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Watson v. United States

United States District Court, D. Delaware

March 19, 2014

KWADZO WATSON, Movant/Defendant,
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent/Plaintiff. Cr. A. No. 08-133-GMS

Kwadzo Watson. Pro se movant.

Ilana Eisenstein. Assistant United States Attorney, United States Department of Justice, Wilmington, Delaware. Attorney for respondent.


GREGORY M. SLEET, Chief District Judge.


Movant Kwadzo Watson ("Watson") filed a prose motion to vacate, set aside, or correct sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. (D.I. 36) The government filed a motion to dismiss. (D.I. 41) For the reasons discussed, the court will grant the government's motion and deny Watson's § 2255 motion without holding an evidentiary hearing.


On September 22, 2009, Watson pled guilty to one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1), and one count ofpossession with intent to distribute five grams or more of cocaine base, in violation of21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) & (b)(1)(B). (D.I. 29; D.I. 42) The memorandum of plea agreement provided, in relevant part:

The defendant knowingly and voluntarily waives the right to take a direct appeal from his conviction or sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 1291 or 18 U.S.C. § 3742, and further waives the right to file a motion to vacate sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, attacking his conviction or sentence, and the right to file any other collateral proceeding attacking his conviction or sentence. This waiver is subject to the following exceptions: (a) if the United States appeals from the sentence, the defendant may take a direct appeal from the sentence; (b) the defendant may appeal on the ground that the sentence exceeds the applicable statutory limits set forth in the United States Code; and (c) the defendant may appeal any upward variance pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3554(a) from the final sentencing guideline range as calculated by the District Court.

(D.I. 29) (emphasis added).

During the plea colloquy, the court reviewed each paragraph and posed specific questions to Watson with respect to each section of the plea agreement. The court read the appellate and collateral attack waiver provision to Watson, confirmed that Watson had consulted with his attorney regarding the waiver, and discussed in detail the implications of the waiver. (D.I. 42 at 18-21) In response to the court's inquiries, Watson stated affirmatively that he understood the rights to be waived and that the plea agreement accurately reflected the agreement reached with the government. Id. at 18-19. The court also informed Watson that it was obligated to impose at least the minimum mandatory sentence of five years in prison. Id at 21. Watson signed the plea agreement and the court adjudged him guilty. On December 15, 2009, the court sentenced Watson to the minimum mandatory five year term of imprisonment. (D.I. 33)


In a timely filed§ 2255 motion, Watson asserts that he should be resentenced pursuant to the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 ("FSA") because he believes the amendment reducing the crack/powder sentencing disparity applies retroactively to his case. In response, the government moves for dismissal of the § 2255 motion, based on the appellate waiver provision contained in Watson's plea agreement.

As a general rule, courts will enforce a defendant's waiver of his appellate and collateral rights, if it is "entered knowingly and voluntarily and [its] enforcement does not work a miscarriage of justice." United States v. Mabry, 536 F.3d 231, 236-37 (3d Cir. 2008). The court has an affirmative and "an independent obligation to conduct an evaluation of the validity of a collateral waiver." Id. at 238. Specifically, the court must consider: (1) whether the waiver was knowing and voluntary; (2) whether there is an exception to the waiver which prevents its enforcement; and (3) whether enforcement of the waiver would cause a miscarriage of justice. United States v. Goodson, 544 F.3d 529, 536 (3d Cir. 2008).

When determining if a waiver of the right to collateral review was knowing and voluntary, the reviewing court must determine if "the district court inform[ ed] the defendant of, and determine[d] that the defendant under[ stood]... the terms of any plea agreement provision waiving the right to appeal or to collaterally attack the sentence as Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(b)(1)(N) requires." Mabry, 536 F.3d at 239. When determining whether a miscarriage of justice would occur if the waiver were enforced, there is no specific list of circumstances that would constitute a miscarriage of justice. Id. at 242. Rather, the court must apply a common sense approach and evaluate "the clarity of the error, its gravity, its character (e.g., whether it concerns a fact issue, a sentencing guideline, or a statutory maximum), the impact of the error on the defendant, the impact of correcting the error on the government and the extent to ...

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