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Bonner v. United States

United States District Court, E.D. Texas, Sherman Division

September 26, 2019

NATALIE NICOLE BONNER, #09533-078
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          AMOS L. MAZZANT, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Pro se Movant Natalie Nicole Bonner filed a motion to vacate, set aside, or correct sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, asserting violations concerning her Eastern District of Texas, Sherman Division conviction. For the reasons stated below, and after due consideration, the Court will deny the motion.

         BACKGROUND

         On March 18, 2016, pursuant to a plea agreement, Movant pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bank fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1349. The maximum penalty for the offense was thirty years. Based upon a total offense level of 31, and a criminal history category of III, the guideline range was 135 months to 168 months. Movant stipulated that an appropriate sentence was eighty months’ imprisonment pursuant to a Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(c)(1)(C) plea agreement. The Court’s sentence of eighty months was entered, and Movant did not file a direct appeal. Movant filed the instant § 2255 motion on August 16, 2016. The Government filed a Response, asserting that Movant’s claims are barred by the waiver in her plea agreement, and are otherwise without merit. Movant filed a Reply.

         FEDERAL HABEAS PROCEEDINGS

         As a preliminary matter, it should be noted that a § 2255 motion is “fundamentally different from a direct appeal.” United States v. Drobny, 955 F.2d 990, 994 (5th Cir. 1992). A movant in a § 2255 proceeding may not bring a broad-based attack challenging the legality of the conviction. The range of claims that may be raised in a § 2255 proceeding is narrow. A “distinction must be drawn between constitutional or jurisdictional errors on the one hand, and mere errors of law on the other.” United States v. Pierce, 959 F.2d 1297, 1300-01 (5th Cir. 1992). A collateral attack is limited to alleging errors of “constitutional or jurisdictional magnitude.” United States v. Shaid, 937 F.2d 228, 232 (5th Cir. 1991).

         MOVANT’S GUILTY PLEA

         In her plea agreement, Movant waived her rights to plead not guilty, to be tried by a jury, to have her guilt proved beyond a reasonable doubt, to confront and cross-examine witnesses, to call witnesses in her defense, and to not be compelled to testify against herself. She also understood the charge and the elements of the offense, as well as the thirty-year maximum sentence she faced.

         Movant stipulated that an appropriate sentence was eighty months’ imprisonment, and that her guilty plea was freely and voluntary given, and not the result of force, threats, or promises, other than those contained in the written plea agreement. Also included in her plea agreement was the following waiver provision:

Except as otherwise provided herein, the defendant expressly waives the right to appeal the conviction, sentence, fine and/or order of restitution or forfeiture in this case on all grounds. The defendant further agrees not to contest the conviction, sentence, fine and/or order of restitution or forfeiture in any post-conviction proceeding, including, but not limited to a proceeding under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. The defendant, however, reserves the right to appeal the following: (a) any punishment imposed in excess of the statutory maximum, and (b) a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel that affects the validity of the waiver or the plea itself.

Cause No. 4:15cr81(2) (Dkt. #152).

         The Fifth Circuit has upheld the informed and voluntary waiver of post-conviction relief in United States v. Wilkes, 20 F.3d 651, 653 (5th Cir. 1994). In United States v. Henderson, 72 F.3d 463, 465 (5th Cir. 1995), the Fifth Circuit held that a waiver may not be enforced against a § 2255 movant who shows that ineffective assistance of counsel rendered that waiver unknowing or involuntary. The Fifth Circuit held that an ineffective assistance of counsel claim raised in a § 2255 proceeding survives a waiver only when the claimed assistance directly affected the validity of that waiver or the plea itself, United States v. White, 307 F.3d 336 (5th Cir. 2002), or when the sentence exceeds the statutory maximum. United States v. Hollins, 97 F. App’x 477, 479 (5th Cir. 2004).

         In Movant’s plea agreement, Movant states:

The defendant has thoroughly reviewed all legal and factual aspects of this case with defense counsel and is fully satisfied with defense counsel’s legal representation. The defendant has received satisfactory explanations from defense counsel concerning each paragraph of this plea agreement, each of the defendant’s rights affected thereby, and the alternatives to entering a guilty plea. After conferring with counsel, the defendant concedes guilt and has ...

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