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Steidell v. United States

United States District Court, D. Hawaii

August 25, 2017

DAVID STEIDELL, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent. CR. No. 12-01259-02 DKW

          ORDER DENYING MOTION UNDER 28 U.S.C. § 2255 TO VACATE, SET ASIDE, OR CORRECT SENTENCE

          Derrik K. Watson, Judge

         On May 20, 2014, Petitioner David Steidell pled guilty, without a plea agreement, to: conspiracy to distribute MDMA and N-Benzypiperazine (“BZP”), in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 846, 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(C) (“Count 1”); conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute 50 grams or more of Methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 846, 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(A) (“Count 2”); distribution of 50 grams or more of methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(A) (“Count 3”); and possession of BZP with intent to distribute, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(C) (“Count 5”). See Superseding Indictment, ECF No. 76. This Court later sentenced Steidell to 170 months' imprisonment and five years of supervised release as to each count, to run concurrently, and imposed a monetary assessment of $400.

         Judgment 3, 4, 6, ECF No. 152. Relying on 28 U.S.C. § 2255, Steidell now seeks to vacate his guilty plea and/or sentence, based on the alleged ineffective assistance of counsel. See Mot. Under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, ECF No. 209 [hereinafter Section 2255 Motion].

         After careful consideration of the instant motion, the briefs, the materials in the record, and the relevant legal authority, Steidell's Section 2255 Motion is DENIED. The Court also DENIES a Certificate of Appealability.

         BACKGROUND

         I. Indictment And Guilty Plea

         Based on a Criminal Complaint and Affidavit by HSI Special Agent Todd J. Nerlin[1] filed on December 4, 2012, a Magistrate Judge found probable cause to order the arrest of Steidell and three others for several drug-related felony offenses under Title 21 of the United States Code. Crim. Compl. 2, ECF No. 1. On December 20, 2012, a grand jury indicted these four defendants (ECF No. 9) and, on December 21, 2012, a Magistrate Judge appointed Cary Virtue, Esq., to represent Steidell throughout the proceedings. ECF No. 14.

         On February 5, 2014, the grand jury returned a Superseding Indictment, charging Steidell with four counts, including Count 5:

From on or about October 9, 2012, to on or about December 10, 2012, within the District of Hawaii, and elsewhere, DAVID STEIDELL . . ., did willfully and unlawfully possess with intent to distribute a controlled substance, to include . . . BZP, a substance controlled under Schedule I, Title 21 of the United States Code, Section 812, and Title 21, Code of Federal Regulations, Section 1308.11(f)(2), in violation of Title 21, United States Code, Sections 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(C).

Superseding Indictment, ECF No. 76 (emphasis in original).

         On May 20, 2014, Steidell pled guilty. See Tr. of Hr'g, May 20, 2014, ECF No. 122 [hereinafter Tr. of COP Hr'g]. At the plea hearing, Steidell acknowledged that he fully understood-and had consulted with Mr. Virtue regarding-the charges against him and stated his intention to plead guilty to Counts 1, 2, 3, and 5 of the Superseding Indictment. Tr. of COP Hr'g at 5-7, 15-16. As part of the plea colloquy, Steidell specifically confirmed his understanding that a guilty plea would require him to “waive [his] right not to incriminate [him]self” by “admitting to both the type of drug involved as well as [his] knowledge as to the type of drug involved at the time of each of the offenses that are set forth in the superseding indictment[.]”[2] Tr. of COP Hr'g at 10, 15 (explaining that this waiver of rights is intended to “establish a factual basis for” a guilty plea and to “get comfort that [Steidell] in fact committed the crimes” he would be pleading guilty to). At the Court's request, Assistant United States Attorney Chris A. Thomas then summarized the evidence that the Government had against Steidell on each of the four counts. Tr. of COP Hr'g at 16.

         Steidell, who had earlier answered the Court's question-“Are you pleading guilty this morning because you are guilty?”-in the affirmative, also confirmed the facts underlying the alleged offenses. Tr. of COP Hr'g at 7, 20-29, ECF No. 122. His admissions included the factual basis for Count 5-i.e., that the “pills seized during the consent search of Mr. Steidell, Sr.'s storage locker on December 10, 2012” belonged to Steidell, were intended for distribution, were “submitted to laboratory testing, ” and were found to consist of “6, 642 tablets . . . [, ] 2, 569 [of which] contained the active drug ingredient of . . . BZP.” Tr. of COP Hr'g at 20- 21.

         After accepting Steidell's guilty plea (id. at 36-37), the Court scheduled a sentencing hearing for September 2014.

         11. Sentencing And Other Post-Sentencing Matters

         The United States Probation Office issued Steidell's draft PSR on July 21, 2014.[3] On August 4, 2014, Mr. Virtue filed Steidell's Sentencing Statement listing nine objections to the draft PSR, which included the assertion that certain factual statements by Steidell's co-defendants were biased, and pointing out various perceived calculation errors with respect to Steidell's criminal history level determination. Def. Obj. to Draft PSR, ECF No. 138. With respect to the physical evidence, the Sentencing Statement objected to:

[P]aragraphs 35, 42, 44, 45, 46, and 47 [of the PSR] as to the amount of drug quantities attributed to Steidell[;] and the unreliable relevant conduct attributed to hearsay statements made by two co-defendants, who are motivated by self-interest to blam[e] Steidell for additional alleged amounts of [ecstasy], and BZP, resulting in a higher base level of 33.

Obj. to Draft PSR ¶ 4.

         At the September 9, 2014 sentencing hearing, the Court addressed these concerns and overruled Steidell's objections, explaining that “[t]he drug quantities are based largely on the transactions that the [undercover-informant/law-enforcement agent (‘UC')] negotiated and consummated, ” the majority of which “occurred directly between the UC and the defendant.” Tr. of Hr'g 10-11, Sept. 9, 2014, ECF No. 183 [hereinafter Tr. of Sentencing Hr'g]. “Once the transaction was consummated, the UC submitted the drugs that he received from the defendant to law enforcement laboratories, and those laboratories were responsible for the tablet counts as well as the substance weight and purity results” in the Amended PSR. Tr. of Sentencing Hr'g at 11. As such, the Court explained, “the mere fact that some of the drug quantities are attributed to the defendant, based on statements of his codefendants, is of little consequence, ” and “[t]he codefendants are . . . . all going to be held responsible for the drugs that they transacted.” Id. at 11-12.

         The Court also adopted the factual findings of the PSR as its own (see Tr. of Sentencing Hr'g at 17, ECF No. 183); addressed the additional defense objections to the PSR (id. at 14-17); and made adjustments to the applicable sentencing guideline range based on arguments from both sides (id. at 17-39). After allocution, during which Steidell admitted responsibility and apologized to the Court for his actions (id. at 30), the Court sentenced Steidell to 170 months' imprisonment and 5 years of supervised release, as to each Count, terms to run concurrently, and imposed a ...


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