United States District Court, D. Maryland
DEBORAH K. CHASANOW, United States District Judge
pending and ready for resolution is a motion to vacate
sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §2255 filed by Petitioner
Reuben Coleman. (ECF No. 35). The issues have been briefed,
and the court now rules, no hearing being deemed necessary.
Local Rule 105.6. For the following reasons, the motion to
vacate sentence will be denied.
October 31, 2015, Petitioner pled guilty pursuant to a plea
agreement in which he waived indictment and pled guilty to
the charges of possession of a firearm in a school zone
(“Count 1”) and of possession with intent to
distribute a controlled substance (“Count 2”).
Petitioner was sentenced to 130 months on Count 2 and a
concurrent term of 60 months on Count 1. On December 7, 2015,
Petitioner filed the pending motion to vacate sentence
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. (ECF No. 35). The
government was directed to respond and did so on February 26,
2016. (ECF No. 41).
Standard of Review
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).
challenges his sentence on the grounds that: his sentence was
illegally enhanced via a “defect[ive] indictment”
because he should have been charged for simple possession
under 21 U.S.C. § 844(a) instead of possession with
intent to distribute under 21 U.S.C. § 841(a); his due
process rights were violated when the government illegally
changed the amount of drugs recovered from 3.5 grams to 8.28
grams; and his counsel was ineffective for failing to
challenge an illegal search of the vehicle where crack
cocaine was recovered, the government's illegal change in
amount of drugs recovered, and the defective
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. Id. 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).
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.
argues that his counsel was ineffective when she failed to
conduct an investigation into the illegal search of the
vehicle and did not challenge the defective superseding
information which resulted in an increase in his offense
level from level 8 to 32. (ECF No. 35-1, at 9). Not only has
Petitioner failed to establish prejudice because he does not
allege that his decision to plead guilty was the result of
ineffective assistance of counsel, he also has not shown that
counsel's performance fell below an objective standard of
reasonableness. Petitioner is incorrect in his assertion that
there was an illegal search of the Mercedes Benz in which
crack cocaine was recovered because the vehicle was not
listed on the search warrant. (Id. at 4). The search
warrant issued for Petitioner's residence expressly
authorized investigators “[t]o search any and all
vehicles parked on or about the property.” (ECF No.
41-2, at 2). As stated in the report of investigations and
statement of facts attached to the plea agreement, the black
Mercedes Benz was parked directly in front of the residence
in the parking stall belonging to the residence, and thus was
subject to the warrant. (ECF Nos. 24-1; 41-3, at 2-3).
Additionally, when an agent asked Petitioner whether there
were any narcotics in the residence or the vehicle,
Petitioner informed agents that there was a small bag of
crack cocaine located in the sunroof area of the vehicle.
(ECF Nos. 24-1; 41-3, at 2). Thus, even if the warrant did
not expressly authorize a search of the vehicle, there was
probable cause that the vehicle contained contraband, and
agents were permitted to search the vehicle without a warrant
pursuant to the automobile exception to the warrant
requirement. See Maryland v. Dyson, 527 U.S. 465,
467 (1999) (per curiam). Moreover, counsel did file motions
to suppress both statements and tangible evidence early in
the case (ECF Nos. 11; 12), indicating that investigation was
ongoing. Therefore, counsel was not ineffective for failing
to investigate a legal search of the vehicle.
also alleges that counsel failed to challenge the
government's “illegal enhancement of the drug
weight” from 3.5 grams to 8.28 grams, which resulted in
an increase in his offense level from 8 to 32. (ECF No. 35-1,
at 11). Petitioner is incorrect. Petitioner's adjusted
offense level for Count 2 was 32 because he had at least two
prior felony convictions for controlled substance offenses,
and thus qualified as a career offender. (ECF No. 24, at 4).
Moreover, the parties stipulated in the plea agreement that
the amount of crack cocaine recovered was 8.28 grams, which
is the amount identified in the Prince George's County
Police Department Laboratory Analysis Report. (ECF No. 41-10,
at 1). Petitioner voluntarily and knowingly agreed to the
stipulation of facts when he signed the plea agreement. At no
time did Petitioner object to, or express concern about, the
validity of the fact stipulation, and he cannot do so now.
See Burket v. Angelone, 208 F.3d 172, 191
(4thCir. 2000); United States v. Lambey,
974 F.2d 1389, 1395 (4thCir. 1992).
Petitioner's counsel did not render ineffective
assistance by failing to make meritless objections to the
stipulation of facts in the plea agreement. Petitioner's
guilty plea was voluntary, intelligent, and advised by
claims that the superseding information was defective and the
government illegally changed the amount of drugs recovered
are barred. It is well established that a voluntary and
intelligent guilty plea made by an accused person, who has
been advised by competent counsel, ...