Walker v. United States of America
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn on 6/22/15. (Attachments: # 1 Exhibit A)(MRR )
2015 Jun-22 AM 09:50
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
CLINT LAVASTON WALKER,
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
This case is before the court on petitioner Clint Lavaston Walker’s Motion Under
28 U.S.C. § 2255 to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence. (Doc. 1).1 Upon
consideration of the Motion, his Brief in Support, the government’s Response, and the
relevant law, the court finds that the petition is due to be denied, as set out below.
Petitioner was indicted on one count of possession of a firearm by a convicted
felon, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) (Crim. Doc. 1). He pleaded guilty to this
charge, and on December 2, 2010, was sentenced to 120 months imprisonment, to be
followed by a supervised release term of 36 months.
Citations to the record concerning Walker’s § 2255 motion, Case No. 6:12-cv8038-SLB, appear as “(Doc. __).” Citations to the record in the criminal proceedings
against Walker, Case No. 6:08-cr-0076-SLB, appear as “(Crim. Doc. __).” This Motion
was initially filed in petitioner’s underlying criminal case, (Crim. Doc. 22).
Defendant filed a Notice of Appeal on December 6, 2010. On August 30, 2011
the United States Court of Appeals issued as mandate its order affirming defendant’s
conviction and sentence. Petitioner filed the instant § 2255 Motion on August 23, 2012,
Counsel rendered ineffective assistance at sentencing, in violation of
the Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel, and
further rendered ineffective assistance on direct appeal.
At the sentencing hearing, counsel presented no meaningful
mitigating evidence despite being asked to do so by
defendant. Specifically, counsel never made any argument
that the possession of the .22 rifle was for hunting purposes
only. Defendant repeatedly asked counsel to inform the court
of the rifles use, i.e., squirrels and such. Counsel made no
argument as relates to the instant offense being a non-violent
crime, though specifically asked to do so. Defendant was
told by counsel that he would do these things but didn’t.
Defendant’s motive in pleading guilty was based on counsel’s
promise to notice the court to these matters. Additionally, at
time of sentence, Defendant’s common-law wife presented an
inflammatory letter to the court detailing allegations of abuse.
Defendant asked counsel to request a continuance so that they
could better prepare a rebuttal. Counsel ignored Defendant.
Counsel’s ineffective assistance resulted in a longer sentence
for defendant. Counsel additionally did not raise issues I
requested on appeal.
(Doc. 1 at 4.)
To succeed on a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, a petitioner must
establish: (1) deficient performance—that his “counsel’s representation fell below an
objective standard of reasonableness;” and (2) prejudice—but for the deficiency in
representation, “a reasonable probability exists that the result of the proceeding would
have been different.” See Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 688-696 (1984); see
also Chandler v. United States, 218 F.3d 1305, 1312-1313 (11th Cir. 2000). The burden
of proving ineffective assistance remains with Mr. Walker at all times. See Chandler,
218 F.3d at 1315, n. 15.
The performance prong of Strickland “requires a petitioner to establish that
counsel performed outside the wide range of reasonable professional assistance and made
errors so serious that he failed to function as the kind of counsel guaranteed by the Sixth
Amendment.” Butcher v. United States, 368 F.3d 1290, 1293 (11th Cir. 2004). The
proper measure of attorney performance is “reasonableness under prevailing professional
norms.” Strickland, 466 U.S. at 688. Because a wide range of performance is
constitutionally acceptable, “the cases in which habeas petitioners can properly prevail
on the ground of ineffective assistance of counsel are few and far between.” Rogers v.
Zant, 13 F.3d 384, 386 (11th Cir. 1994). Courts “are not interested in grading lawyers’
performances” but “are interested in whether the adversarial process at trial . . . worked
adequately.” Id. at 386. To be unreasonable, the performance must be such that “no
competent counsel would have taken the action that his counsel did take.” Grayson v.
Thompson, 257 F.3d 1194, 1216 (11th Cir. 2001). “[E]ven if many reasonable lawyers
would not have done as defense counsel did,” a court cannot grant relief on
ineffectiveness grounds unless the petitioner shows “that no reasonable lawyer, in the
circumstances, would have” taken similar action. Rogers, 13 F.3d at 386.
The prejudice prong of Strickland “requires a petitioner to demonstrate that
seriously deficient performance of his attorney prejudiced the defense.” Butcher, 368
F.3d at 1293. In the guilty-plea context, a petitioner must establish “a reasonable
probability that, but for counsel’s errors, he would not have pleaded guilty and would
have insisted on going to trial.” Hill v. Lockhart, 474 U.S. 52, 59 (1985).
There is “a ‘strong presumption’ that statements made by a defendant during his
plea colloquy are true. United States v. Medlock, 12 F.3d 185, 187 (11th Cir. 1994).
Therefore, ‘when a defendant makes statements under oath at a plea colloquy, he bears a
heavy burden to show his statements were false.’ United States v. Rogers, 848 F.2d 166,
168 (11th Cir.1988).” United States v. Borden, 580 Fed. Appx. 870, 871 (11th Cir.
2014).2 “[I]n the absence of extraordinary circumstances, the truth of sworn statements
made during a Rule 11 colloquy is conclusively established, and a district court should,
without holding an evidentiary hearing, dismiss any § 2255 motion that necessarily relies
on allegations that contradict the sworn statements.” Jones v. United States, Nos. 1224521-CIV, 11-20767-CR; 2014 WL 4906217, *13 (S.D. Fla. Sept. 30, 2014)(quoting
United States v. Lemaster, 403 F.3d 216, 221-22 (4th Cir. 2005)).
Eleventh Circuit Rule 36-2 provides, in pertinent part, “An opinion shall be
unpublished unless a majority of the panel decides to publish it. Unpublished opinions
are not considered binding precedent, but they may be cited as persuasive authority.”
11th Cir. R. 36-2 (emphasis added).
Walker chose to enter a “blind” plea in this criminal case, as he did not want to
give up his right to appeal, and because the government would not offer a
recommendation for a sentence at the low end of the sentencing guidelines. (Doc. 5-1 at
On August 24, 2010 a change of plea hearing was held. At the plea hearing,
Walker was placed under oath and admitted to the following:
1. He understood the maximum sentence he was facing on a plea of guilty. (Crim.
Doc. 10 at 7-8.)
2. He understood he had a right to insist on his earlier plea of not guilty. (Id. at 6.)
3. He understood he was giving up his right to a trial by jury at which he would
have a presumption of innocence and the Government would have the burden to prove his
guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. (Id. at 6-7.)
4. By giving up his right to trial by jury, he was giving up his right to have the
assistance of counsel at trial, the right not to incriminate himself, and the right to confront
and cross-examine witnesses. (Id. at 6-7.)
The court explained the charge and went through the elements required for a
finding of guilt. (Id. at 9-11.) Walker verified that he understood the charge. (Id. at 11.)
At the direction of the court the Assistant United States Attorney stated on the
record certain of the facts the government expected to prove should the case proceed to
trial. (Id. at 12-14.) The court instructed Walker to interrupt the recitation of the facts if
the Government said “anything that [was] not true or that [Walker did] not believe the
government [could] prove.” (Id. at 12.) The recitation of facts included details of Smith
dragging his wife out of her house and forcing her into his truck, threatening to kill her, a
high speed chase by law enforcement and the subsequent wrecking of both Smith’s truck
and the police car. Walker was then arrested on an outstanding warrant for menacing,
and the gun was found during the subsequent search of his truck. The AUSA further
stated that Walker told police that he had placed the gun inside his truck and admitted that
he knew that he was not allowed to have a firearm due to his criminal record. Smith did
not interrupt the AUSA’s statement of the facts he expected to prove. When asked by the
court, the defendant verified that he had a weapon in his possession on the date alleged,
and that prior to that date he had been convicted of two felony offenses. (Id. At 14.)
At that time the colloquy was as follows:
THE COURT: Mr. Walker, you’re not required to enter a plea of guilty, and you
are free at this time to withdraw your plea of guilty and reinstate a not guilty plea.
Have you heard anything here today that causes you to want to
reconsider your decision to enter a plea of guilty?
THE DEFENDANT: No, ma’am. It’s just that the domestic thing is –
MR. REID: If I may, Your Honor, he takes issue with the factual statement about
the domestic violence and –
THE COURT: All right. But do you still desire to enter your plea of guilty to the
charge that you possessed a firearm after having been convicted of a felony?
THE DEFENDANT: Yes, ma’am.
THE COURT: In the presentence report, it may include the government’s position
as to what happened that day. And then, Mr. Reid, you need to contact the
probation office and, if he has a different position, have that included also.
The pertinent thing for the purposes of taking the plea is that he has admitted to the
elements of this crime. So since there’s not a plea agreement, there’s not an
agreed-upon factual basis other than the elements of the crime, I guess, and the
presentence can contain the government’s version and your version.
Defendant’s only subsequent dispute with the facts as set out during the plea
hearing and in the pre-sentence investigation report was the limited issue regarding his
common-law wife’s [hereinafter "wife"] broken ribs. (Crim. Doc. 20 at 2-6.)
The court accepted Walker’s guilty plea, finding that it was freely and voluntarily
entered and that the requisite factual basis for the plea existed. (Crim. Doc. 10 at 15.)
Walker now alleges:
Prior to the entry of my guilty plea, I conferred with counsel regarding the
actual intents and purposes of my having possessed the .22 rifle. I wanted
the Court to know that it was only used for “hunting” purposes and “sport.”
I didn’t see why I could be in so much trouble when all I ever used the rifle
for was getting rid of squirrels and such with my boys around my property.
I thought it would matter if the Court would consider this.
Counsel agreed to inform the Court of the guns purpose.
Counsel told me that this information could help me to receive a reduction
in my sentence if I pled guilty. Counsel elaborated to me that the
Sentencing Guidelines held a provision taking into consideration “hunting”
or “sport” use of a firearm.
When I asked counsel if he could get me the reduction if I pled guilty,
counsel replied unequivocally, “Yes.” He said, “Don’t worry, I’ll take care
of it.” I agreed to plead guilty under this understanding. Counsel again
reassured me that, “everything would work out fine.” Counsel’s promise
was the motive in my decision to plead guilty.
(Doc. 2 at 24-25.)
Counsel for defendant contradicts these allegations:
The Defendant stated that he possessed the weapon for sporting purposes,
however it was explained to the Defendant that the purpose for the
possession is not material. . .
It was explained in detail to the Defendant that any particular purpose for
possessing the weapon is not a valid defense for such action, and in the best
professional judgment of counsel would not be of merit to the Court. I
never promised to raise any particular mitigation argument but did promise
to raise the issues that were relevant to the charge and to acceptance of
responsibility for the offense. . .
The Defendant was informed that the Court would be concerned by his
Criminal History and the same could have some effect. While neither I nor
the Defendant expected an upward departure the Defendant was informed
prior to the plea that it was a possible outcome. I was very aware of the
Defendant’s past and what issues I felt could be raised in mitigation and
those that would not be well received by the Court.
(Doc. 5-1 at 2-3.)
The court finds that Walker’s counsel properly investigated the claims against him
and that he properly advised Walker of the legal consequences in going to trial. Counsel
investigated the factual bases of the charges and appropriately advised Walker. The court
finds counsel’s performance was not ineffective or deficient. Also, the court finds
Walker’s statements to the contrary are not credible and provide no reason to set aside his
guilty plea. The defendant stated under oath at his change of plea hearing that he had not
been promised anything to induce him to plead guilty. The court finds counsel’s
testimony to be credible and consistent with the known facts of this case.
Further, Walker has suffered no prejudice. The evidence of defendant’s guilt was
overwhelming. As noted by the government, “Not only was Walker, a convicted felon,
found in possession of the rifle at the time of his capture, he later admitted in a voluntary,
Mirandized statement to having purchased and possessed the weapon.” (Doc. 5 at 8.)
At the beginning of his December 2, 2010 sentencing hearing, at the joint request
and by agreement of the parties, the court directed a change be made to the pre-sentence
investigation report in reference to a guideline issue regarding a false statement the
defendant had made to law enforcement as to the circumstances surrounding his wife
suffering broken ribs. His wife was present to testify on this issue if it had been
necessary, but after the issue was resolved she did not testify, nor did she submit any
statement, written or oral, to the court. Thus, as noted by his counsel, there was no
outstanding point on this issue which necessitated a continuance.
With that correction, the court adopted the factual statements found in the
presentence investigation report. The court then stated that it was inclined to upwardly
vary in imposing sentence, and further specifically advised defendant and his counsel
“when you are making your allocution it’s important to say as much as you want to say
because of what I am inclined to do.” Defendant then made a statement, apologizing to
the court, his family, and “anybody involved that I hurt,” and asking for the court’s
mercy. His counsel spoke on his behalf, acknowledging defendant’s history of violent
acts, but pointing out defendant’s acceptance of responsibility for the instant offense, his
long history of substance abuse, his job skills and steady work history, and his family
support. He further indicated that defendant wanted to “correct the ills of his past, to not
become a drug abuser in the future, to live responsibly.”
At no point during either the plea colloquy nor the sentencing hearing did the
defendant assert that he had the rifle for hunting purposes. Indeed the relevant facts,
undisputed by Mr. Walker, set out at both at his change of plea hearing and in the offense
conduct section of his presentence investigation report, included the defendant’s
admission that 1) he had “reclaimed” the gun which he had previously given as a gift to
his wife’s father; 2) the gun was found in his vehicle incident to a search upon his arrest
following a violent, abusive incident with his wife; and 3) he knew he was not allowed to
have a gun because of his criminal record. (Crim. Doc. 10 at 12-14; Doc. 12 at 5).
court does not find credible Walker’s assertion that he had the gun strictly for hunting
purposes. Considering the facts and circumstances of the instant offense, as well as the
long-term, extremely violent history of defendant, it would have been disingenuous of
defendant to assert that the weapon he "reclaimed" was possessed simply to shoot
squirrels. There was no evidence whatsoever to support this argument, and, even if
believed, the “lawful sporting or collection” provision of U.S.S.G. § 2K2.1(b)(2) could
not apply, as defendant was subject to U.S.S.G. § 2k2.1(a)(4) as he committed the instant
offense after having a prior felony conviction for a crime of violence.
Mr. Walker further asserts that his counsel should have argued that the instant
offense was a “non-violent crime.” While mere possession of a firearm by a convicted
felon is, by itself, not violent, the circumstances of this offense–its discovery by law
enforcement in defendant’s vehicle, during a search after Walker’s arrest following his
abduction of his wife, highspeed pursuit by police, then crashing of both vehicles–are
violent. There was no mitigation to be found in discussing the specifics of the instant
offense. His counsel wisely tried to avoid making excuses, which would shed doubt on
defendant’s acceptance of responsibility, and to steer the discussion from topics which
would rehash Mr. Walker’s violent past, instead focusing on his client's remorse and his
desire to rehabilitate himself.
Thus, Mr. Walker cannot succeed on either of the Strickland factors.
counsel’s performance was not deficient nor did Mr. Walker suffer any prejudice due to
the failure of his attorney to request a continuance to address his wife’s allegations of
abuse, or to make mitigation arguments that the weapon possessed was used for hunting
and this offense was not violent. During the sentencing proceedings on December 2,
2010, the court made clear that Mr. Walker's long, extremely violent history caused him
to be sentenced to the statutory maximum sentence. (See p. 11-16 of Crim. Doc. 20
attached to this Memorandum Opinion.)
While application of the sentencing guidelines indeed yielded a criminal history
numerical value for defendant’s prior convictions which was used to establish a guideline
sentencing range, the court had the authority under Booker to impose a sentence outside
the calculated range. While it considered the guideline sentencing range, the court had a
duty to consider the history and characteristics of the defendant in determining an
appropriate sentence. The repeated instances of violence by defendant warranted an
upward departure to meet the statutory requirements of sentencing, most specifically to
protect the public from further crimes of the defendant.
Petitioner’s Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence Pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 2255, (Doc. 1), will be denied as to all claims of ineffective assistance of
counsel. A separate Order will be entered contemporaneously with this Memorandum
CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY
Rule 11 of the Rules Governing § 2255 Proceedings, provides, “The district court
must issue or deny a certificate of appealability when it enters a final order adverse to the
applicant.” The applicant for § 2255 relief “cannot take an appeal unless a circuit justice
or a circuit or district judge issues a certificate of appealability under 28 U.S.C. §
2253(c).” Fed. R. App. P. 22(b)(1). And, the “certificate of appealability may issue . . .
only if the applicant has made a substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional
right.” 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c)(2)(emphasis added). To make a substantial showing of the
denial of a constitutional right, the applicant must show “that reasonable jurists could
debate whether (or, for that matter, agree that) the petition should have been resolved in a
different manner or that the issues presented were adequate to deserve encouragement to
proceed further.” Miller–El v. Cockrell, 537 U.S. 322, 336 (2003)(citations and internal
Mr. Walker’s Motion to Vacate, (doc. 1), does not demonstrate that he was denied
any constitutional right or that the issues he raises are reasonably debatable and/or
deserve encouragement to proceed further. Therefore, issuance of a certificate of
appealability is not warranted in this case.
Done this 22nd day of June, 2015.
SHARON LOVELACE BLACKBURN
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?