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Brown v. United States

United States District Court, D. Maryland

November 1, 2017

BENJAMIN ROBERT BROWN, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          ELLEN L. HOLLANDER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This Memorandum Opinion resolves a Motion To Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence filed by Benjamin Brown, Petitioner, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. ECF 191 (the “Petition”). The government filed a response in opposition (ECF 201), along with exhibits. Brown has filed a reply. ECF 204. At its core, Petitioner's various complaints may be distilled to the overarching contention that his lawyer was ineffective because his codefendants received more lenient sentences.

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 2255(b), a hearing is required “[u]nless the motion and the files and the records of the case conclusively show that the prisoner is entitled to no relief . . . .” This is such a case; no hearing is necessary. For the reasons that follow, I shall deny the Petition.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         On November 12, 2014, Petitioner Benjamin Brown and five others were indicted on charges of conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute the following controlled substances: cocaine base (Count One); heroin (Count Two); and cocaine (Count Three). ECF 1. Pursuant to a Plea Agreement (ECF 125), Brown entered a plea of guilty on August 18, 2015 (ECF 124) to Count Three of the Indictment, charging conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute five hundred grams or more of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846.

         In the Plea Agreement, the parties agreed that Mr. Brown qualified as a Career Offender. See ECF 125, ¶ 6(a). Notably, the plea was entered pursuant to Rule 11(c)(1)(C) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. Id. ¶ 8. Under the terms of the C plea, the parties agreed to a sentence of imprisonment ranging between 84 months and 120 months. Id.

         Sentencing was held on December 1, 2015. ECF 157. At sentencing, the Court found that Brown is a Career Offender with a final offense level of 31 and a criminal history category of VI, and an advisory sentencing guidelines range of 188 to 235 months of imprisonment. ECF 196 (Sentencing Transcript); ECF 201-2 (Sentencing Transcript); see also ECF 145 (Presentence Report); ECF 160 (Statement of Reasons). He faced a mandatory minimum sentence of five years (60 months). The Court imposed a sentence of 100 months' imprisonment, which was within the C plea range of 84 to 120 months. Judgment was entered on the same date. ECF 159.

         Brown did not note an appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. Brown's Petition was docketed in this Court on December 22, 2016. ECF 191. According to the Petition, Brown signed and dated the Petition on December 14, 2016. Id. at 16.

         Additional facts are included in the Discussion.

         II. Discussion

         A. Hearing

         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. Lemaster, 403 F.3d 216, 220-23 (4th Cir. 2005); United States v. White, 366 F.3d 291, 302 (4th Cir. 2004). Courts have determined that a hearing is not necessary where “the motion . . . fail[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); see also United States v. Ray, 547 Fed. App'x 343, 345 (4th Cir. 2013).

         I am 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); see Erickson 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 F. App'x 332, 334 (4th Cir. 2013) (per curiam) (same). Nevertheless, I am satisfied that no hearing is necessary to resolve Brown's claims.

         B. Timeliness of Petition

         Under the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 2255(f), a one-year limitation period applies to petitions under § 2255, which runs from the latest of:

(1) the date on which the judgment of conviction becomes final;
(2) the date on which the impediment to making a motion created by governmental action in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States is removed, if the movant was prevented from making a motion by such governmental action;
(3) the date on which the right asserted was initially recognized by the Supreme Court, if that right has been newly recognized by the Supreme Court and made retroactively applicable to cases on collateral review; or
(4) the date on which the facts supporting the claim or claims presented could have been discovered through the exercise of due diligence.

Timeliness under § 2255(f) is assessed on a “claim-by-claim basis.” Capozzi v. United States, 768 F.3d 32, 33 (1st Cir. 2014) (per curiam) (collecting cases from the Third, Sixth, Ninth, Tenth, and Eleventh Circuits), cert denied, ___U.S. ___, 135 S.Ct. 1476 (2015); see Zach v. Tucker, 704 F.3d 917, 924-25 (11th Cir. 2013) (en banc) (explaining that a petitioner may not use a single, timely claim to revive time-barred claims), cert denied, ___ U.S. ___, 134 S.Ct. 156 (2013); Hannigan v. United States, 131 F.Supp.3d 480 (E.D. N.C. 2015), appeal dismissed, 638 Fed.App'x 234 (4th Cir. 2016) (per curiam), cert. denied, ___U.S. ___, 137 S.Ct. 404 (2016); see also Mayle v. Felix, 545 U.S. 644, 662 (2005); Pace v. DiGuglielmo, 544 U.S. 408, 416 n. 6 (2005).

         In this case, sentencing was held on December 1, 2016. Judgment was entered on the same date. ECF 159. Because the judgment was entered on December 1, 2015 (ECF 159), the deadline to file a Notice of Appeal expired fourteen days later. Fed. ...


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