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Wright v. United States

United States District Court, D. Maryland

June 8, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA Respondent. Civil No. ELH-15-2267


          Ellen Lipton Hollander United States District Judge

         This Memorandum Opinion resolves a Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence, filed under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 by William Wright, the self-represented petitioner. ECF 32 ("Petition"). As discussed, infra, no hearing is necessary to resolve the matter.

         I. Factual Background

         Wright was indicted in October 2006. ECF 1. The case was assigned to Judge William D. Quarles, Jr.[1] On December 19, 2006, Wright entered a plea of guilty to the charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). See Docket.[2] Prior to sentencing, the United States Probation Office completed a presentence report ("PSR"). ECF 39.[3] According to ¶ 21 of the PSR, Wright qualified as an Armed Career Criminal, pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 4B1.4. See also the Armed Career Criminal Act ("ACCA"), 18 U.S.C. § 924(e). That determination was based on the fact that Wright had three prior and distinct serious drug convictions. See also ECF 39, ¶ 45.[4] Based on this finding, Wright‘s final adjusted offense level was 30 and his criminal history category was VI, resulting in an adjusted sentencing guideline range of 180 to 210 months. ECF 39, ¶ 46; U.S.S.G. § 5G1.1.

         On March 7, 2007, Judge Quarles sentenced Wright to 180 months incarceration, the mandatory minimum sentence pursuant to the ACCA, followed by five years of supervised release. See ECF 18. Judgment was entered on March 8, 2007. Id. Wright did not note an appeal to the Fourth Circuit. See Docket.

         Over eight years later, on August 3, 2015, Wright filed a motion to vacate under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. ECF 32. In light of Johnson v. United States, __ U.S. __, 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015), Wright contends that he was improperly designated as an Armed Career Criminal. ECF 32 at 4; id. at 15. In particular, he complains that a charge of "possession of cocaine" unconstitutionally served as the predicate offense for his classification as an Armed Career Criminal. Id. at 15. Wright also asserts a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. In this regard, he contends that his attorney failed to file an appeal despite being asked repeatedly to do so. Further, Wright maintains that his attorney failed to object to the erroneous classification of Wright as an Armed Career Criminal. Id. at 4.

         On August 7, 2015, the Court directed the government to respond to Wright‘s Petition. ECF 33. Subsequently, on October 22, 2015, Wright‘s Petition was stayed, pursuant to Standing Order No. 2015-01. ECF 34. On September 22, 2016, the government submitted a response in opposition to the Petition. ECF 37 ("Opposition"). In its Opposition, the government asked the Court to lift the stay and deny Wright‘s Petition. Id. at 2. The government argued that the ineffective assistance of counsel claims are time-barred and that the Johnson claim is not meritorious. ECF 37.

         Although Petitioner was granted 21 days from the date of the government‘s response to file a reply (see ECF 33), he did not do so. However, on March 24, 2017, Wright filed a "Motion for Judicial Opinion and Appointment of Counsel." ECF 38 ("Motion to Appoint Counsel").

         For the reasons that follow, I shall lift the stay, deny the Motion to Appoint Counsel (ECF 38), and deny the Petition. ECF 32. A certificate of appealability shall not issue.

         II. Discussion


         Section 2255(a) of Title 28 of the United States Code provides relief to prisoners in federal custody. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a), a prisoner in federal custody may "move the court which imposed the sentence to vacate, set aside or correct the sentence, " but only on certain grounds: "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, or is otherwise subject to collateral attack...." See also United States v. Newbold, 791 F.3d 455, 459 (4th Cir. 2015).

         Collateral attack is not a substitute for direct appeal; failure to raise certain issues on direct appeal may render them procedurally defaulted on post-conviction review. United States v. Frady, 456 U.S. 152, 165 (1982); accord Bousely v. United States, 523 U.S. 614, 630 (1998). In other words, as a general rule, a petitioner who fails to raise a claim on direct appeal is barred from raising the claim on collateral review. Sanchez-Llamas v. Oregon, 548 U.S. 331, 350-51 (2006). However, this bar generally does not apply to claims pertaining to ineffective assistance of counsel. See, e.g., Massaro v. United States, 538 U.S. 500, 503-04 (2003).

         The scope of review of non-constitutional error is more limited than that of constitutional error. A non-constitutional error provides a basis for collateral attack only when it involves "a fundamental defect which inherently results in a complete miscarriage of justice" or is "inconsistent with the rudimentary demands of fair procedure." United States v. Mikalajunas, 186 F.3d 490, 496 (4th Cir. 1999); see Newbold, 791 F.3d at 459.

         "[A] mistaken career offender designation is not cognizable on collateral review." Newbold, 791 F.3d at 459 (citing United States v. Foote, 784 F.3d 931, 932-33 (4th Cir. 2015)). In contrast, a defendant may challenge on collateral review an alleged erroneous determination that he qualifies as an armed career criminal and has thus "received a punishment that the law cannot impose upon him." Newbold, 791 F.3d at 460 (citation omitted).

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 2255(b), the post-conviction court must hold a hearing "[u]nless the motion and the files and records conclusively show that the prisoner is entitled to no relief...." See, e.g., United States v. White, 366 F.3d 291, 302 (4th Cir. 2004). Courts have determined that a hearing is not necessary where "the[s] to allege sufficient facts or circumstances upon which the elements of constitutionally deficient performance might properly be found [or] where the defendant has failed to present any affidavits or other evidentiary support for the naked assertions contained in his motion." United States v. Taylor, 139 F.3d 924, 933 (D.C. Cir. 1998) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted); accord United States v. McGill, 11 F.3d 223, 225-26 (1st Cir. 1993). On the other hand, a hearing is generally "required when a movant presents a colorable Sixth Amendment claim showing disputed material facts and a credibility determination is necessary to resolve this issue." United States v. Robertson, 219 Fed. App‘x. 286, 286 (4th Cir. 2007) (per curiam); see also United States v. Ray, 547 Fed. App‘x. 343, 345 (4th Cir. 2013) (per curiam).

         In reviewing the Petition, the Court is mindful that a self-represented litigant is generally "held to a 'less stringent standard[ ]‘ than is a lawyer, and the Court must liberally construe his claims, no matter how 'inartfully‘ pled." Morrison v. United States, RDB-12-3607, 2014 WL 979201, at *2 (D. Md. Mar. 12, 2014) (internal citations omitted); seeErickson v. Pardus,551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007); Haines v. Kerner,404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972) (stating that claims of self-represented litigants are held "to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers"); Bala v. Commonwealth of Va. Dep't of Conservation & Recreation,532 Fed.Appx. 332, 334 ...

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