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Edwards v. United States

United States District Court, D. Maryland

September 30, 2016

JAMES HENRY EDWARDS, Petitioner
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent Criminal No. PJM 05-179

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          PETER J. MESSITTE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         James Edwards, pro se, has filed a Memorandum of Law in Support of his Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. The Court will treat this Memorandum of Law as a renewed Motion under § 2255. But, for the reasons set forth below, the Court DENIES said Motion WITH PREJUDICE.

         I. FACTS

         On April 6, 2006, pursuant to a Plea Agreement, Edwards pled guilty to one count of Conspiracy to Possess With Intent to Distribute Five Kilograms or More of a Mixture or Substance Containing a Detectable Amount of Cocaine in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846. The base offense level for a violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846 under the United States Sentencing Commission Guidelines (U.S.S.G.) then in effect was a 32. U.S.S.G. § 2D1.1(c)(4). However, because Edwards had at least two prior felony convictions of a controlled substance offense, he was a “career offender” pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1, and his offense level was 37. Edwards received a two-level reduction for acceptance of responsibility. Accordingly, his total adjusted offense level was 35. Edwards's criminal history category was VI not only because he was assigned fourteen criminal history points, but also because he was a career offender pursuant to § 4B1.1. On June 21, 2006, Edwards was sentenced to 292 months imprisonment, within the guideline range for an offense level of 35 and criminal history category of VI, which, in 2006, was 292 to 365 months.

         No direct appeal was taken. However, on February 28, 2007, Edwards filed a pro se Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, arguing, among other things, that no appeal had been taken because his counsel did not act at his request to file the appeal. The Court felt that the easiest solution would be to permit Edwards to pursue his direct appeal and therefore denied his § 2255 Motion without prejudice. Accordingly, the Court vacated its original June 21, 2006 judgment and re-entered it, effective May 30, 2007, to allow a new period of appeal to run. The May 30, 2007 Memorandum Opinion and Order directed the Clerk to mail copies of same to Edwards, who was serving his sentence for the underlying offense. On January 31, 2008, however, Edwards wrote the Court inquiring about the status of the case, asserting that, while he had received notice of the May 30, 2007 Order, he had not received a copy either of it or the accompanying Memorandum Opinion. Therefore, Edwards indicated that he had missed the new window in which to note a direct appeal. In a Memorandum Opinion and Order on October 31, 2008, the Court entered yet another date on the Order of Judgment and Commitment in order to provide Edwards with yet another window in which to take a direct appeal. ECF Nos. 589-90.

         On November 1, 2008, Edwards filed a Notice of Appeal, ECF No. 591, and, on June 23, 2009, the Fourth Circuit affirmed this Court's judgment. ECF No. 645. The Fourth Circuit held that, on direct appeal, it could not rule with respect to any ineffective assistance of counsel claim. Accordingly, the issue of ineffective assistance remained open.

         By statute, Edwards had one year, i.e. until June 23, 2010, to file a motion with this Court under § 2255. 28 U.S.C. § 2255(f)(1). He did not in fact do so. It was not until September 17, 2010, that he filed a Memorandum of Law in Support of his Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. ECF No. 681. Edwards apparently believed that his original § 2255 motion was still in effect, despite the fact that it had been denied without prejudice more than three years earlier. Be that as it may. There is no need to dispose of Edwards's case on technical procedural grounds.

         The Court will treat his Memorandum of Law in Support of his Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, ECF No. 681, as a timely filed Motion under § 2255, but for the reasons that follow, it will deny the Motion on the merits.

         II. ANALYSIS

         Edwards's Memorandum, treated as a subsequent § 2255 Motion, presents two questions: (1) Was his counsel ineffective for failing to seek vacatur of the state controlled substance offense convictions, which caused him to qualify as a career offender? and (2) Was Edwards contractually entitled to an offense level of 32 based upon promises made to him in the Plea Agreement?

         A. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

         Edwards asserts that he was not represented by counsel in two state controlled substance offense convictions (Maryland cases CT891221A and CT891200X) that were used to determine his status as a career offender pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1. According to Edwards, if his attorney in the instant case had sought vacatur of those convictions, he would not have been labeled a career offender and his offense level would have totaled 30 (a base offense level of 32 with a two-level reduction for acceptance of responsibility), rather than 35 (the career offender level of 37 with a two-level reduction for acceptance of responsibility). Accordingly, Edwards argues that, but for the ineffective assistance of his counsel, his sentence would have been shorter.

         Edwards is correct that if he were not a career offender, the sentencing guideline range would have been different.[1] However, as the Court now explains, Edwards's state convictions would not have been vacated. As a result, he was correctly labeled a career offender, and his offense level of 35 was proper.

         First, it is clear Edwards was represented by counsel in both state convictions. His Presentence Report in the present case states that he was “[r]epresented by legal counsel” in both case CT891221A and case CT891220X, and the Court has independently verified with the Circuit Court for ...


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