilty plea, he
would order the preparation of a Presentence Investigation
Report (PSI), and Petitioner's sentence would be based on
the information in the PSI. Id. at 14-15. Judge Hall
specifically explained the PSI would calculate an advisory
Sentencing Guidelines range, but he could sentence Petitioner
within the range, below the range, or above the range.
Id. at 15. Petitioner stated that he understood the
sentencing process described by Judge Hall and that no one
had promised him he would receive a particular sentence.
Id. at 16.
Hall next heard a factual basis for the guilty plea from
Special Agent Ronald Rhodes with the Bureau of Alcohol,
Tobacco, and Firearms. Id. at 16-19. SA Rhodes
testified that on May 5, 2016, the Georgia Department of
Community Corrections arrived at a residence on Bassford
Drive in Hephzibah, Georgia, to conduct a probation check on
Petitioner. Id. at 17. When Ebony Brown answered the
door, officers smelled marijuana coming from the residence,
and when Petitioner came to the door, officers informed him
of a Fourth Amendment waiver in place as a result of his
probation for a 2013 conviction for possession with intent to
distribute marijuana. Id. When officers entered the
residence to search, they located 988 grams of marijuana and
two firearms. Id. Petitioner was taken into custody.
Id. SA Rhodes confirmed the firearms were stolen,
had not been manufactured in Georgia, and had moved in
interstate or foreign commerce. Id. at 18. Ms.
Brown, the person who originally answered the door, stated -
and Petitioner confirmed - none of the drugs or firearms
discovered in the residence belonged to her. Id.
cross-examination, Ms. Jeffords elicited from SA Rhodes that
he had not actually seen a Fourth Amendment waiver.
Id. at 19. However, SA Rhodes explained Richmond
County deputies, as well as the probation officers, were on
the scene - Petitioner's record of residence - prior to
ATF's arrival, and he was told there was a waiver.
SA Rhodes concluded his testimony, Judge Hall stated the two
elements the government would have to prove to convict
Petitioner of the felon in possession charge to which he was
pleading. Id. at 20. Judge Hall further confirmed
with Petitioner that after hearing the testimony of SA Rhodes
and knowing his own conduct, he was guilty of the charge and
wanted to plead guilty because he was a convicted felon who
had in fact possessed two firearms and ammunition on the date
in question. Id. Petitioner responded affirmatively.
Hall then summarized the proceedings as follows:
Now that the plea has been signed and entered into the record
of this hearing, the Court finds that the Defendant, Mr.
Blount, is competent. He fully understands the charge against
him. There is an independent factual basis supporting his
plea of guilty contained in each of he essential elements of
this offense. He knows the statutory punishment that could be