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Wells v. Snyder-Morris

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Northern Division, Ashland

May 15, 2015

TONY WELLS, Petitioner,
JODIE L. SNYDER-MORRIS, Warden, Respondent.


HENRY R. WILHOLT, Jr., District Judge.

Tony Wells is an inmate confined by the Bureau of Prisons ("BOP") in the Federal Correctional Institution ("FCI")-Ashland, located in Ashland, Kentucky. Wells has filed a prose petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241 [D. E. No. 1], challenging the enhancement of his federal sentence under the federal sentencing guidelines. Wells has paid the $5.00 filing fee. [D. E. No. 3]

In conducting an initial review of habeas petitions under 28 U.S.C. § 2243, the Court must deny the relief sought "if it plainly appears from the petition and any attached exhibits that the petitioner is not entitled to relief." Rule 4 of the Rules Governing § 2254 Cases in the United States District Courts (applicable to § 2241 petitions pursuant to Rule l(b)). Because Wells is not represented by an attorney, the Court evaluates his petition under a more lenient standard. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007); Burton v. Jones, 321 F.3d 569, 573 (6th Cir. 2003). Thus, at this stage of the proceedings, the Court accepts Wells's factual allegations as true and liberally construes his legal claims in his favor.

The Court has reviewed the habeas petition but for the reasons set forth below, determines that that it cannot grant the relief which Wells seeks, i.e., an order either transferring this action to federal court in North Carolina, or setting aside part of his 235-month sentence. The Court will therefore deny Wells' § 2241 petition and dismiss this proceeding.


On April 25, 2005, a federal grand jury in Statesville, North Carolina, indicted Wells and four co-defendants, charging them with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute at least 500 grams of methamphetamine in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841 and 846. United States v. Tony Wells, No. 5:05-CR-32 (W.D. N.C. 2005) [R. 1, therein] ("the 2005 Criminal Case") On April 27, 2005, the Government filed a notice under 21 U.S.C. § 851, stating its intention to seek enhanced penalties based on Wells' October 31, 2001, felony drug conviction (for possession of marijuana) from Yadkin County, North Carolina. [ Id., R. 5, therein]

On January, 3, 2006, Wells entered into a plea agreement with the Government wherein he agreed to plead guilty to the charge of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute at least 500 grams of methamphetamine in violation of21 U.S.C. §§ 841 and 846. [ !d., R. 75, therein] On January 18, 2006, Magistrate Judge David Keesler conducted a hearing to accept Wells' guilty plea, pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11. See Transcript of Rule 11 Proceedings at 1-26. Based on Wells' answers to the questions, and based on the representations and answers from his counsel, the Magistrate Judge accepted Wells' guilty plea, finding that it was knowingly and voluntarily made with an understanding of the charges, the potential penalties, and the consequences of the guilty plea. [ !d., R. 84, therein] Wells also signed the Entry and Acceptance of Guilty Plea (Rule 11 Proceeding), which memorialized his oral responses to the district court's inquiries. [ !d., R, 84, therein]

On March 1, 2006, the Grand Jury returned a second indictment against Wells, this time charging him with attempting "to obstruct, influence and impede and official proceeding" by sending text message instructions to a prospective witness, instructing that witness to "stick to the story" and provide false information regarding the illegal possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime by co-defendant Jason Plemmons, all in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1512(c)(2). See United States v. Tony Wells, No. 06-CR-45-RLV-1 (W.D. N.C. 2006) [R. 3, therein] ("the 2006 Criminal Case").

On May 12, 2006, Wells entered into a second plea agreement with the Government in the 2006 Criminal Case, agreeing to plead guilty to the obstruction of justice charge. [ Id., R. 15, therein] That plea agreement contained nearly identical provisions to the plea agreement in the 2005 Criminal Case, but also included a provision stipulating that the parties agreed "that the sentence imposed for [the obstruction of justice] conviction [would] be combined for sentencing purposes with the sentence (to be) [sic] imposed" in the drug conspiracy case. [ Id., ¶7(a), therein.)

On June 7, 2006, Magistrate Judge Keesler conducted a Rule 11 hearing and colloquy concerning Well's guilty plea on the obstruction of justice charge in the 2006 Criminal Case. During the hearing, Magistrate Judge Keesler recited the elements of the obstruction of justice offense together with the maximum penalties to which Wells would be subject, and Wells affirmed that he understood the charge against him and the penalties he faced.[1] After asking Wells a final series of questions concerning the voluntariness of his plea, Magistrate Judge Keesler accepted Wells' plea, finding that he was pleading guilty knowingly and voluntarily, with an understanding of "the charges, potential penalties, and consequences of his plea." [ Jd. at pp. 15-16] When the hearing concluded, Wells signed an Entry and Acceptance of Guilty Plea, again acknowledging that he was guilty of the obstruction of justice offense and that he understood the waiver of his right to appeal set forth in the plea agreement. [ Id., R. 16, therein]

On November 6, 2006, the district court sentenced Wells to a 235-month prison term on Count One in the 2005 Criminal Case [R. 117, therein], and to a concurrent 235-month sentence on Count One in the 2006 Criminal Case [R. 19, therein].[2]Wells filed a timely notice of appeal, arguing that the appellate waiver provision in the plea agreement was unenforceable and that his sentence was excessive. The Government responded that Wells had waived his right to appeal and that because his counsel had conceded that the guidelines were properly calculated, his sentence was presumptively reasonable.

On October 15, 2007, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the appeal, noting that Wells was old enough and experienced enough in criminal procedure to understand the waiver. United States v. Wells, 250 F.Appx. 550 (4th Cir. 2007) Wells' counsel filed petitions for rehearing and rehearing en banc, but those petitions were denied on December 18, 2007. See the 2005 Criminal Case [R. 162; R. 163, therein]; the 2006 Criminal Case [R. 39; R. 40, therein]

On March 15, 2009, Wells filed a motion to vacate, set aside, or correct sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 alleging a host of ineffective-assistance-of counsel claims at all stages of the proceedings; prosecutorial misconduct; and breach of the plea agreement. See the 2005 Criminal case [R. 177, therein]; the 2006 Criminal Case [R. 42, therein].[3] On March 30, 2011, the district court entered an Order denying Wells'§ 2255 motion. !d., R. 185, therein, see also Tony Wells v. United States, No. 3:09-CV-104; Nos. 5:05-CR-32-V; No. 3:06-CR-45-1, 2011 WL 1234709 (W.D. N.C. Mar. 30, 2011)]. The district court rejected Wells' challenges to his guilty plea and his sentence (i.e., the denial of his request for a downward departure), explaining that those particular claims were barred because the Fourth Circuit had previously addressed and rejected them on direct appeal. Id. at **5-6. The district court carefully examined Wells' Fifth ...

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