A 2255 Motion in Action

Sometimes the best way to understand how something works is to see it in action.  Particularly when it comes to legal issues, getting a little context based on real world examples is the easiest path to comprehension, and ultimately application in your own circumstances. Such is the case with Section 2255 motions.  Accordingly, to give you better insight on the mechanics of a Section 2255 motion, let us take a look at a recent case in which a defendant used a 2255 motion to challenge his conviction and sentence.  The case, United States v. Edmonds, decided in the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania in 2016.

While, as you will see, the defendant was not successful, his challenge demonstrates how useful a Section 2255 motion can be in ensuring that any questionable decisions during the course of your case can be revisited.

Facts of Edmonds – The Jailhouse Informant and the Undercover DealA Section 2255 Motion in Action

Petitioner Jermaine Edmonds had previously incarcerated with a man named Dante Rodriguez-Sotelo.  Sotelo recommended that once Edmonds gets released, he needed contact a person named Sanchez. Edmonds would then be able to obtain drugs.

Edmonds followed that advice after his release from prison.  He arranged to buy drugs, coded as “three girls,” for approximately $91,000.  As it turned out, however, Sanchez was a paid Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) informant.  Therefore, Edmonds and a co-conspirator were unknowingly engaging in a controlled drug purchase. This involved a DEA informant (Sanchez) and a DEA agent posing as Sanchez’s driver.

The court ultimately tried and convicted Edmonds, and his co-conspirator, on charges of conspiracy, and attempting to possess with the intent to distribute 500 grams or more of cocaine.  The district court sentenced Edmonds to 130 months in prison.  After his direct appeals, and a sentencing motion that reduced his sentence by 10 months, Edmonds filed a Section 2255 motion.

In his Section 2255 motion, Edmonds challenged both his conviction and his sentence, arguing that:

  1. The government concealed a deal it had with Sotelo to reduce his sentence in exchange for assisting in Edmonds’ case; and
  2. Edmonds could not be guilty of the cocaine charge because he believed his deal with Sanchez was to purchase marijuana, not cocaine.

The Court’s Ruling of Edmonds’ 2255 Motion

The district court ruling on Edmonds’ 2255 motion laid out the law in this area very clearly.  Specifically, the court began by noting that Section 2255 in the federal law states:

(a) A prisoner in custody under sentence of a court established by Act of Congress claiming the right to be released upon the ground that the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States, or that the court was without jurisdiction to impose such sentence, or that the sentence was in excess of the maximum authorized by law, or is otherwise subject to collateral attack, may move the court which imposed the sentence to vacate, set aside or correct the sentence.

Thus, in short, Section 2255 allows a defendant sentenced under a federal law (i.e., “under a sentence of a court established by Act of Congress”) to challenge that sentence if he or she believes that it is an illegal sentence.

The Courts Analysis

Further, the court hearing the motion must hold a hearing on the motion. Unless the records in the case “conclusively show that the prisoner is entitled to no relief.”

Given that standard, the court in Edmonds’ case needed to decide whether the evidence conclusively showed that he was “entitled to no relief.”  In conducting that analysis, the court reviewed all of the testimony adduced at trial, including:

  1. At the time of Edmonds’ trial, Sotelo had no official deal with the government. The court did not reduce his sentence at that point in time. Thus, the government could not conceal anything. Because, they did not make a decision at the time of Edmonds’ trial as to whether Sotelo should get a sentencing reduction.  Accordingly, the court determined that Edmonds lacked factual support to his argument. That argument being that the government actively concealed a sentencing-reduction deal with Sotelo.
  2. The testimony at trial revealed that the drug deal was for “three girls.” The term “girl” in a drug deal is commonly used to refer to one kilo of cocaine. This amount of cocaine has a street value of about $36,000 in western Pennsylvania. Further, three pounds of marijuana is not valued at $91,000.  Marijuana has a street value that is far less.

In sum, the 2255 motion court made the determination that the facts in the record did not support Edmonds’ arguments.  It also found that Edmonds’ assertions already decided when he was before the Court of Appeals in earlier appeals.

Accordingly, the court held that it would not be necessary to re-litigate the same issues in a 2255 motion hearing.

Conclusion

The takeaway from this case is not simply that Edmonds’ was unsuccessful in his Section 2255 motion. Rather, the takeaway is that Edmonds’ was at least able to question the validity of his sentence.  The district court went into significant detail with regard to Edmonds’ case on the 2255 motion.  That means that if an individual has some solid argument to make (even if it may not be a slam dunk), then he or she should consider whether a 2255 motion is worth making.

Edmonds was able to get a review of his case, and the facts were not on his side.  A person with better facts would be wise to consider the 2255 motion option.

About Brandon Sample

Brandon Sample is an attorney, author, and criminal justice reform activist. Brandon’s law practice is focused on federal criminal defense, federal appeals, federal post-conviction relief, federal civil rights litigation, federal administrative law, and the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

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