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United States v. Miracle

United States District Court, Fourth Circuit

December 12, 2013

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
DENNIS R. MIRACLE, Defendant.

Randy Ramseyer, Assistant United States Attorney, Abingdon, Virginia, for United States.

Dennis R. Miracle, Pro Se Defendant.

OPINION

JAMES P. JONES, District Judge.

The defendant, proceeding pro se, filed a Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, alleging that counsel's ineffective assistance caused him to enter an invalid guilty plea pursuant to a written Plea Agreement due to diminished capacity. The government has filed a Motion to Dismiss, seeking to enforce the defendant's Plea Agreement waiver of his right to bring a § 2255 motion, and the defendant has responded. After review of the records, I will grant the government's motion and deny the § 2255 claims as waived.

I

On August 27, 2010, park rangers saw a red Toyota pickup truck driving through the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park (the "Park") in Kentucky and heard it strike a bridge. They followed as the truck then traveled into the Virginia section of the Park, weaving between different traffic lanes, before they directed the driver to pull over. One ranger asked the driver for his driver's license, registration, and proof of insurance. The driver's eyes looked bloodshot and watery, and the ranger detected a strong odor of alcohol. The driver, later identified as defendant Dennis R. Miracle, said he did not have his driver's license with him.

When Miracle opened the glove compartment to look for his license, the ranger saw three boxes of ammunition inside. The ranger asked Miracle if there were any guns in the vehicle, and Miracle nodded affirmatively. Asked to tell where the guns were without reaching for them, Miracle pointed at his seat. The ranger asked if it was under the seat, and Miracle nodded and said, "Under the seat." The rangers located a.22 caliber Ruger pistol in a box under the driver's seat. After the rangers impounded the vehicle, they found another, loaded pistol under the driver's seat. Both weapons had been manufactured outside Virginia.

At the scene of the traffic stop, Miracle failed a field sobriety test. When he later underwent a breath alcohol test, it measured.12 alcohol content. Records indicated that Miracle did not have a valid driver's license, as his license had been suspended. At the time of his arrest, Miracle had previously been convicted of several felonies.

Miracle's counsel negotiated a pre-indictment plea agreement, which allowed Miracle to plead guilty to two petty offenses - driving under the influence and with a suspended license - and one felony charge of possessing firearms after having been convicted of a felony. On September 27, 2010, Miracle waived indictment and entered a guilty plea pursuant to the Plea Agreement. Under the agreement, he waived his right to appeal his sentence and his right to collaterally attack the Judgment and, in exchange, several other petty offense charges were dismissed.

During the plea colloquy, Miracle indicated that he was 52 years old and had obtained his GED. He denied then being under the influence of drugs or alcohol, denied having been treated for mental or emotional problems of any type, and denied having any serious health problems. His attorney affirmed that she had no doubt as to Miracle's competency to enter a guilty plea.

I questioned Miracle about his waiver of indictment and found, from his responses, that he was fully competent to make this waiver and was voluntarily doing so. I then asked Miracle if he had read the Plea Agreement and discussed it and the charges with counsel, and he said yes. The prosecutor reviewed the terms of the Plea Agreement, and Miracle indicated his understanding. I expressly asked Miracle, "Do you understand that under this plea agreement you waive or give up your right to collaterally attack your sentence, meaning you could not at a later time file a motion or petition seeking to have your sentence or conviction set aside?" and Miracle said he understood. (Plea Tr. 13, ECF No. 27.)

I also warned Miracle that he faced up to six months for each of the misdemeanor offenses and up to 10 years in prison for the felony offense. Miracle indicated that he understood the potential sentences and the possibility that the sentence imposed might be different than any estimate his attorney might have given him. I reviewed the rights he was waiving by pleading guilty, and he said he understood them and was pleading guilty because he was, in fact, guilty of the charge.

The prosecutor then summarized the evidence from the August 27, 2010, traffic stop. When I asked Miracle if he disputed or contested any of these facts, Miracle said he had purchased the Toyota from a friend and "didn't know there was any guns in the truck." (Partial Plea Tr. 2, ECF No. 11.) He continued, "I have no way of fighting this case, or anything, and I thought I would just ...


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