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Eldridge v. United States

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, New Albany Division

August 23, 2018




         This matter is before the Court on a Motion Under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to Vacate, Set Aside or Correct Sentence, filed by pro se Petitioner Donald P. Eldridge (“Eldridge”) (Dkt. [1]). For the reasons explained in this Order, the Motion is denied and dismissed with prejudice. In addition, the Court finds that a certificate of appealability should not issue.


         A motion pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 is the presumptive means by which a federal prisoner can challenge his conviction or sentence. See Davis v. United States, 417 U.S. 333, 343 (1974). A court may grant relief from a federal conviction or sentence pursuant to § 2255 “upon the ground that the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States, or that the court was without jurisdiction to impose such sentence, or that the sentence was in excess of the maximum authorized by law, or is otherwise subject to collateral attack.” 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a). The scope of relief available under § 2255 is narrow, limited to “an error of law that is jurisdictional, constitutional, or constitutes a fundamental defect which inherently results in a complete miscarriage of justice.” Borre v. United States, 940 F.2d 215, 217 (7th Cir. 1991) (internal citations omitted).


         On September 24, 2014, Eldridge was charged in a three-count Indictment, United States v. Eldridge, No. 4:14-cr-00024-TWP-WGH-1 (S.D. Ind. Sept. 24, 2014) (hereinafter “Crim. Dkt.”), Crim. Dkt. [1]. The three counts included Count One: possession with the intent to distribute methamphetamine in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(C); Count Two: carrying a firearm during and in relation to a drug trafficking crime in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A)(i); and Count Three: possession of a firearm by a felon in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1).

         On December 9, 2014, with the assistance of counsel, Eldridge filed a petition to enter a guilty plea. Crim. Dkt. [26]. A plea agreement was docketed on April 2, 2015. Crim. Dkt. [38]; Crim. Dkt. [39] (sealed addendum). The plea agreement, entered pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(c)(1)(A) and 11(c)(1)(B), provided that Eldridge would plead guilty to counts one and two of his Indictment, and at the time of sentencing, the United States would move to dismiss the remaining count in the Indictment. Crim. Dkt. [38] at 1.

         The plea agreement explained that Eldridge's drug offense under Count One would ordinarily be punishable by a sentence of no more than 20 years' imprisonment; a fine of not more than $1, 000, 000.00, and a period of supervised release of not more than three years following any term of imprisonment. Id. at 1-2. However, the United States had filed an information pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 851 alleging that Eldridge had a prior felony drug conviction. Thus, the maximum penalties for Count One were a term of imprisonment of not more than thirty years, a fine of up to $2, 000, 000.00, and a term of supervised release of not less than six years following any term of imprisonment. Id. at 2. Eldridge's firearm offense under Count Two was punishable by a sentence of not less than five years that must be imposed consecutively to the sentence in Count One. Id. Eldridge's firearm offense had a statutory maximum term of life sentence.

         The parties did not stipulate as to terms of his sentence. Rather, Eldridge agreed and stated that he understood that the Court would use its discretion to fashion a sentence within the statutory ranges. Id. at 3. He also agreed and understood that the Court would take into account the United States Sentencing Guidelines (“U.S.S.G. “ or “the Guidelines”) in determining the appropriate sentence within the statutory range, but that the Guidelines are only advisory in nature, and thus the final determination of the sentence would be made by the Court. Id.

         In the plea agreement, Eldridge stipulated that he had at least two prior felony convictions: a conviction for Burglary - Second Degree in 08-CR-000979 (Jefferson Circuit Court, Kentucky) on or about March 20, 2008, and convictions for Trafficking in a Controlled Substance (Oxycodone) and Trafficking in Marijuana (greater than five pounds) in 11-CR-001605 (Jefferson Circuit Court, Kentucky) on or about June 21, 2011. Id. at 4. The parties agreed that Eldridge was entitled to a three level reduction for his acceptance of responsibility, see U.S.S.G. § 3E1.1, and the United States intended to argue that Eldridge's overall Guidelines range should be 262-327 months' imprisonment under the U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1(c)(2)(B) and (c)(3). Id. at 5.

         Finally, Eldridge waived his right to appeal or otherwise challenge his conviction or sentence, except that he retained the right to challenge on appeal the Court's decision at sentencing regarding a Career Offender designation under U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1 and any claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. Id. at 6.

         A change of plea and sentencing hearing was held on April 13, 2015, at which Eldridge's plea of guilty was accepted. Crim. Dkt. [45]. The Court sentenced Eldridge to 100 months' imprisonment on the drug trafficking conviction and a consecutive 60 month sentence on the firearm conviction for a total of 160 months imprisonment. Crim. Dkt. [48]. Judgment was entered on April 23, 2015. Id.

         On November 21, 2016, Eldridge filed the instant Motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 and memorandum in support thereof. Dkt. [1]; Dkt. [2]. He supplemented his Motion on May 15, 2017, and May 24, 2017. Dkt. [13]; Dkt. [14]. The United States responded in opposition. Dkt. [22]. Eldridge has not filed a reply, and the time to do so has passed.


         Eldridge challenges the sentence imposed. He argues that he should not have received the career offender enhancement under U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1 given the United States Supreme Court's decisions in Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015), and Mathis v. United States, 136 S.Ct. 2243 (2016). In Johnson, the Supreme Court held that the so-called residual clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act (“ACCA”) was unconstitutionally vague, while in Mathis, the Supreme Court discussed the ...

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