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United States v. Shortman

United States District Court, D. Montana, Billings Division

August 27, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff/Respondent,
v.
SAFARA ECHO SHORTMAN, Defendant/Movant.

          ORDER DENYING § 2255 MOTION AND DENYING CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY

          Dana L. Christensen, Chief Judge United States District Court

         This case comes before the Court on Defendant/Movant Safara Echo Shortman's motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Shortman is a federal prisoner proceeding pro se.

         The transcripts of the change of plea hearing, held April 26, 2018, and the sentencing hearing, held July 17, 2018, are needed to decide the issues Shortman presents. The United States will be required to order these transcripts for the record and to deliver a copy to Shortman. See 28 U.S.C. § 753(f).

         I. Preliminary Review

         Before the United States is required to respond, the Court must determine whether "the motion and the files and records of the case conclusively show that the prisoner is entitled to no relief." 28 U.S.C. § 2255(b); see also Rule 4(b), Rules Governing Section 2255 Proceedings for the United States District Courts. A petitioner "who is able to state facts showing a real possibility of constitutional error should survive Rule 4 review." Calderon v. United States Dist. Court, 98 F.3d 1102, 1109 (9th Cir. 1996) ("Nicolas") (Schroeder, C.J., concurring) (referring to Rules Governing § 2254 Cases). But the Court should "eliminate the burden that would be placed on the respondent by ordering an unnecessary answer." Advisory Committee Note (1976), Rule 4, Rules Governing § 2254 Cases, cited in Advisory Committee Note (1976), Rule 4, Rules Governing § 2255 Proceedings.

         II. Background

         In three monitored transactions, Shortman sold four ounces of methamphetamine to a confidential informant. The methamphetamine was at least 95% pure. Without a plea agreement, Shortman pled guilty to one count of conspiring to possess 50 grams or more of actual methamphetamine with intent to distribute it, a violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846 (Count 1); and one count of possessing the same with intent to distribute it, a violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) (Count 2). She was sentenced to serve 120 months in prison, the statutory mandatory minimum, see 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(A)(viii), to be followed by a five-year term of supervised release. See Minutes (Docs. 21, 27); Judgment (Doc. 29) at 2-3.

         Shortman timely filed her § 2255 motion on December 20, 2018 (Doc. 31).

         III. Claims and Analysis

         On July 3, 2019, the Court briefly described the requirements of Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687-88, 694 (1984), and ordered Shortman to explain the factual basis of her claims more clearly. She responded on July 18, 2019.

         A. Mandatory Minimum Sentence

         Shortman alleges that her guilty plea was involuntary because she did not understand she faced a ten-year mandatory minimum sentence. See Mot. § 2255 (Doc. 31) at 4. She also alleges that "[s]he was never informed about the federal sentencing guidelines, and that her felony offense would render nothing less than a mandatory minimum of 10 years." Resp. to Order (Doc. 34) at 2. And she avers that a mandatory minimum "is not explained to most defendants." Id.

         Every defendant in a federal criminal case must be advised of any mandatory minimum sentence. See Fed. R. Crim. P. 11(b)(1)(H), (I). The record of the change of plea hearing in Shortman's case shows she knew about both the guidelines and the mandatory minimum sentence.

         Shortman says she "may have opted to go to trial" had she understood that ten years was "the 'only' available sentence." Resp. to Order at 3. But ten years was not the only available sentence. It was the minimum available sentence. Shortman could have been sentenced to more than 120 months if, for instance, trial gave the United States an opportunity to call witnesses who could testify that Shortman was responsible for more than 150 grams of actual methamphetamine. See, e.g., U.S.S.G. § 2D1.1(c)(4), (5) (Nov. 1, 2016); Presentence Report ¶ 8 ...


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