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United States v. Wright-Beard

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Northern Division

January 31, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
HEATHER ELIZABETH WRIGHT-BEARD

          ORDER

          DANIEL P. JORDAN III CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This criminal matter is before the Court on the habeas petition [87] filed by Defendant Heather Elizabeth Wright-Beard (hereinafter “Wright”). For the following reasons, the motion is denied in part, but Wright's former counsel and the Government will be instructed to respond as to Ground Two of the Petition.

         I. Background

         On November 28, 2017, a federal grand jury indicted Wright on a charge of being a felon in the possession of a firearm. Wright was first represented by attorney Lisa Ross. When Ross withdrew, attorney Tom Rich was appointed, and the case proceeded to trial on June 13, 2018. The following day, Wright was late for Court and gave an excuse the Court doubted. She then violated a Court order by leaving the building during lunch. This and other strange behavior prompted the Court to order a drug test that confirmed the use of methamphetamines. Despite the positive test results, Wright lied to the Court and denied drug use. Based on her impaired capacity, the Court declared a mistrial and reset the case.

         Before the second trial commenced, Wright announced her intent to change her plea and did so on June 26, 2018. Significantly, Wright waived her right to bring a motion for post-conviction relief, including but not limited to a motion filed under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Dissatisfied with the eventual sentence, Wright is now before the Court under § 2255.

         II. Analysis

         A. Standards

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, a prisoner in custody may move under limited circumstances to “vacate, set aside or correct the sentence.” 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a). When a petition is filed, the Court must provide notice to the United States attorney and grant a prompt hearing “[u]nless 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). In this case, three of the four grounds for relief can be decided on the record.

         B. Grounds for Relief

         In her Petition, Wright identifies four grounds for relief: (1) the search leading to her indictment violated the Fourth Amendment; (2) her attorneys were ineffective in failing to file a motion to suppress based on the unlawful search; (3) trial counsel “persuaded” her to forego appeal; and (4) her trial attorney did not sufficiently challenge sentencing issues. See Pet. [87] at 15-18. In addition to these articulated grounds for vacating her sentence, Wright attaches an affidavit and a memorandum raising other issues related to her attorney's performance and the sentence that was imposed.

         1. Ground One, Invalid Search

         Wright begins her petition with a challenge to the validity of the search that uncovered the firearm she possessed in her residence. Wright has waived this argument.

         When Wright signed the Plea Agreement, she waived “the right to contest the conviction and sentence or the manner in which the sentence was imposed in any post-conviction proceeding, including but not limited to a motion brought under Title 28, United States Code, Section 2255.” Plea Agreement [71] ¶ 8(b).

         Such waivers are generally enforceable when, as in this case, the defendant knowingly and voluntarily agrees to waive her right to pursue post-conviction proceedings. See United States v. White, 307 F.3d 336, 343 (5th Cir. 2002). During the plea hearing, the Court specifically confirmed that Wright read the Plea Agreement, discussed it with her attorney, fully understood it, and was not forced to sign it. As for the waivers, Wright confirmed that she “knowingly and voluntarily” agreed to waive the right to file a motion under § 2255. Finally, the Plea Agreement itself included the following representation:

Defendant and Defendant's attorney of record declare that the terms of this pica ...

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