United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division
C. DEVER, III CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
March 14, 2017, Lancaster Thomas ("Thomas") moved
under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to vacate, set aside, or correct
his 144-month sentence [D.E. 115]. On April 6, 2017, the
government moved to dismiss Thomas's section 2255 motion
for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted
[D.E. 119] and filed a memorandum in support [D.E. 120]. On
April 24, 2017, Thomas replied [D.E. 122]. As explained
below, the court grants the government's motion to
dismiss and dismisses Thomas's motion.
December 21, 2015, pursuant to a written plea agreement,
Thomas pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute and possess
with intent to distribute 50 grams or more of methamphetamine
in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1),
841(b)(1)(B), and 846 [D.E. 77]. On March 23, 2016, the court
sentenced Thomas [D.E. 107]. Thomas's advisory guideline
range was 188 to 235 months' imprisonment. See [D.E.
108]. After granting the government's motion under
U.S.S.G. § 5K1.1 [D.E. 102] and thoroughly considering
all relevant factors under 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a), the
court sentenced Thomas to 144 months' imprisonment. See
[D.E. 107]. Thomas did not appeal.
Thomas's section 2255 motion, Thomas claims ineffective
assistance of counsel because "his sentence was
increased on the basis of statements that were obtained [on
the night of his arrest] in violation of [Thomas's] Fifth
Amendment right to not incriminate himself." [D.E.
115-1] 1. According to Thomas, if counsel had challenged
Thomas's admissions concerning the 302 grams of
methamphetamine in one of the vehicles on the night of
Thomas's arrest, "there is a reasonable probability
that [Thomas's] sentencing exposure would have been based
on a significantly lower amount of [m]ethamphetamine."
Id. at 8. The government moves to dismiss the motion
for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be
granted. See [D.E. 119, 120].
motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of
Civil Procedure for "failure to state a claim upon which
relief can be granted" tests a complaint's legal and
factual sufficiency. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S.
662, 677-78 (2009); Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550
U.S. 544, 562-63, 570 (2007); Coleman v. Md. Court of
Appeals, 626 F.3d 187, 190 (4th Cir. 2010),
affd. 566 U.S. 30 (2012); Giarratano v.
Johnson, 521 F.3d 298, 302 (4th Cir. 2008); accord
Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93-94 (2007) (per
curiam). In considering a motion to dismiss, a court need not
accept a complaint's legal conclusions. See, e.g.,
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Similarly, a court "need
not accept as true unwarranted inferences, unreasonable
conclusions, or arguments." Giarratano, 521
F.3d at 302 (quotation omitted); see Iqbal, 556 U.S.
at 677-79. Moreover, a court may take judicial notice of
public records without converting a motion to dismiss into a
motion for summary judgment. See, e.g., Fed.R.Evid.
201: Tellabs, Inc. v. Makor Issues & Rights,
Ltd., 551 U.S. 308, 322 (2007); Philips v. Pitt Cty.
Mem'l Hosp., 572 F.3d 176, 180 (4th Cir. 2009). In
reviewing a section 2255 motion, the court is not limited to
the motion itself. The court may consider "the files and
records of the case." 28 U.S.C. § 2255(b); see
United States v. McGill, 11 F.3d 223, 225 (1st Cir.
1993). Likewise, a court may rely on its own familiarity with
the case. See. e.g., Blackledge v. Allison,
431 U.S. 63, 74 n.4 (1977); United States v. Dyess,
730 F.3d 354, 359-60 (4th Cir. 2013).
Sixth Amendment entitles criminal defendants to the effective
assistance of counsel-that is, representation that does not
fall below an objective standard of reasonableness in light
of prevailing professional norms." Bobby v. Van
Hook, 558 U.S. 4, 7 (2009) (per curiam) (quotations
omitted). The Sixth Amendment right to counsel extends to all
critical stages of a criminal proceeding, including plea
negotiations, trial, sentencing, and appeal. See,
e.g., Missouri v. Frye, 566 U.S. 134, 141
(2012); Lafler v. Cooper, 566 U.S. 156, 165 (2012);
Glover v. United States, 531 U.S. 198, 203-04
(2001). "[S]entencing is a critical stage of trial at
which a defendant is entitled to effective assistance of
counsel, and a sentence imposed without effective assistance
must be vacated and reimposed to permit facts in mitigation
of punishment to be fully and freely developed."
United States v. Breckenridge, 93 F.3d 132, 135 (4th
Cir. 1996); see Glover, 531 U.S. at 203-04. To state
a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel in violation of
the Sixth Amendment, Thomas must show that his attorney's
performance fell below an objective standard of
reasonableness and that he suffered prejudice as a result.
See Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687-96
determining whether counsel's representation was
objectively unreasonable, a court must be "highly
deferential" to counsel's performance and must
attempt to "eliminate the distorting effects of
hindsight." Id. at 689. Therefore, the
"court must indulge a strong presumption that
counsel's conduct falls within the wide range of
reasonable professional assistance." Id. To
prove prejudice, a party must show that there is a
"reasonable probability" that, but for the
deficiency, "the result of the proceeding would have
been different." Id. at 694. When a defendant
pleads guilty, "in order to satisfy the
'prejudice' requirement, the defendant 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); see Lee v. United States,
137 S.Ct. 1958, 1967 (2017). "Surmounting
Strickland's high bar is never an easy task, and
the strong societal interest in finality has special force
with respect to convictions based on guilty pleas."
Lee, 137 S.Ct. at 1967 (quotations and citations
claims that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to
challenge as involuntary Thomas's admission concerning
the 302 grams of methamphetamine in one of the vehicles on
the night of Thomas's arrest. According to Thomas, if
counsel had done so, counsel would have reduced Thomas's
Thomas's Rule 11 proceeding, Thomas swore that he
understood the charge to which he was pleading guilty and the
maximum penalty of 40 years' imprisonment for that
charge. See Rule 11 Tr. [D.E. 123] 14-15. Thomas
swore that he was fully satisfied with his lawyer's legal
services. Id. at 11-13. Thomas also swore that he
had reviewed and discussed his entire plea agreement with
counsel before he signed it, that he understood each term in
the plea agreement, and that the plea agreement constituted
the entire agreement that he had with the government. See
Id. at 17-18. In the plea agreement, Thomas agreed:
That the Court will take into account, but is not bound by
the applicable United States Sentencing Guidelines, that the
sentence has not yet been determined by the Court, that any
estimate of the sentence received from any source is not a
promise, and that even if a sentence up to the statutory
maximum is imposed, the Defendant may not withdraw the plea
Plea Agreement ¶ 3(c). Moreover, the parties agreed in
the plea agreement to certain non-binding recommendations
concerning certain guideline provisions, including that
The relevant, readily provable, quantity of drug weight
applicable to this defendant to be used in the determination
of the base offense level pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 2D1.1
is at least 5 kilograms, but less than 15 kilograms of
methamphetamine. This is the equivalent of a Level 34 Base
Offense level under U.S.S.G. § 2D1.1 (2015).
Id. ¶ 5(b). Thomas also swore that
he understood that the court could sentence him up to the
statutory maximum of 40 years' imprisonment, and that if
the court did so, Thomas could not withdraw his ...