United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Northern Division
TERRENCE W. BOYLE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter is before the Court on petitioner's motion to
vacate, set aside, or correct sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 2255. The government has moved to dismiss
petitioner's § 2255 motion pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6)
of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Petitioner has
responded to the motion to dismiss and filed an amended
motion, and the matter is ripe for ruling. For the reasons
discussed below, the government's motion is granted, and
petitioner's motions are denied.
to a written plea agreement, petitioner, Williams, pled
guilty to possession with intent to distribute a quantity of
cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) (count
one), and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug
trafficking crime, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §
924(c)(1)(A) (count two). On October 5, 2016, Petitioner was
sentenced to 36 months' imprisonment on count one and 60
months' imprisonment on count two, consecutive, for a
total sentence of 96 months. Petitioner appealed his
sentence, which was affirmed by the Fourth Circuit.
Petitioner then filed this § 2255 motion. Petitioner
argues that this Court lacked subject matter jurisdiction
over his criminal conviction; that the statutes under which
he was convicted are unconstitutional; and that he received
ineffective assistance of counsel. In response, the
government filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a
claim upon which relief can be granted pursuant to Federal
Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).
survive a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6),
[petitioner's] '[f]actual allegations must be enough
to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, '
thereby 'nudg[ing] their claims across the line from
conceivable to plausible.'" Aziz v. Alcolac
Inc., 658 F.3d 388, 391 (4th Cir. 2011) (quoting
Bell Ail. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555
(2007)). "Under § 2255(b), [u]nless the motion and
files and records of the case conclusively show that the
prisoner is entitled to no relief, the court must grant a
prompt hearing to determine the issues and make findings of
fact and conclusions of law with respect thereto."
United States v. Thomas, 627 F.3d 534, 539 (4th Cir.
2010) (internal quotation omitted). However, "vague and
conclusory allegations contained in a § 2255 petition
may be disposed of without further investigation by the
District Court." United States v. Dyess, 730
F.3d 354, 359 (4th Cir. 2013) (quoting United States v.
Thomas, 221 F.3d 430, 437 (3d Cir. 2000)).
petitioner argues that because he committed his crimes within
Elizabeth City, North Carolina, this court lacked subject
matter jurisdiction. Second, he argues that the convicting
statues are unconstitutionally vague. Apart from ineffective
assistance of counsel claims, collateral review is restricted
to claims raised on direct review. Massaro v. U.S.,
538 U.S. 500, 505-06 (2003). This procedural bar stands
unless the defendant can demonstrate either cause and
prejudice, or actual innocence. Bousley v. United
States, 523 U.S. 614, 622-23 (1998).
did not make a jurisdictional or constitutional claim on his
direct review. Instead, he only challenged the procedural and
substantive reasonableness of his sentence. Petitioner does
not make an argument as to cause and prejudice or his
innocence, and so his claims are procedurally barred.
petitioner argues that he received ineffective assistance of
counsel. To sustain the claim, petitioner must demonstrate
that "counsel's performance fell below an objective
standard of reasonableness." Strickland v.
Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 688 (1984). Additionally,
petitioner must show that there's a reasonable
probability that the result of the proceeding would have gone
differently but for the counsel's errors. Id. at
694. If the proceeding resulted in a guilty plea, the
requirements are more specific: petitioner must demonstrate 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).
first ineffective assistance of counsel claim is based on his
lawyer's failure to file a pre-trial motion to dismiss
the indictment. According to petitioner, this failure was
objectively unreasonable because of the lack of subject
matter jurisdiction. Such a motion, if filed, would have been
frivolous, as the court's subject matter jurisdiction in
this case is apparent. Federal courts have jurisdiction over
federal criminal prosecutions. 18 U.S.C. § 3231;
U.S. v. Hartwell, 448 F.3d 707, 716 (4th. Cir.
2006). Petitioner was indicted, pled guilty, and was
sentenced for violating federal criminal law. His
jurisdictional challenge is meritless, and so his
lawyer's actions did not fall below an objective standard
Strickland standard also applies when determining
the effectiveness of appellate counsel. Petitioner's
claim comes from his lawyer's failure to raise his two
substantive challenges on direct review, which has led to
them being procedurally barred. His jurisdictional challenge
remained as frivolous at the appellate level as it was at the
trial level, and so not raising it was not objectively
unreasonable. Petitioner also claims the two statutes at
issue are unconstitutionally vague. Vagueness challenges that
do not implicate the First Amendment are analyzed on an
as-applied basis. Maynardv. Cartwright, 486 U.S.
356, 361 (1988). Petitioner pled guilty to and was convicted
of violating 21 U.S.C. § 841(a), possession with intent
to distribute a quantity of cocaine, and 18 U.S.C. §
924(c)(1)(A), the possession of a firearm during a drug
trafficking crime. At his arrest, petitioner possessed two
guns and 15 grams of powder cocaine. The conduct he engaged
in was "clearly proscribed" by the statute, making
his vagueness challenge unsustainable. See Holder v.
Humanitarian Law Project, 561 U.S. 1 (2010). Therefore,
it was not unreasonable to not raise the claim on appeal.
Because of this, petitioner's claims of ineffective
assistance of counsel fail.
also filed an amended motion to vacate his sentence. As this
motion simply reiterates his claim as to the effectiveness of
his appellate counsel, that motion is also denied.
to Rule 11 of the Rules Governing Section 2255 Cases
("Habeas Rules"), the district court must issue or
deny a certificate of appealability when it enters a final
order adverse to the applicant. A certificate of
appealability shall not issue absent "a substantial
showing of the denial of a constitutional right." 28
U.S.C. § 2253(c)(2). A petitioner satisfies this
standard by demonstrating that reasonable jurists would find
that an assessment of the constitutional claims is debatable
and that any dispositive procedural ruling dismissing such
claims is. likewise debatable. Miller-El ...