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Agbugba v. United States

United States District Court, D. Maryland

January 30, 2017

EDEOGOCHINEME AGBUGBA, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent. Civil Action No. RDB-16-2756

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          RICHARD D. BENNETT, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         The pro se Petitioner Edeogochineme Agbugba (“Petitioner” or “Agbugba”) pled guilty before this Court to Conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute 100 grams or more of a mixture or substance containing heroin, a Schedule 1 controlled substance, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846, pursuant to a Plea Agreement with the Government. Am. J., p. 1, ECF No. 64. Petitioner's plea was tendered pursuant to Rule 11(c)(1)(C) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure and provided for an agreed term of incarceration of 36 months. Subsequently, this Court sentenced Petitioner to 36 months imprisonment, followed by two years of supervised release. Id. at 2-3. Currently pending before this Court is Petitioner's Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (ECF No. 84).[1] Having reviewed the parties' submissions, this Court finds that no hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the reasons discussed herein, Petitioner's Motion to Vacate (ECF No. 84) is DENIED.

         BACKGROUND

         Petitioner Edeogochineme Agbugba (“Petitioner” or “Agbugba”) was charged via a two-count indictment with Conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute heroin, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846, (Count I) and Possession with intent to distribute heroin, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) (Count II). See Indictment, pp. 1-2, ECF No. 8. On August 10, 2015, Agbugba pled guilty before this court to Conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute heroin (Count I), pursuant to a Rule 11(c)(1)(C) Plea Agreement (“C Plea”) with the Government, providing for a sentence of 36 months imprisonment.[2] Am. J., p. 1, ECF No. 64. At a Rearraignment hearing before this Court, Agbugba verified on the record that he had read and discussed the Plea Agreement with his court-appointed counsel, understood the charges against him, and was satisfied with his counsel's services. Rearraignment Tr., pp. 6-11, ECF No. 71. This Court proceeded to accept Agbugba's guilty plea, finding that he had knowingly and voluntarily entered into that guilty plea with the assistance of counsel. Am. J., p. 1, ECF No. 64. Subsequently, this Court sentenced Agbugba to 36 months imprisonment, followed by two years of supervised release. Id. at 2-3. Agbugba was directed to surrender himself to an institution designated by the Bureau of Prisons by January 11, 2016 to begin his sentence.[3] Id. at 2.

         Agbugba appealed his conviction and 36-month sentence to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit (ECF No. 60). The Fourth Circuit dismissed Agbugba's appeal of his sentence because, pursuant to his Plea Agreement with the Government, Agbugba had “knowingly and intelligently waived his right to appeal his sentence.” United States v. Agbugba, 653 F. App'x 174, 175 (4th Cir. 2016). As to Petitioner's conviction, the Fourth Circuit addressed Agbugba's arguments on the merits, ultimately finding that “Agbugba's guilty plea was knowingly and voluntarily made.” Id. Accordingly, the Fourth Circuit affirmed his conviction. Id. In his pending Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (ECF No. 76), Agbugba argues that his court-appointed counsel rendered ineffective assistance, in violation of his rights under the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution. See Mot., ECF No. 84; Reply, ECF No. 88. Additionally, Agbugba alleges “inconsist[e]nt statement[s]” by the officers who arrested him. Mot., p. 5, ECF No. 84.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Pro se filings are “liberally construed” and are “held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007)(citation omitted). 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, ” (2) the court lacked “jurisdiction to impose the sentence, . . . [(3)] the sentence was in excess of the maximum authorized by law, or [(4) 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)).

         DISCUSSION

         In order to establish ineffective assistance of counsel, Petitioner must satisfy the two-pronged test established in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 671 (1984). First, Petitioner must show that his counsel's performance was deficient such that it fell below an “objective standard of reasonableness.” Id. at 688. In assessing whether counsel's performance was deficient, courts adopt a “strong presumption” that an attorney's actions fall within the “wide range of reasonable professional assistance.” Id. at 689. Second, Petitioner must show that his counsel's performance was prejudicial, meaning the defendant was “depriv[ed] . . . of a fair trial.” Id. at 687. To demonstrate such prejudice, Petitioner must show there was a “reasonable probability that, but for counsel's [alleged] unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding[s] would have been different.” Id. at 694. Both of these prongs must be satisfied for the Petitioner to obtain the relief he is seeking. Id. at 687.

         In the plea bargaining context, “claims of ineffective assistance of counsel . . . are governed by the two-part test set forth in Strickland.” Missouri v. Frye, 132 S.Ct. 1399, 1405 (2012) (citing Hill, 474 U.S. at 57). However, the “prejudice prong of the test is slightly modified” in that Petitioner must show “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.” Hooper v. Garraghty, 845 F.2d 471, 475 (4th Cir. 1988) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Id. (quoting Hill, 474 U.S. at 59).

         I. Petitioner Has Failed to Demonstrate Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

         Petitioner raises four arguments in support of his claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. Mot., p. 5, ECF No. 84. First, Petitioner argues that his “trial counsel failed to request a downward departure [at sentencing] base[d] on [Petitioner's] mitigating role” in the charged crime. Id. Second, he argues that his “trial counsel failed to seek [a sentence] reduction based on [his] immigration status.” Id. Third, Petitioner argues that his trial counsel failed to “challeng[e] [his] arrest.” Id. Fourth, he argues that his trial counsel failed to request “a drug analysis hearing.” Id. However, Petitioner is incapable of demonstrating ineffective assistance because he explicitly indicated on the record at his Rearraignment proceedings that he was satisfied with his counsel's representation and that he was voluntarily pleading guilty to Conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute heroin. Rearraignment Tr., pp. 6-12, ECF No. 71. Additionally, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has affirmed this Court's finding that Petitioner's guilty plea was both knowing and voluntary. Agbugba, 653 F. App'x at 175 (4th Cir. 2016). Furthermore, Petitioner's individual arguments fail for the reasons discussed herein.

         A. Mitigating Role Argument

         Petitioner argues that his “trial counsel failed to request a downward departure [at sentencing] base[d] on [his] mitigating role” in the charged crime. Mot., p. 5, ECF No. 84. However, Petitioner was not, in fact, entitled to a role reduction under Section 3B1.2 of the United States Sentencing Guidelines (“U.S.S.G.”), which requires that a defendant be a “minimal participant” or “minor participant” in the criminal activity. Pursuant to his Plea Agreement with the Government, Petitioner stipulated that in June of 2014, “a parcel sent from India was found by a customs officer to contain more than 150 grams of heroin” and “destined for 2331 East Monument Street in Baltimore, Maryland” where “the defendant [Agbugba] personally accepted the package.” Plea Agreement, p. 4, ECF No. 45. Petitioner also stipulated that a search warrant executed at the same address recovered “defendant's Facebook account, contain[ing] messages reflecting prior shipments of ...


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