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United States v. Champion

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division

September 24, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
ANTHONY T. CHAMPION, Petitioner.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION (DENYING 28 U.S.C. § 2255 MOTION)

          HENRY E.HUDSON SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Anthony T. Champion, a federal inmate proceeding pro se, submitted this motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence ("§ 2255 Motion, " ECF No. 65).[1]Champion contends that he received ineffective assistance of counsel.[2] Specifically, Champion argues that he is entitled to relief on the following grounds:[3]

Claim One Counsel rendered ineffective assistance because "[c]ounsel failed to take notice of the fact that the trial proceedings were over the time period limit under the Speedy Trial Act." (§ 2255 Mot. 4.)
Claim Two Counsel rendered ineffective assistance "at the plea stage of the trial proceedings" because Champion "would not have pled guilty if not for Counselor [Peluso's] threats and intimidations." (Id.)
Claim Three Counsel rendered ineffective assistance because counsel failed "to perfect a defense" by refusing to "view the videotape" that "affirmed [a] defense of not guilty." (Id.)
Claim Four Counsel rendered ineffective assistance "at the direct appeal stage by not objecting to all errors." (Id. at 5.)
Claim Five Counsel rendered ineffective assistance "as to the weapons possession" charges because "[t]he weapons were found in the trunk and not in close proximity of [Champion]." (Id. at 7.)
Claim Six Counsel rendered ineffective assistance "for allowing a federal prosecution when the sole subject matter was state and premised on a traffic stop under state law." (Id)
Claim Seven Counsel rendered ineffective assistance "as to the search of the vehicle's trunk." (Id.)
Claim Eight Counsel rendered ineffective assistance "under federal law's Terry[[4]] stop decision" because "[u]nder federal law there is no violation contained within any statute that makes it a crime to wrap an air freshener around the rearview mirror to eliminate odor." (Id. at 8.)

         The Government responded, asserting that Champion's claims lack merit. (ECF No. 71.)[5] Champion filed a Reply.[6] (ECF No. 72.) For the reasons set forth below, Champion's § 2255 Motion (ECF No. 65) will be denied.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On June 4, 2013, a grand jury charged Champion with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon (Count One), transportation and shipment of stolen firearms in interstate and foreign commerce (Count Two), and possession of a firearm "which had had the importer's or manufacturere's serial number removed, obliterated, and altered and which had been shipped and transported in interstate and foreign commerce" (Count Three). (Indictment 1-2, ECF No. 1.)

         On August 19, 2013, Champion, proceeding with counsel, filed a Motion to Suppress, requesting that the Court "suppress all evidence seized and statements made as a result of the illegal traffic stop which occurred on January 31, 2013." (ECF No. 12, at 1.) On September 24, 2013, the Court held a hearing on the Motion to Suppress. (See ECF No. 16.) By Memorandum Opinion and Order entered on October 17, 2013, the Court denied the Motion to Suppress, concluding that "[t]he Trooper had probable cause to search the vehicle to determine if there was additional marijuana in the car. That probable cause covered the entire vehicle, including the trunk. Therefore, the troopers lawfully observed and seized the firearm." (ECF No. 17, at 5; ECF No. 18.)

         On October 29, 3013, Champion filed a letter motion to appoint new counsel (ECF No. 19, at 1), and on October 31, 2013, Champion filed a second letter motion to appoint new counsel (ECF No. 20, at 1). Subsequently, on October 31, 2013, counsel, Elizabeth W. Hanes, filed a Motion to Withdraw as Counsel and for the Appointment of Substitute Counsel. (ECF No. 21, at 1-2.) By Order entered on November 5, 2013, the Court granted Ms. Hanes's motion, and directed the Clerk to appoint new counsel to assist Champion. (ECF No. 22, at 1.) Joseph R. Peluso, Jr., was appointed as counsel. (ECF No. 23, at 1.)

         On November 19, 2013, Champion filed a pro se letter motion, entitled "Motion for Dismissal of All Charges." (ECF No. 30.) By Order entered on November 20, 2013, the Court denied the motion without prejudice, explaining that "[a]s a Defendant that is represented by counsel, Champion must file motions through his court-appointed attorney or, in the alternative, proceed pro se." (ECF No. 31, at 1.)

         On November 25, 2013, Champion, proceeding pro se with counsel on standby, pled guilty to Count Two of the Indictment. (Plea Agreement ¶ 1, ECF No. 36; see ECF No. 35, at 1.) In the Plea Agreement, Champion agreed that he was pleading guilty because he was "in fact, guilty of the charged offense, " "admit[ted] the facts set forth in the statement of facts filed with this plea agreement[, ] and agree[d] that those facts establish guilt of the offense charged beyond a reasonable doubt." (Plea Agreement ¶ 3.) Champion also agreed that "[t]he maximum penalties for this offense are a term of imprisonment for ten years, a fine of $250, 000, a special assessment, and up to three years of supervised release" (id. ¶ 1), and "that the Court has jurisdiction and authority to impose any sentence within the statutory maximum-----" (Id ¶ 5.)

         Further, the Plea Agreement provided that "[t]he United States makes no promise or representation concerning what sentence the defendant will receive-----" (Id) Champion agreed that he understood that he was waiving his right to appeal his conviction and "any sentence within the statutory maximum described above (or the manner in which that sentence was determined)-----" (Id ¶ 6.) "As a condition of the execution of [the Plea Agreement] and the Court's acceptance of [Champion's] plea of guilty, the United States [agreed to] move to dismiss the remaining counts of the indictment against [Champion]." (Id ¶ 10.)

         In the accompanying Statement of Facts, Champion agreed that the following facts were true and correct:

1.On or about January 31, 2013, in the Eastern District of Virginia and within the jurisdiction of this Court, ANTHONY T. CHAMPION did knowingly and unlawfully transport and ship in interstate and foreign commerce stolen firearms, to wit: an HS Products .40 caliber semi-automatic pistol, model XD40, serial number US385578, knowing and having reasonable cause to believe that the firearms were stolen.
(In violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 922(1)).
2.On January 31, 2013, defendant Champion was traveling northbound on Interstate 95 from Georgia to Boston when he was [word omitted by agreement of the parties] stopped by a Virginia State trooper in the vicinity of milepost 100. During the ensuing encounter, the trooper [word omitted by agreement of the parties] searched the trunk of the vehicle defendant was operating and recovered a Taurus .380 caliber semiautomatic pistol, model PT738 TCP, serial number 46457B; a Colt .38 Special caliber revolver, model Detective Special, serial number B54227; a Haskell .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol, model JHP45, serial number X497011; a Charter Arms .38 Special caliber revolver, model Undercover, serial number 221885; an RG Industries .38 Special caliber revolver, model 39, serial number X017281; an HS Products .40 caliber semi-automatic pistol, model XD40, serial number US385578; a High Point 9mm semiautomatic pistol, model C9, serial number 1647499; a Ruger .44 caliber revolver, model Super Black Hawk, serial number 86-03594; and an Intratec 9mm semi-automatic pistol, model TecDC 9, with an obliterated serial number.
3. Each of the guns listed in paragraph 2 was, at the time, a "firearm" as defined in 18 U.S.C. §§ 921 and 922 (I), and each had previously traveled in and affected interstate commerce in that each firearm was manufactured outside the Commonwealth of Virginia and defendant transported each firearm into the Commonwealth of Virginia on or about January 31, 2013.
4. Defendant knowingly and unlawfully possessed each of the nine firearms listed in paragraph 2.
5. The HS Products .40 caliber semi-automatic pistol, model XD40, serial number US385578 firearm was stolen from Phoenix City, Alabama.
6. [Paragraph omitted by agreement of the parties.]
7. Defendant was not lawfully permitted to possess any of the firearms listed in paragraph 2 as, prior to January 31, 2013, he had been convicted of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year. His rights had not been restored, and he was, on January 31, 2013, prohibited by federal law from possessing a firearm.

(Statement of Facts ¶¶ 1-7, ECF No. 37.)

         During the Rule 11 proceedings on November 25, 2013, prior to accepting Champion's guilty plea, the Court conducted a thorough examination of Champion regarding his decision to proceed pro se. (See, e.g., Nov. 25, 2013 Tr. 3-9, ECF No. 68.) In conducting this examination, the Court summarized Champion's complaints regarding his counsel as follows:

Now, what I am hearing from you is that, and I've heard it from you before, is that you don't like the fact that the lawyers come and they tell you what any lawyer assigned to you is going to tell you: "These are your options and this is what you are looking at. And I'm calculating, based on my education and training, that this is your best option."

(Nov. 25, 2013 Tr. 6-7.) The Court then outlined "the essential terms" of the Plea Agreement, and Champion confirmed his understanding of the charge to which he was pleading guilty and the penalties for the charge. (Nov. 25, 2013 Tr. 9-12.) Champion agreed that "to the best of [his] knowledge what's contained in [the] Statement of Facts [was] true and accurate." (Nov. 25, 2013 Tr. 12.) When asked if "anyone [had] promised [him] anything other than what's contained in [the] written Plea Agreement to get [him] to plead guilty, " Champion responded: "No, sir." (Nov. 25, 2013 Tr. 11.) Further, when asked if "anyone [had] attempted in any way to force [him] to plead guilty, " Champion responded: "No, sir." (Nov. 25, 2013 Tr. 11.) Champion agreed that he was pleading guilty "because in [his] own mind [he] [was] in fact guilty as charged in Count Two of [the] [I]ndictment." (Nov. 25, 2013 Tr. 11.)

         The Court explained that Champion's maximum sentence was ten years of incarceration and that the exact sentence would depend upon the sentencing guidelines and Champion's criminal history. (Nov. 25, 2013 Tr. 11, 13-14.) Champion agreed that he understood that, at this point, any estimated sentences were predictions not promises.. (Nov. 25, 2013 Tr. 13-14.) The Court accepted Champion's guilty plea, finding that it was knowing and voluntary, and supported by an independent basis of fact. (Nov. 25, 2013 Tr. 15.) After the Court ...


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