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Martin v. United States

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

July 20, 2015

JAMES WILLIAM MARTIN, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

WILLIAM L. OSTEEN, Jr., District Judge.

Petitioner James William Martin ("Petitioner"), a federal prisoner, has brought a motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. (Doc. 54.)[1] The Government has filed a response (Doc. 61), and the time has run for Petitioner to reply without any such filing, even though this court allowed an extension. (Doc. 64.) The matter is now ripe for a ruling, and for the following reasons, this Petition will be dismissed. See Rule 8, Rules Governing Section 2255 Proceedings.

I. BACKGROUND

In pertinent part, Petitioner was indicted for (1) conspiracy to knowingly, intentionally and unlawfully distribute methamphetamine (Count One, Object One) and cocaine hydrochloride (Count One, Object Two); (2) possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine (Count Two); and (3) possession with intent to distribute cocaine hydrochloride (Count Three). (Indictment (Doc. 1).) Petitioner entered into a plea agreement by which he agreed to plead guilty to Object One of Count One, and have Object Two of Count One, Count Two, and Count Three dismissed. (Plea Agreement (Doc. 29) ¶ 5(a).)

As part of the Plea Agreement, Petitioner agreed to stipulate that the amount for which he would be accountable based on his guilty plea would be "50 grams or more of a mixture and substance containing a detectable amount of methamphetamine." (Id. ¶ 5(b).) At the change of plea hearing, Petitioner stated on the record that he had reviewed the factual basis with his counsel and had no objection to it. (Change of Plea Hr'g Tr. (Doc. 47) at 16.) He also indicated he understood and had no objection to the Plea Agreement. (Id. at 5-6.) Petitioner then pled guilty to Count One, Object One, and the Government did not oppose a subsequent motion to dismiss the remaining charges. (Id. at 15.)

At the sentencing hearing, Petitioner was sentenced to 150 months of imprisonment, representing a downward variance from the guideline range of 168-210 months. (Sentencing Hr'g Tr. (Doc. 48) at 3, 25-30; Judgment (Doc. 38).) This court granted a variance in large part because (1) Petitioner had admitted to many of the acts and drug quantities that were incorporated into the Indictment and the Factual Basis, and (2) this court did not want to discourage defendants from giving full confessions in drug cases. (Sentencing Hr'g Tr. (Doc. 48) at 18-19.)

Petitioner appealed his sentence to the Fourth Circuit, challenging the reasonableness of his sentence. United States v. Martin, 581 Fed.Appx. 314, 314 (4th Cir. 2014) (per curiam). The Fourth Circuit affirmed, stating that Petitioner's sentence was reflective of careful consideration by this court as to both Petitioner's individualized circumstances and the need to treat similarly situated defendants in a similar manner. Id. at 315.

Petitioner then filed this Motion to Vacate, Set Aside or Correct Sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. ("Petition" (Doc. 54).) In his Petition, Petitioner sets out two similar grounds for ineffective assistance. First, Petitioner contends that his counsel failed to object to the use of the drugs associated with Object Two of Count One of the Indictment to calculate the guideline range at sentencing. (See id. at 4 (Ground One).)[2] Second, Petitioner contends that his counsel was ineffective for not objecting to the use of other drug amounts not in the Indictment or Plea Agreement to calculate the offense level at sentencing. (See id. at 5 (Ground Two).)

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Both of Petitioner's alleged grounds for relief are claims of ineffective assistance of counsel during the plea bargaining and sentencing stages of the underlying proceeding. In order to prove ineffective assistance of counsel, a petitioner must first establish that his attorney's performance fell below a reasonable standard for defense attorneys, and second, that he was prejudiced by this performance. See Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984). A petitioner bears the burden of affirmatively showing deficient performance. See Spencer v. Murray, 18 F.3d 229, 233 (4th Cir. 1994). To establish prejudice, Petitioner must show that there is a reasonable probability that but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different. Strickland, 466 U.S. at 694. Petitioner is not entitled to a hearing based upon unsupported, conclusory allegations. See Nickerson v. Lee, 971 F.2d 1125, 1136 (4th Cir. 1992) (recognizing that to obtain an evidentiary hearing a petitioner must produce some evidence that the claim might have merit), abrog'n on other grounds recog'd, Yeatts v. Angelone, 166 F.3d 255 (4th Cir. 1999).

III. ANALYSIS

For the reasons stated herein, Grounds One and Two raised by Petitioner fail both the "performance" and "prejudice" prongs of the Strickland analysis. The two grounds for relief overlap considerably, [3] and because Ground Two provides more detail than Ground One, this court will address Ground Two before addressing Ground One.

A. Ground Two

Petitioner contends that his counsel was ineffective for not objecting to the use of drug amounts for which Petitioner did not plead guilty and that were not reasonably foreseeable to Petitioner. (Petition (Doc. 54) at 5.) Specifically, Petitioner argues that his counsel should have objected to the court's use of cocaine hydrochloride and marijuana quantities, in addition to the amount of methamphetamine for which Petitioner pled guilty, in calculating the offense level for purposes of sentencing, because these drug quantities were attributable ...


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