The opinion of the court was delivered by: Deborah K. Chasanow United States District Judge
Presently pending and ready for resolution in this habeas corpus action is a motion to vacate, set aside, or correct sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. (ECF No. 31). The relevant issues have been briefed, and the court now rules pursuant to Local Rule 105.6, no hearing being deemed necessary. For the reasons that follow, the motion will be denied.
On October 20, 2008, Petitioner Jerome Maples appeared in this court and pled guilty to the charge of conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute cocaine. The presentence report ("the PSR") calculated an offense level of 25 and a criminal history category V. The criminal history category resulted from three prior convictions: a 1999 conviction for possession of cocaine in the Superior Court for the District of Columbia (1 point); a conviction for theft over $300 in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County, Maryland (3 points)*fn1 ; and a 2000 conviction for possession of cocaine base in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (3 points). Petitioner received 2 additional points because he was on supervised release at the time of this offense and 1 final point because he had been released less than two years before. The total of 10 points resulted in a criminal history category V. At sentencing on February 2, 2009, the court departed to a criminal history category IV and sentenced Petitioner to 84 months' imprisonment. Petitioner did not appeal.
On January 27, 2010, Petitioner filed a motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, seeking a resentencing based on a reduced criminal history category. (ECF No. 31). Petitioner asserts that his June 25, 2003 state conviction for theft over $300 should not be treated as a felony because, on October 1, 2002, the Maryland legislature changed the statute to require $500 before the offense is a felony. Inasmuch as his offense involved only $337, he asserts that it should no longer be considered a felony for purposes of calculating his criminal history category. Petitioner also appears to assert that the underlying state court conviction should be vacated because his guilty plea was not knowing and voluntary given that he was unaware of the change to the statute. The government filed its opposition to Petitioner's motion on February 28, 2011 (ECF No. 36), and Petitioner did not reply.
In addition to filing his § 2255 petition in this court, Petitioner has also sought certain relief from the Circuit Court for Montgomery County in connection with his felony theft conviction. On January 29, 2010, Petitioner filed a pro se motion for a writ of error coram nobis in the Circuit Court. That motion is still pending.
Title 28 U.S.C. § 2255 requires a petitioner to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that "the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States, or that the court was without jurisdiction to impose such sentence, or that the sentence was in excess of the maximum authorized by law." A pro se movant is, of course, entitled to have his arguments reviewed with appropriate consideration. See Gordon v. Leeke, 574 F.2d 1147, 1151-53 (4th Cir. 1978). But if the § 2255 motion, along with the files and records of the case, conclusively shows that he is not entitled to relief, a hearing on the motion is unnecessary and the claims raised in the motion may be dismissed summarily. 28 U.S.C. § 2255(b).
Petitioner does not contend that any of the grounds for relief set forth in § 2255 applies here. Rather, he appears to advance two arguments in favor of resentencing: (1) his prior state court conviction for theft should not have been considered a "felony" in calculating his criminal history category; and (2) his state conviction should not have counted at all because his guilty plea for that offense was not knowing and voluntary. Even if Petitioner had properly preserved these arguments, neither is availing.*fn2
First, whether the state court theft conviction is deemed a "felony" or a "misdemeanor" is not relevant to calculating Petitioner's criminal history category. For sentencing guidelines purposes, the critical fact is the length of the sentence imposed rather than the label applied to the predicate offense by state law. See U.S.S.G. § 4A1.1-2; United States v. Harrison, Cr. No. 03-430, 2006 WL 1371186, at *4 (E.D.Pa. May 17, 2006) ("An offense can be labeled a 'misdemeanor' by the state statute, but still warrant a three-point enhancement to the criminal history total under the Guidelines because the maximum sentence exceeds one year and one month."). Here, the state court sentenced Petitioner to three years' imprisonment after he pled guilty to theft, resulting in three criminal history points under the federal sentencing guidelines.
Second, even if Petitioner had sought to invalidate his state court theft conviction at sentencing or on direct appeal, such a challenge would have been futile. A defendant in a federal sentencing proceeding has no right to challenge collaterally a prior state court conviction used to enhance his sentence, except where the defendant can demonstrate that the prior state conviction was obtained in the absence of appointed counsel. See Custis v. United States, 511 U.S. 485, 496 (1994); United States v. Pettiford, 612 F.3d 270, 282 (4th Cir. 2010) ("[A] federal sentencing proceeding is not ordinarily an appropriate forum in which to challenge the validity of a prior state conviction."). Because Petitioner does not allege that he was denied counsel in the state court proceeding, there is no basis for this court to consider the merits of a collateral challenge to his theft conviction.
If Petitioner ultimately succeeds in vacating his conviction via the coram nobis proceedings in Circuit Court, he may be able to return to this court to reopen sentencing proceedings. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255(f), a federal prisoner must file a motion to vacate, set aside, or ...