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Bowden v. United States

United States District Court, D. Maryland

December 4, 2017




         Presently pending and ready for resolution is a motion to vacate sentence filed by Petitioner Marvin Bowden (“Petitioner”) pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. (ECF No. 41). For the following reasons, the motion will be denied.

         I. Background

         On February 5, 2014, Petitioner pled guilty pursuant to a plea agreement in which he waived indictment and pled guilty to the charges of conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine (“Count 1”) and of conspiracy to use and carry a firearm in the furtherance of a drug trafficking crime and during and in relation to a crime of violence (“Count 2”). On July 21, Petitioner was sentenced to 120 months imprisonment, concurrent on Counts 1 and 2. On March 19, 2015, Petitioner filed the pending motion to vacate his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. (ECF No. 41). The government was directed to respond to the motion and did so on July 27. (ECF No. 48).

         II. Standard of Review

         To be eligible for relief under § 2255, a petitioner must show, by a preponderance of the evidence, that his “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.” 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a). A pro se movant, such as Petitioner, is entitled to have his arguments reviewed with appropriate consideration. See Gordon v. Leeke, 574 F.2d 1147, 1151-53 (4th Cir. 1978). But if the § 2255 motion, along with the files and records of the case, conclusively shows that he is not entitled to relief, a hearing on the motion is unnecessary and the claims raised in the motion may be dismissed summarily. § 2255(b).

         III. Analysis

         A. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

         Petitioner alleges that his decision to plead guilty was the result of ineffective assistance of counsel. (ECF No. 41, at 2). To establish ineffective assistance of counsel, the petitioner must show both that his attorney's performance fell below an objective standard of reasonableness and that he suffered actual prejudice. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984). There is a strong presumption that counsel's conduct falls within a wide range of reasonably professional conduct, and courts must be highly deferential in scrutinizing counsel's performance. Strickland, 466 U.S. at 688-89; Bunch v. Thompson, 949 F.2d 1354, 1363 (4th Cir. 1991). A determination need not be made concerning the attorney's performance if it is clear that no prejudice could have resulted from some performance deficiency. Strickland, 466 U.S. at 697.

         In the context of a § 2255 petition challenging a conviction following a guilty plea, a defendant establishes prejudice by demonstrating “a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's errors, he would not have pleaded guilty and would have insisted on going to trial.” Hill v. Lockhart, 474 U.S. 52, 59 (1985); accord United States v. Mooney, 497 F.3d 397, 401 (4th Cir. 2007). Moreover, Petitioner “must convince the court” that such a decision “would have been rational under the circumstances.” Padilla v. Kentucky, 559 U.S. 356, 372 (2010). Petitioner's subjective preferences, therefore, are not dispositive; what matters is whether proceeding to trial would have been objectively reasonable in light of all of the facts. United States v. Fugit, 703 F.3d 248, 260 (4th Cir. 2012).

         A petitioner who pleads guilty has an especially high burden in establishing an ineffective assistance claim. As the Supreme Court of the United States explained, “[t]he plea process brings to the criminal justice system a stability and a certainty that must not be undermined by the prospect of collateral challenges in cases . . . where witnesses and evidence were not presented in the first place.” Premo v. Moore, 562 U.S. 115, 132 (2011). Thus, a petitioner alleging ineffective assistance in the context of a guilty plea must meet a “substantial burden . . . to avoid the plea[.]” Id.

         Petitioner argues that his counsel's performance was objectively unreasonable because counsel failed to conduct adequate factual and legal investigations to discover the defenses of prosecutorial misconduct, entrapment, racial profiling, and selective prosecution and failed to inform Petitioner of those defenses, which were “successful in obtaining relief” for his co-defendants. (ECF No. 41, at 2). Petitioner argues that he “was prejudiced as a result of his counsel's errors because had he been advised . . . he too would have insisted on going to trial and thereby would have obtained the same exact relief as his co-defendants.” (Id.). First, the defenses of prosecutorial misconduct, entrapment, racial profiling, and selective prosecution were not successful in obtaining relief for his co-defendants. Petitioner's co-defendants were found guilty of all charges and sentenced to longer terms of imprisonment than Petitioner. United States v. Hare, 820 F.3d 93, 97 (4th Cir. 2016). Moreover, Petitioner was not prejudiced by pleading guilty because it was not objectively reasonable in light of the circumstances to proceed to trial. If Petitioner had insisted on proceeding to trial, he would have been charged with four charges rather than just the two to which he pleaded guilty. The evidence against Petitioner was overwhelming on all four charges and Petitioner was the lead member of the conspiracy, recruiting his co-defendants to commit the robbery of the purported drug stash house. Hare, 820 F.3d at 95-96. Had the jury been presented with this and other evidence of Petitioner's guilt, it almost certainly would have found Petitioner guilty on all charges along with the rest of his co-defendants. Thus, Petitioner would have faced a sentence for a much longer term of imprisonment than what he received. “Pleading guilty generally involves a conscious decision to accept both the benefits and burdens of a bargain. That decision may not be lightly undone by buyer's remorse on the part of one who has reaped advantage from the purchase.” Fugit, 703 F.3d at 260. Petitioner cannot show that proceeding to trial would have been rational under the circumstances and thus his ineffective assistance claim fails for lack of prejudice.[1]

         B. Sentencing Disparity

         Petitioner next argues that the sentence he received for Count 1 was disproportionate to that which his co-defendants received. (ECF No. 41, at 2-3). Petitioner argues that counsel was ineffective for not raising the issue of sentencing ...

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