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Dawn v. United States

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

October 11, 2019

JAMES DAWN, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES, Respondent

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          DOUGLAS P. WOODLOCK UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This habeas corpus proceeding under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 arises from the 2014 convictions upon a guilty plea of the Petitioner, James Dawn, for being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1), and for dealing in firearms without a license in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(a)(1)(A).

         On January 13, 2015, I sentenced Mr. Dawn to 180 months of incarceration, the mandatory minimum sentence as a result of the application of statutory career criminal provisions contained in the Armed Career Criminal Act of 1983 (“ACCA”). See 18 U.S.C. § 924(e) (providing penalties for persons who violate 18 U.S.C. § 922(g) and have three previous convictions “for a violent felony or serious drug offense, or both, committed on occasions different from one another…”).

         Mr. Dawn appealed his conviction and sentence, arguing (1) that errors during the plea colloquy rendered his decision to plead guilty involuntary and (2) that his predicate offenses could no longer be considered violent felonies for purposes of the armed career criminal provisions in light of the Supreme Court's decision in Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015). The First Circuit affirmed, United States v. Dawn, 842 F.3d 3 (1st Cir. 2016), and the Supreme Court denied certiorari. Dawn v. United States, 136 S.Ct. 1361 (2017).

         Mr. Dawn then filed this petition for habeas corpus recalibrating his claims to assert that his trial counsel improperly promised that he would not be sentenced as an armed career criminal if he pled guilty.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background

         In the Spring of 2013, law enforcement agents started investigating the unlawful sale of guns in and around Brockton, Massachusetts. On May 1, 2013, a cooperating witness (“CW”) called Mr. Dawn to negotiate a price for a firearm and ammunition. The CW purchased the firearm, a Haskell JHP .45-caliber pistol, from Mr. Dawn later that same evening.

         On September 16, 2013, law enforcement officers again directed the CW to purchase another firearm from Mr. Dawn. Just after noon that day, Mr. Dawn met with the CW and showed him the firearm. He instructed the CW to wipe the firearm down to remove any fingerprints and then completed the transaction. Mr. Dawn told the CW that he had gotten the firearm, a Garate .32 caliber pistol, from his brother, who had obtained it from an unknown source. Law enforcement officers conducted surveillance during this meeting and created a video recording of the transaction.

         After the transaction was completed, the CW turned the Garate pistol over to an agent of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (“ATF”), who determined that both the firearm and the ammunition in it had been manufactured outside of Massachusetts.

         Shortly thereafter, Mr. Dawn contacted the CW about another firearm that Mr. Dawn wanted to sell. According to the CW, Mr. Dawn had obtained a “street sweeper” from an unknown source, who was scheduled to deliver the weapon to his home. The CW ultimately made arrangements to purchase the “street sweeper” from Mr. Dawn on September 18, 2013 at Mr. Dawn's home. After negotiating in person with Mr. Dawn and his brother that evening, the CW purchased the “street sweeper, ” a Mossberg model 500A, 12-gauge shotgun, from Mr. Dawn. The entire transaction was recorded through a wire worn by the CW.

         At the time of these firearm transactions, Mr. Dawn did not have a license to sell firearms and had several prior felony convictions, including convictions in 1989 for Assault and Battery with a Dangerous Weapon, in 1992 for Assault with a Dangerous Weapon, and in 2000 and 2007 for Trafficking Cocaine.

         B. Procedural Background and the Present Petition

         1. The Original Prosecution

         On March 19, 2014, Mr. Dawn was indicted in this court on one count arising from the September 16, 2013 Garate pistol transaction he conducted with the CW, of being a Felon in Possession of a Firearm and Ammunition, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1), and on one count of Dealing in Firearms without a License, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(a)(1)(A) based on the three firearms transactions with the CW, which took place on May 3, 2013, September 16, 2013, and September 18, 2013. He was arrested on March 24, 2014 and in his initial appearance before Magistrate Judge Bowler, [1] the Government stated it believed Mr. Dawn was an armed career criminal and therefore subject to a maximum term of life imprisonment.[2]

         On August 21, 2014, the parties notified me that Mr. Dawn intended to plead guilty to the charges without a formal plea agreement with the Government. I held a hearing pursuant to Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure on September 9, 2014, during which I heard the basis for the charges and inquired of Mr. Dawn. I also reminded Mr. Dawn that I would make my own determination about his sentence based on my understanding of the facts of his case and inquired of him whether he understood the maximum penalties that he could face. At the close of the hearing, I determined that Mr. Dawn's decision to plead guilty was knowing and voluntary and accepted his plea of guilty.

         On January 2, 2015, trial counsel moved to continue sentencing. Counsel indicated that he was in the process of challenging two of Mr. Dawn's prior convictions in the state courts and that at least one of the challenged convictions was a predicate offense for the purpose of the ACCA sentencing enhancement at issue here. I denied the motion during the sentencing hearing and stated that, if the collateral attacks in the state court were later successful, Mr. Dawn could file a motion to correct his sentence under Rule 35 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. I also permitted Mr. Dawn to speak to counsel about that process before moving forward with sentencing.

         Mr. Dawn was sentenced on January 13, 2015 to 180 months incarceration, the mandatory minimum sentence for the felon in possession charge in light of my determination ...


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