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United States v. Ramsey

July 01, 2004

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
CHARLES W. RAMSEY, JR., DEFENDANT.



Civil Action No. 00-2066 (PLF)

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Paul L. Friedman United States District Judge

OPINION

This matter is before the Court on defendant Charles W. Ramsey's motion for relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Pursuant to that section, the Court shall vacate a conviction and grant appropriate relief where, inter alia, "there has been such a denial or infringement of the constitutional rights of the prisoner so as to render the judgment vulnerable to collateral attack." Mr. Ramsey claims that the deficient performance of his trial attorney denied him the "assistance of counsel" guaranteed him by the Sixth Amendment.

The Court has considered the briefs filed by two successive and very experienced criminal defense lawyers whom the Court appointed to assist the defendant in this matter: Francis S. Carter, Esquire, and Steven C. Tabackman, Esquire. The Court appreciates their service to Mr. Ramsey and to the Court. The Court also has considered the briefs and memoranda filed by the government, as well as the transcripts of the trial and sentencing and other relevant portions of the record. The Court held an evidentiary hearing on defendant's Section 2255 motion on April 2 and 5, 2004. The witnesses at the hearing were Mr. Ramsey and his retained trial counsel, Allan M. Palmer, Esquire, whose competence and effectiveness Mr. Ramsey challenges on this motion. For the reasons that follow, the Court grants defendant's motion for relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2255.

I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

The defendant, Charles W. Ramsey, was charged in a two-count indictment with one count of possession with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of cocaine on November 21, 1995, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(B)(ii), and one count of attempted possession with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of cocaine on the same date, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846. A jury trial began before this Court on May 14, 1996, and concluded on May 21, 1996, when the jury found the defendant guilty on the first count, possession with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of cocaine. As instructed, the jury accordingly did not consider the second count, attempted possession.

Before sentencing, the defendant filed a pro se motion for a new trial, arguing ineffective assistance of counsel. The Court appointed Mr. Carter to represent Mr. Ramsey on that motion and on appeal. In a Memorandum Opinion and Order dated June 27, 1997, the Court denied the motion for new trial because it had not been timely filed under Rule 33 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. After a subsequent hearing, the Court issued an Opinion and Order, dated December 15, 1997, rejecting all of Mr. Ramsey's sentencingrelated arguments. The Court concluded that, under the relevant provisions of the United States Sentencing Guidelines and based upon the facts presented at trial, a total of 44 kilograms of cocaine was attributable to Mr. Ramsey for Guideline sentencing purposes.

The Court denied the government's motion to depart upward under Section 4A1.3 of the Guidelines and, in view of Mr. Ramsey's criminal history, concluded that Mr. Ramsey should be sentenced within the Guideline range for a defendant with an Offense Level of 34 and Criminal History Category IV, 210 to 262 months. On December 19, 1997, the Court sentenced the defendant to 210 months' incarceration, followed by eight years of supervised release. The defendant appealed, and the court of appeals affirmed Mr. Ramsey's conviction and sentence on February 9, 1999. See United States v. Ramsey, 165 F.3d 980 (D.C. Cir.), cert. denied, 528 U.S. 894 (1999).

On August 16, 2000, the defendant filed a pro se motion for appointment of counsel and a motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. He filed an amendment to that motion one month later. On September 22, 2000, the Court granted the defendant's motion for appointment of counsel and again appointed Mr. Carter to represent him. Various other papers subsequently were filed, some pro se and some by counsel, until, on August 16, 2002, the defendant filed a pro se motion seeking the replacement of his appointed counsel on the ground that counsel had a potential conflict of interest. On September 13, 2002, upon consideration of that motion and defense counsel's motion to withdraw, the Court granted the motion to withdraw. On October 20, 2002, the Court appointed defendant's present counsel, Steven Tabackman, to represent Mr. Ramsey. On September 6, 2003, the defendant, through his new counsel, filed a reply to the government's opposition to his motion for relief under Section 2255. The government filed a response on February 13, 2004, and the defendant filed a surreply on March 17, 2004. As noted, the hearing on the motion was held on April 2 and 5, 2004.

II. THE TRIAL

In her opening statement at trial, the prosecutor told the jury that her primary witness would be Francisco Fierro, a Miami drug dealer who had delivered drugs to the defendant in the District of Columbia on approximately eight occasions from 1992 to 1994. See Transcript of Ramsey Trial ("Tr.") at 138-39. The prosecutor explained that the relationship ended in 1995 when Fierro was arrested for attempted murder. See id. at 141. The prosecutor said that Mr. Fierro subsequently agreed with the United States Drug Enforcement Administration ("DEA") to try to sell drugs to Mr. Ramsey in an effort to help Fierro's brother-in-law, who was then serving a jail sentence, and to get a deal for himself on the attempted murder charge. See id. at 141-42. According to the prosecutor, Mr. Fierro, at DEA's urging, attempted to arrange a five-kilogram drug transaction with Mr. Ramsey. In furtherance of the plan to catch Mr. Ramsey in a drug deal, between September 1995 and November 21, 1995, Mr. Fierro held numerous telephone conversations with Mr. Ramsey, all of which were recorded on audiotape. There also were a number of face-to-face meetings that were videotaped. See id. at 142. Finally, the prosecutor indicated that Mr. Fierro would describe for the jury, and that the videotapes would show the transaction on November 21, 1995, which was the subject of the indictment. See id. at 143-44.

In his opening statement, Allan Palmer, defendant's lawyer, stated that Mr. Fierro's cooperation with the DEA was an attempt to obtain lenient treatment at a time when he was locked up without bond in a Miami jail charged with attempted murder and the use of a handgun during the commission of a felony. See Tr. at 146-47. Mr. Palmer stated that Mr. Fierro first unsuccessfully tried to induce some of his drug-dealer friends in Miami to buy or sell drugs, setting them up to be caught by the DEA. See id. at 147. According to Mr. Palmer, Mr. Fierro, unable to make a case against anyone in Miami, devised a scheme to "set up" Mr. Ramsey. As part of the scheme, Fierro urged Mr. Ramsey to pose as a big-time drug dealer when introduced to Fierro's out-of-town drug connection, even though Fierro knew Ramsey had stopped selling drugs years earlier. See id. at 149-51. It was for this reason, according to Mr. Palmer, that Mr. Ramsey did in fact appear to be a drug dealer talking about drugs on some of the audiotapes and videotapes. See id. at 150. In sum, Mr. Palmer told the jury in his opening statement: "[Y]ou will determine whether or not Charles Ramsey was set up, entrapped into receiving these drugs from Francisco and whether or not he intended to distribute or sell them in the street." Id. at 152.

Francisco Fierro was the government's primary witness at trial. He testified that he had delivered drugs to the defendant eight times between 1993 and 1994, selling him a total of 39 kilograms of cocaine during that period. See Tr. at 259-74. While the first delivery was for a small amount, the subsequent deliveries were, in each instance, of amounts between one and ten kilograms of cocaine at a price of approximately $20,000 per kilogram. See id. at 265, 270. Mr. Fierro generally would meet with Mr. Ramsey in a hotel room, where Fierro would give him one or two kilograms of cocaine; Ramsey then would leave, sell the drugs over a period of hours or days, and return later with payment. See id. at 265-67, 270-71. This procedure is known as "fronting" the drugs. Once Mr. Fierro had received his money, he would "front" the defendant another one or two kilograms of cocaine. See id. Fierro testified that in 1994 he left the drug trade but returned in September of 1995 to assist the DEA in a "reverse" undercover operation against Mr. Ramsey. See id. at 274-81.

Fierro and Agent Robert Valentine both testified about several face-to-face meetings and numerous telephone conversations Fierro had had with the defendant from late-September 1995 until the date of defendant's arrest on November 21, 1995. Most of the conversations were recorded. See Tr. at 281-82, 287-88. On one occasion, on September 25, 1995, the defendant and Mr. Fierro met in a hotel room and discussed a five-kilogram cocaine deal. Fierro told Mr. Ramsey that a drug distributor named "Tony" (in reality DEA undercover Agent Robert Valentine) required payment in advance. See Tr. at 311-12, 317-19, 323-24 (Fierro testimony). Ramsey responded that he had no money to pay for drugs. See Tr. at 403-04. This meeting was videotaped. See id. at 311-12. On October 6, 1995, the defendant met with "Tony" (Agent Valentine) at a restaurant, they discussed a fivekilogram deal, and the defendant asked that the drugs be "fronted." See Tr. at 453-58 (Valentine testimony). On October 24, 1995, Mr. Ramsey met Agent Valentine and Mr. Fierro at a hotel in Washington, D.C. In an audiotaped conversation, the defendant asked to see the cocaine and Valentine showed him five kilograms, but ultimately Ramsey refused to pay for it except under the fronting arrangement. See id. at 458-63. On November 2, 1995, Agent Valentine and Mr. Ramsey met in Valentine's car and Valentine again showed him five kilograms of cocaine. This meeting also was videotaped. See id. at 463-69.

Because of statements Mr. Ramsey had made at a number of these meetings, the DEA concluded that Ramsey preferred to deal solely with Mr. Fierro and that he would not deal unless the drugs were fronted. See Tr. at 516-19. As a result, the testimony showed, the DEA pulled Agent Valentine out of the operation and instructed Mr. Fierro to arrange to sell drugs to Mr. Ramsey under his old procedure. Fierro contacted Ramsey on November 15, 1995, and offered to front him five kilograms of cocaine. Ramsey and Fierro agreed to meet on November 21, 1995, and did in fact meet on that day in a hotel room in Washington, D.C.; this meeting was videotaped. See Tr. at 336-40; 377-78. Fierro showed the defendant five one-kilogram bricks of cocaine, and they agreed on a price of $20,000 for each brick. The defendant agreed to take two kilograms at that time and to return later for the other three. See id. at 377-78. The defendant placed two bricks of cocaine inside a duffle bag and left the hotel room. He was arrested by DEA agents in the corridor.

At trial, the credibility of Mr. Fierro and certain of the DEA agents was the focus of the defense. Notably, Mr. Fierro testified on cross-examination that he had worked with the narcotics squad of the State Police in Florida, introducing targets of crack cocaine investigations to undercover police officers. See Tr. at 416-17, 422-25. He testified, however, that he had never told anyone at the DEA, except possibly for Agent Curtis, that he was working for the state police. See id. at 425-26. Agent Valentine testified that he knew nothing about Fierro's cooperation with the Florida State Police. See id. at 498. Mr. Fierro testified that he had agreed to participate in the DEA sting against Mr. Ramsey as part of a deal arranged with the Florida State Attorney's Office, according to which Mr. Fierro would receive probation on his then-pending charge of attempted murder. See Tr. at 276-77. The DEA agents testified, however, that they had not sought lenient treatment for Mr. Fierro from the Florida State Attorney and that participation in the sting had not been discussed with the State Attorney's Office. See id. at 187-190, 192-93, 214. Mr. James Cobb, an Assistant State Attorney in Florida, contradicted this testimony. Mr. Cobb testified that he had received indeed a call from DEA Agent Curtis and had been asked by the DEA to give Mr. Fierro a lenient plea deal so that Fierro could be released to travel outside the state to assist "on a really big case." Tr. at 360-62.*fn1

On the day the prosecutor announced her intention to call Mr. Cobb as a witness, she gave to Mr. Palmer the file Mr. Cobb had maintained in the Fierro case. Mr. Palmer immediately expressed dismay at the prospect of having Mr. Cobb testify without the defense first being provided an adequate opportunity to review the file, stating that "it would take me about three hours to read this file." Tr. at 350. The Court then announced that it would provide the defense an adequate period of time within which to do so, at least until after lunch. See id. at 350-51. Mr. Palmer declined to take advantage of the offer and instead agreed that Mr. Cobb's testimony should be taken immediately, "because I guess in the long run it's really not too relevant to our case." Id. at 351. The Court then explained the potential relevance of the testimony, noting specifically that if Mr. Cobb testified "inconsistent[ly] with what any of the DEA agents said, then it goes to their credibility." Id. Further, "I think it goes to both Fierro's credibility, motivation and incentive to push Mr. Ramsey to do something he might not want to have done." Id. at 352. Mr. Palmer was unmoved, suggesting that "we should start cranking it up now and move the case." Id. at 352.

On Thursday, May 16, 1996, while Agent Valentine was testifying, the prosecutor asked him to read a statement that Mr. Ramsey had made to Valentine and Agent McGrath the evening of Ramsey's arrest. See Tr. at 470-71. In the statement, Mr. Ramsey admitted to having had several meetings with "Tony" and Fierro for the purpose of negotiating sales of cocaine among the three men. See id. at 476-77. Mr. Palmer made no objection to the reading of the statement at that time. Nor had he moved to suppress the statement before trial because he thought (erroneously, as it turned out) that Mr. Ramsey had waived his Miranda rights, and because Mr. Palmer concluded that the statement was voluntary. See Tr. at 471-73.

The next day, Agent Robert Woods testified that after Mr. Ramsey's arrest, and some time before Ramsey spoke to Agent Valentine, Woods had advised Ramsey of his Miranda rights and Mr. Ramsey declined to make any statement. See Tr. at 578-81, 598. Both the prosecutor and defense counsel were surprised by this testimony. See Tr. at 642-43. Initially, both had assumed that Ramsey had waived his rights when speaking with Agent Woods, and that Agents Valentine and McGrath later had re-advised Ramsey of his rights, he had waived them again, and had proceeded to make a statement. See id. at 644. After hearing this testimony, Mr. Palmer looked more closely at the statement and the advice-of-rights card completed by Valentine and McGrath. He noticed for the first time that Mr. Ramsey had given his statement at 7:45 p.m. but did not sign the waiver form until 8:15 p.m., after ...


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