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Stoltz v. United States

United States District Court, W.D. Tennessee, Eastern Division

August 16, 2019

TONYA STOLTZ, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent.

          ORDER DENYING MOTIONS, DENYING § 2255 PETITION, DENYING CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY, AND DENYING LEAVE TO APPEAL IN FORMA PAUPERIS

          J. DANIEL BREEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Petitioner, Tonya Stoltz, has filed a motion to vacate, set aside, or correct her sentence (the “Petition”), pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. (Docket Entry (“D.E.”) 1.) For the reasons that follow, the Petition is DENIED.

         BACKGROUND

         The following background summary is taken from the record in this case and in Stoltz's underlying criminal case, United States v. Stoltz, No. 1:15-cr-10013-JDB-1 (W.D. Tenn.) (“No. 1:15-cr-10013-JDB-1”).[1]

         Arrest and Preliminary Proceedings

         “On December 3, 2014, [local law enforcement] investigators . . . assisted Tennessee Department of Corrections (TDOC) probation officers with a home check at” Stoltz's home in Medina, Tennessee. (Presentence Report (the “PSR”) at ¶ 7.)[2] “When [they] arrived to conduct the home check, Stoltz was present with” a male individual. (Id. at ¶ 10.) “Stoltz answered the front door of the residence with two purses on her person, ” which contained “a glass smoke pipe, a digital scale, a plastic snort tube, a decorative container containing approximately 2.8 grams of methamphetamine/ice, a metal container that contained small individual baggies, and a plastic smoke pipe.” (Id. at ¶ 7.) “A search of the residence revealed” several additional items of drug paraphernalia, as well as “two photo copies of one hundred dollar bills[, ] . . . a counterfeit ten dollar bill, ” one pound of synthetic marijuana, “two loose pseudoephedrine pills[, ] . . . a pill bottle containing . . . marijuana seeds[, ] and a burnt aluminum foil strip with [methamphetamine] residue . . . .” (Id. at ¶ 8.) Also “recovered [was] a small Playmate red and white cooler on a storage shelf above the dryer that contained various components used in the manufacturing of methamphetamine.” (Id. at ¶ 9.)

         “Stoltz denied knowledge of the illegal narcotics, drug paraphernalia, counterfeit money, and the cooler . . . .” (Id. at ¶ 11.) Both Stoltz and the male individual were “transported to the Criminal Justice Complex and charged accordingly.” (Id.)

         “On December 18, 2014, investigators with the West Tennessee Judicial Violent Crime and Drug Task Force utilized a confidential informant (CI) to arrange a delivery of one gram of methamphetamine (in ice form) from Stoltz to the CI in the parking lot of Walgreen's in Milan, Tennessee.” (Id. at ¶ 12.) Stoltz was found with “a plastic baggy that contained . . . one gram of methamphetamine.” (Id.) “A search of [her] vehicle revealed another bag of crystal methamphetamine[, ] a plastic bag” containing synthetic marijuana, and drug paraphernalia, including “a set of weighing scales.” (Id.)

         On February 20, 2015, state and federal law enforcement officers interviewed Petitioner (the “February 2015 meeting”) at the offices of the 28th West Tennessee Drug Task Force (the “28 DTF”). (Id. at ¶ 13.) Law enforcement officers who attended the meeting included Chad Jackson and David Blurton from 28 DTF, and agents Charles Stewart and Mike Woodham from the federal Drug Enforcement Agency (the “DEA”). (No. 1:15-cr-10013-JDB-1, D.E. 2-1 at PageID 13; No. 1:15-cr-10013-JDB-1, D.E. 80 at PageID 277.)

         The purpose of the meeting was for Petitioner to assist law enforcement by providing information about the criminal activities of other individuals. (Id., D.E. 80 at PageID 276, 282, 307-08.) During the meeting, Stoltz provided such information and, according to Agent Stewart's criminal complaint affidavit, also “stated that, in . . . 2014, she purchased one pound of crystal methamphetamine from” Individual 1, and that she had, “about ten times, ” purchased “anywhere from one to two ounces [of methamphetamine] at a time” from Individual 2 in 2014.[3] (Id., D.E. 2-1 at PageID 13, 14.)

         On March 2, 2015, Stewart received information from state Investigator Christi Foster that an informant had told her that Stoltz, who was on probation at the time, recently travelled to northern Mississippi to buy drugs. (Id., D.E. 80 at PageID 309-10.) A criminal complaint against Stoltz was filed in federal court. (Id., D.E. 80 at PageID 311; id., D.E. 1.) In the affidavit supporting the complaint, Stewart recited the inculpatory information revealed by Stoltz at the February 2015 meeting with law enforcement officers. (Id., D.E. 2-1 at PageID 12-14.) An arrest warrant was issued. (Id., D.E. 3.)

         The next day, March 3, 2015, a state probation officer went to Stoltz's house for a home check. (PSR at ¶ 17.) Petitioner “was on active probation” at the time, and was “the sole occupant of the residence.” (Id.) The probation officer was assisted by state law enforcement officers, and by federal agents, including Stewart. (Id.) The officers recovered “three separate bags of methamphetamine: one bag containing approximately 2.0 grams of methamphetamine/ice, one bag containing 1.2 grams of methamphetamine powder, and one bag containing approximately 3.7 grams of methamphetamine/ice.” (Id.) “The total amount was approximately 6.9 grams of methamphetamine.” (Id.) Also discovered were “a glass smoke pipe[, ] . . . two alprazolam pills, fifty four Meloxicam pills, a marijuana blunt[, ] approximately 1.6 grams of marijuana, digital scales with residue, and miscellaneous clear plastic baggies.” (Id.) Petitioner was arrested. (Id. at ¶ 18.)

         On March 4, 2015, Stoltz appeared before Magistrate Judge Edward G. Bryant, and an attorney was appointed to represent her.[4] (No. 1:15-cr-10013-JDB-1, D.E. 4.) Through counsel, Defendant “waived [her] right to a detention hearing, but requested a probable cause hearing.” (Id., D.E. 10.) Magistrate Judge Bryant held a probable cause hearing on March 10, 2015, at which Stewart and state probation officer Eugene Wardfin testified. (Id.) “No witness [was] presented by the [Defendant].” (Id.) The magistrate judge found that probable cause existed for the March 3, 2015, arrest. (Id.) He also “bound the case over to further action of the grand jury, ” and remanded the Defendant to the custody of the United States Marshal. (Id.) On March 23, 2015, the grand jury returned a one-count indictment alleging that, “[b]eginning at . . . least as early as in or about March 2014, until on or after March 3, 2015, ” Stoltz distributed and possessed with intent to distribute “a Schedule II controlled substance, . . . in violation of Title 21, U.S.C. § 841(a)(1).” (Id., D.E. 15 at PageID 31.)

         On April 23, 2015, Stoltz's attorney was granted permission to withdraw his representation (id., D.E. 21), and new counsel was appointed (id., D.E. 22.) New counsel's motion to withdraw his representation was granted on May 7, 2015 (id., D.E. 25), and attorney Robert Thomas[5] was appointed (id., D.E. 27).

         Guilty Plea

         According to counsel, he first met with Petitioner on or about May 19, 2015. (DE. 27-1 at PageID 375.) At the meeting, he “learned that [she] was in the process of assisting law enforcement by providing information with regard to criminal activity that may [have been] ongoing in the West Tennessee area.” (Id.) He was also told that she “was . . . helping the Madison and Gibson County Sheriffs' Departments with two cold case homicides.” (Id.) Counsel and Stoltz then “met with law enforcement on at least four (4) occasions to discuss information that [she] had obtained in furtherance of this assistance.” (Id.) She “also had at least one meeting with the U.S. Marshals without counsel present.” (Id.) Throughout “the course of [counsel's] representation, ” Petitioner “maintain[ed] . . . that she did not make the statement attributed to her” from the February 2015 meeting and “contained in the DEA Report of Investigation that was included in the discovery files.” (Id.)

         “Given the level of . . . Stoltz's cooperation with law enforcement, ” counsel

discussed with [his client] on several occasions the decision as to whether she should contest the admissibility of the statement given [at the February 2015 meeting] or continue assisting law enforcement. Said discussions lasted well into the representation, which [was] evidenced by the filing of a Motion for Additional Time to File Pretrial Motions on . . . Stoltz's behalf on September 27, 2015. After finally weighing her options, . . . Stoltz decided to rely on her assistance rather than challenging the statement in hopes of receiving a lesser sentence.

(Id. at PageID 375-76.)

         On October 14, 2015, Petitioner, with the assistance of counsel, entered into a plea agreement with the Government. (No. 1:15-cr-10013-JDB-1, D.E. 54.) The agreement provided, in pertinent part, as follows:

         The defendant agrees to plead guilty to Count 1 of the Indictment in the above-styled cause.

The Government agrees not to object to a recommendation by the probation office or a ruling of the court which awards the defendant an appropriate-level decrease in the base offense level for acceptance of responsibility. If the offense level in the Presentence Report is 16 or greater and the court accepts a recommendation in the Presentence Report that defendant receive two points for acceptance of responsibility, the United States agrees to move for an additional one-point reduction for acceptance of responsibility for a total of three points.
The Government agrees to advise the probation office and the court of the extent and nature of the defendant's cooperation. The defendant's agreement to cooperate with the government is made pursuant to U.S.S.G. 1B1.8(a) & (b). If the defendant provides full, complete, truthful, and substantial cooperation to the government, the government reserving the right to make the decision on the nature and extent of the defendant's cooperation, then the Government agrees to consider moving for a downward departure under U.S.S.G. § 5K1.1, 18 U.S.C. § 3553(e), or Rule 35 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. Both parties acknowledge that the district court has the power to deny a motion for downward departure. The defendant hereby agrees that the government does not promise, by the terms of this agreement, to file a Section 5K1.1, 18 U.SC. § 3553(e) or Rule 35 motion.[6]

(Id., D.E. 54 at PageID 126-29).)

         The section titled “PLEA AGREEMENT CONSTITUTES ENTIRE AGREEMENT” provided as follows:

There are no other agreements between and among the parties to this agreement. The defendant is satisfied that all acts and/or any omissions of counsel for the defense have been the result of reasonable professional judgment and that defendant has been provided adequate legal representation in this case. The defendant enters this agreement freely, knowingly, and voluntarily, and upon the advice of counsel.

(Id., D.E. 54 at PageID 129 (bolding omitted).).

         The Court held a change of plea hearing on October 14, 2015. (Id., D.E. 79.) At the start of the hearing, the Court advised the Defendant that she should let the Court or her attorney know if there is anything that she did not understand, and she stated that she would do so. (Id., D.E. 79 at PageID 228.) She answered “Yes, sir” when asked whether she had had “sufficient opportunity to discuss th[e] matter with [her] attorney.” (Id., D.E. 79 at PageID 229-30.) When asked if she was “satisfied with [her attorney's] advice and representation, ” she replied “He's a good lawyer, yes, sir.” (Id., D.E. 79 at PageID 230.)

         The Court advised Stoltz of the trial and appellate rights she was giving up and the potential penalties for the crime she was pleading guilty to, and she stated that she understood. (Id., D.E. 79 at PageID 231-34.) The Court reiterated that she “w[ould] be giving up th[e] right to appeal that conviction if [she] d[id] plead guilty, ” and asked her if she understood. (Id., D.E. 79 at PageID 234.) She answered “Yes, sir.” (Id., D.E. 79 at PageID 234.)

         The Court inquired whether the Defendant had “had a chance to read [the indictment] over and [to] discuss it with Mr. Thomas, ” and the Defendant stated she had. (Id., D.E. 79 at PageID 235.) The Court read the sole count of the indictment in its entirety in open court, and Stoltz affirmed that she understood the charge. (Id., D.E. 79 at PageID 235.) The Court explained the “maximum . . . potential penalty, ” and, after conferring with counsel, the Defendant stated that she understood. (Id., D.E. 79 at PageID 236.) Stoltz denied that “anyone threatened [her] or tried to force [her] to plead guilty to the charge.” (Id., D.E. 79 at PageID 237.) She affirmed that the signature on the plea agreement was hers, and that she had “signed that document following [her] review of it with [her] attorney freely and voluntarily.” (Id., D.E. 79 at PageID 238.) The Government's attorney summarized the plea agreement, including the appeal waiver provision. (Id., D.E. 79 at PageID 238-40.) The Court asked the Defendant if she understood and agreed to the terms of the plea agreement, and she answered “Yes, sir.” (Id., D.E. 79 at PageID 240-41.)

         Stoltz affirmed that she and her attorney had “discuss[ed] . . . the application of what is called the United States Sentencing Guidelines.” (Id., D.E. 79 at PageID 241-42.) The Court informed her that the Guidelines are “no longer mandatory, ” but that the Court was “still directed to consider them, along with other factors . . . in determining what an appropriate sentence might be in [her] case.” (Id., D.E. 79 at PageID 242.) When she was advised that her “sentence could be reduced . . . if the government was to make a motion under Section 5K1.1 of the sentencing [G]uidelines, sometimes referred to as the substantial assistance motion, ” the following exchange occurred:

THE COURT: Now it is solely up to the government to decide whether or not to make that motion.
Do you understand that, ma'am?
THE DEFENDANT: Yes, sir.
THE COURT: Solely up to them. I don't have any—I don't have any involvement in whether or not the government makes that motion.
Now if the government did make that motion, then it will be up to me to decide, first of all, whether to grant the motion. And then secondly, to what extent, if any, to reduce your sentence based upon that assistance.
Do you understand that, ma'am?
THE DEFENDANT: May I ask a question?
THE COURT: Sure.
THE DEFENDANT: When does that happen?
THE COURT: It generally will probably happen at the time of sentencing.
THE DEFENDANT: Okay. So that's when they put the motion in?
THE COURT: If they are going to do it that's generally when it happens. But that it— there is no guarantee they're going to do that. Okay? They have to make that decision. I don't make that decision about whether they make that motion.
THE DEFENDANT: Okay.
THE COURT: If they don't make the motion then there is nothing I can do about that.
THE DEFENDANT: It doesn't get considered then at all?
THE COURT: No, ma'am. If they don't make the motion then I can't consider it.
THE DEFENDANT: Okay.
THE COURT: Do you follow me?
THE DEFENDANT: Yes, sir.

(Id., D.E. 79 at PageID 244-45.)

         The Court then reviewed the three circumstances in which her appeal waiver would not apply: “if the Court was to sentence [her] above the statutory maximum, ” if the sentence imposed “went above [the Guidelines] range, ” and “if the government itself appealed [the] sentence.” (Id., D.E. 79 at PageID 246.) The Defendant stated that she understood, and that she was freely waiving her appeal rights. (Id., D.E. 79 at PageID 246-47.) When asked, “[O]ther than conversations you may have had with your attorney, Mr. Thomas, about how the advisory [G]uidelines might apply to your case, has anyone else made any type of promise or prediction to you about what your sentence would be if you plead guilty to this charge?” Stoltz stated that she did not understand the question. (Id., D.E. 79 at PageID 248.) The Court clarified:

THE COURT: Okay. So what I don't want you doing is I don't want you pleading guilty to this charge because somebody, whether it be somebody in law enforcement or anyone says I promise you you're not going to get this sentence if you plead. Okay. Nobody had done that, have they?
THE DEFENDANT: No, sir.

(Id., D.E. 79 at PageID 248).

         The Government's attorney then summarized the proof that would have been presented at trial. (Id., D.E. 79 at PageID 248-50.) Stoltz confirmed that the government's “statement [was] correct.” (Id., D.E. 79 at PageID 250.) Finding that “there [was] an independent basis in fact for [the] plea, ” the Court asked the Defendant if she was “pleading guilty to that count because ...


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