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Blanks v. United States

United States District Court, D. Maryland

April 6, 2015

RAY BLANKS, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent. Criminal Action No. RDB-08-0565

MEMORANDUM OPINION

RICHARD D. BENNETT, District Judge.

On July 10, 2009, Petitioner Ray Blanks ("Petitioner" or "Blanks") was convicted by a jury of all five (5) counts for which he was charged: (1) conspiracy to interfere with commerce through robbery, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1951(a); (2) interference with commerce through robbery, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1951(a); (3) conspiracy to possess firearms in furtherance of a crime of violence, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(o); (4) possession of a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1); and (5) felon in possession of firearms, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). ECF No. 104. Petitioner was sentenced to a total of two-hundred and forty (240) months incarceration as a result of his convictions. ECF No. 141.

On January 2, 2013, Petitioner filed a Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (ECF No. 269). Petitioner has also filed: a Motion for an Evidentiary Hearing (ECF No. 270); a Motion for Discovery (ECF No. 271); a Motion to Appoint Counsel (ECF No. 272); a Motion for the Record and Request for a copy of his § 2255 Motion (ECF No. 278); and two Motions to Amend his § 2255 Motion (ECF Nos. 280 & 281).

The parties' submissions have been reviewed and no hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2014). For the reasons that follow, Petitioner's Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 is DENIED. Petitioner's Motions to Amend his § 2255 Motion are DENIED. In light of this Court's ruling on Petitioner's § 2255 Motion, Petitioner's Motion for an Evidentiary Hearing (ECF No. 270), Motion for Discovery (ECF No. 271), Motion to Appoint Counsel (ECF No. 272) are DENIED AS MOOT. Petitioner's a Motion for the Record and Request for a copy of his § 2255 Motion (ECF No. 278) is GRANTED.

BACKGROUND

On the evening on June 24, 2008, Petitioner and two other individuals, Danny Jones ("Jones") and Corey Adams ("Adams"), drove from Petersburg, Virginia to a private residence in Cumberland, Maryland where Samuel Butler ("Butler") and his girlfriend, Christi Elliot ("Elliot"), lived with Elliot's two children, a twelve-year-old girl and nineteen-year-old boy, Nathan Elliot ("Nathan"). During the early morning hours of June 25, 2008, both Butler and Elliot were out of the house. Around 1:00 a.m., Nathan was awakened by Petitioner, accompanied by Jones, who was tapping a handgun on Nathan's chest, telling him to get up.

Petitioner and Jones, holding Nathan at gunpoint, demanded to know where Butler was. Petitioner and Jones proceeded to drag Nathan around the house at gunpoint searching for money. Petitioner and Jones then forced Nathan to lie on the floor, face down, as the two continued their search. Soon after, Elliot returned to the house and was attacked by Petitioner and Jones, who demanded money and drugs. While Nathan remained lying face down on the first floor, Petitioner and Jones took Elliot upstairs and strip-searched her, finding money and drugs on her person. Petitioner and Jones forced her to then call Butler to tell him to come home, but after making several calls, she was unable to reach him.

Just before 9:00 a.m. on June 25, Butler walked into the residence and was attacked by Petitioner and Jones, who beat Butler with their handguns. Butler managed to retrieve his own handgun from a sofa and fired two shots at Blanks and Jones, missing them both. Blanks and Jones fled out the back door of the home. As they ran down an alley, Butler fired three more shots, striking Jones twice. Butler, bleeding heavily as a result of being beaten by Petitioner and Jones, collapsed on the street. Blanks, Jones, and Adams fled by car.

On December 9, 2008, Petitioner was indicted by a grand jury in the United States District Court for the District of Maryland. ECF No. 1 (Indictment). On July 10, 2009, Petitioner was convicted by a jury of all five (5) counts to which he was charged: (1) conspiracy to interfere with commerce through robbery, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1951(a); (2) interference with commerce through robbery, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1951(a); (3) conspiracy to possess firearms in furtherance of a crime of violence, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(o); (4) possession of a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1); and (5) felon in possession of a firearms, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). ECF No. 104. Petitioner was sentenced to a total of two-hundred and forty (240) months incarceration as a result of his convictions. ECF No. 141.

On November 20, 2009, Blanks appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. ECF No. 139 (Notice of Appeal). The Fourth Circuit affirmed Petitioner's conviction and sentence. United States v. Blanks, 439 F.Appx. 228 (4th Cir. 2011). On November 14, 2011, the United States Supreme Court denied Petitioner's petition for writ of certiorari. Blanks v. United States, 132 S.Ct. 602 (2011). Petitioner filed his Motion to Vacate under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 on January 2, 2013. ECF No. 269.

On August 26, 2013, Petitioner filed a "Motion to Amend claim [sic] to petition & clames [sic]" (ECF No. 280) and a Motion to Amend Claims pursuant to Rule 10(c) and 15(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (ECF No. 281). Each of Petitioner's motions to amend contain the same substantive grounds for relief under 18 U.S.C. § 2255. In Petitioner's original § 2255 motion, Ground One alleged that "[t]rial counsel was ineffective for failing to challenge the constitutionality of the United States sentencing guidelines as-applied' under the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution." ECF No. 269. Petitioner now wishes to add the allegation that, under the Supreme Court's holding in Alleyne v. United States, 133 S.Ct. 2151 (2013), this Court impermissibly increased his sentence from five to seven years on Count Four charging a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1). Specifically, he alleges that this increase was based on judicial fact-finding in violation of his Sixth Amendment right to a trial by jury as to each element of the offenses charged.[1] ECF Nos. 280 & 281.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

This Court recognizes that Petitioner is pro se and has accorded his pleadings liberal construction. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). Under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, a prisoner in custody may seek to vacate, set aside or correct his sentence where (1) "the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States, " (b) the court lacked "jurisdiction to impose the sentence, ... [(c)] the sentence was in excess of the maximum authorized by law, or [(d) the sentence] is otherwise subject to a collateral attack." 28 U.S.C. § 2255. "[A]n error of law does not provide a basis for collateral attack unless the claimed error constituted a fundamental defect which inherently results in a complete miscarriage of justice.'" United States v. Addonizio, 442 U.S. 178, 185 (1979) (quoting Hill v. United States, 368 U.S. 424, 428 (1962)).

To state a claim for relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 based on a Sixth Amendment claim of ineffective assistance of counsel a petitioner must satisfy the two-prong test set forth in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 671 (1984). See Roe v. Flores-Ortega, 528 U.S. 470, 477 (2000). The first, or "performance" prong, of the test requires a showing that defense counsel's representation was deficient and fell below an "objective standard of reasonableness." Strickland, 466 U.S. at 688. In making this determination, courts observe a strong presumption that counsel's actions fell within the "wide range of reasonable professional ...


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