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Johnson v. United States

United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Southern Division

June 3, 2014

TONY JOHNSON, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent.

ORDER

LOUISE W. FLANAGAN, District Judge.

This matter comes before the court on petitioner's motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (DE 86) and the government's motion to dismiss (DE 96). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(b), United States Magistrate Judge William A. Webb entered memorandum and recommendation ("M&R") wherein it is recommended that the court deny petitioner's motion to vacate and grant the government's motion to dismiss (DE 109). Petitioner timely filed objections to the M&R, and a supplement to his motion to vacate, and the issues raised are ripe for ruling. For the reasons that follow, the court adopts the M&R, grants the government's motion for summary judgment, and denies petitioners's motion to vacate.

BACKGROUND

On May 16, 2012, petitioner pled guilty to possession with intent to distribute a quantity of cocaine base, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1). On October 25, 2012, petitioner was sentenced to a term of 105 months imprisonment. Petitioner appealed the conviction and sentence, and the Fourth Circuit affirmed. United States v. Johnson, 535 F.Appx. 245, 247-48 (4th Cir. 2013).

Petitioner filed the instant motion on February 4, 2013, asserting that he received ineffective assistance of counsel. The government moved to dismiss on the basis that the claim is without merit based upon the plea agreement and plea colloquy. Petitioner timely responded. In the M&R, it is recommended that petitioner's motion be denied on the basis that the claim is without merit. Petitioner timely filed objections to the M&R. Petitioner also filed a supplement to his 2255 motion, after the M&R was entered, in which he asserts a claim of ineffective assistance of trial and appellate counsel on the basis of Alleyne v. United States , 133 S.Ct. 2151 (2013), which he also describes in his objections to the M&R.

DISCUSSION

A. Standard of Review

The district court reviews de novo those portions of a magistrate judge's M&R to which specific objections are filed. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b). The court does not perform a de novo review where a party makes only "general and conclusory objections that do not direct the court to a specific error in the magistrate's proposed findings and recommendations." Orpiano v. Johnson , 687 F.2d 44, 47 (4th Cir. 1982). Absent a specific and timely filed objection, the court reviews only for "clear error, " and need not give any explanation for adopting the M&R. Diamond v. Colonial Life & Acc. Ins. Co. , 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005); Camby v. Davis , 718 F.2d 198, 200 (4th Cir.1983). Upon careful review of the record, "the court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

B. Analysis

1. Original claim asserted in 2255 motion

Petitioner claims he received ineffective assistance of counsel because petitioner's counsel told him he was facing a guideline range of 37-47 months, when the court was free to sentence petitioner to a much higher sentence, and in fact did so by sentencing petitioner to a term of 105 months. Petitioner details and reiterates the basis for his claim in his objections to the M&R.

A successful claim for ineffective assistance of counsel requires petitioner to show that "(1) his counsel's performance fell below an objective standard of reasonableness in light of the prevailing professional norms, and (2) there is a reasonable probability that but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different.'" Bell v. Evatt , 72 F.3d 421, 427 (4th Cir. 1995) (quoting Strickland v. Washington , 466 U.S. 668, 688, 694 (1984)).

A plea colloquy "affords the [government] substantial protection against later claims that the plea was the result of inadequate advice." Missouri v. Frye , 132 S.Ct. 1399, 1406 (2012). "[I]n the absence of extraordinary circumstances, allegations in a § 2255 motion that directly contradict the petitioner's sworn statements made during a properly conducted Rule 11 colloquy are always palpably incredible and patently frivolous or false." United States v. Lemaster , 403 F.3d 216, 221-22 (4th Cir. 2005) (internal quotations omitted). "[I]n order to satisfy the prejudice' requirement [in the guilty plea context], the [petitioner] must show that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's errors, he would not have pleaded guilty and would have insisted on going to trial." Hill v. Lockhart , 474 U.S. 52, 59 (1985). "Moreover, to obtain relief on this type of claim, a petitioner must convince the court that a decision to reject the plea bargain would have been rational under the circumstances." Padilla v. Kentucky , 559 U.S. 356, 371-72 (2010) (citations omitted).

The Fourth Circuit previously addressed a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel based upon counsel's erroneous sentencing range prediction in United States v. Foster , 68 F.3d 86, 88 (4th Cir. 1995). There, petitioner argued that if he had been correctly told that he could be sentenced as a career offender, he would not have pleaded guilty, but would have proceeded to trial. See id. The court rejected this argument, reasoning that "any misinformation [petitioner] may have received from his attorney was corrected by the trial court at the Rule 11 hearing, and thus [petitioner] was not prejudiced." Id . The court noted that "if the ...


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