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Richards v. United States

United States District Court, D. Maryland

March 29, 2018

CLARENCE M. RICHARDS Petitioner
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA Respondent

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          PETER J. MESSITTE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Petitioner Clarence M. Richards, through counsel, has filed a Motion to Vacate and Set Aside his Sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. ECF No. 45. He seeks an order vacating his sentence on the basis that he was denied effective assistance of counsel. The Government agrees that Richards is entitled to relief but maintains that a § 2255 Motion is the inappropriate vehicle under the circumstances of this case. ECF No. 57.

         The Court has considered the Motion and the Government's response. For the reasons that follow, the Court will AMEND the Judgment and Commitment Order (ECF No. 35) to reflect that the Court's sentence as to Count Three, 38 months' imprisonment, is to run concurrently with Richards' state sentence. Otherwise, his Motion to Vacate (ECF No. 45) is DENIED.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On September 29, 2010, Richards engaged in conduct that resulted in several state charges, including assault, kidnapping, and use of a handgun in a crime of violence. See State v. Richards, No. CT-10-14199B (Md. Cir. Ct. P.G. Cty.) (“state case”). A warrant was issued for Richards' arrest on these charges and he was eventually located by the U.S. Marshals on October 8, 2010. At that time, he was found to be in possession of phencyclidine as well as a handgun. As a result, Richards was indicted in federal court on March 21, 2011, on four charges relating to the drugs and firearm discovered during his arrest. See United States v. Richards, No. 11-0148, ECF No. 1 (D. Md.) (“federal case”). Specifically, he was charged with: (1) possession of a firearm by a convicted felon in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g); (2) possession of a firearm with an obliterated serial No. in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(k); (3) possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1); and (4) possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c). Id. Because of his pending state case, Richards was placed in state custody and was not transferred into the custody of the U.S. Marshal Service.

         On December 6, 2011, in the state proceeding, represented by Michael Lawlor, Esquire, Richards entered a guilty plea pursuant to a binding plea agreement to an agreed upon sentence of 20 years' imprisonment, with all but 10 years suspended.

         A few months later, on February 22, 2012, before he was sentenced in state court, Richards, represented by John Chamble, Esquire, of the Federal Public Defender's Office, pled guilty in this case to Counts Three and Four of the federal indictment. ECF Nos. 15, 24. On May 18, 2012, the Court sentenced him to 38 months of imprisonment on Count Three, and 60 months of imprisonment, to run consecutively, on Count Four, resulting in a total sentence of 98 months of imprisonment. The Court's judgment made no mention of the relationship between its sentence and the forthcoming sentence in state court. ECF No. 35.

         A week later, on May 25, 2012, Judge Mittelstaedt of Prince George's County Circuit Court sentenced Richards to a total term of 10 years' imprisonment pursuant to the binding plea agreement. She ordered the sentence to run concurrently to the federal sentence. ECF No. 57-1, Ex. A at 5:3-5, 5:14-17.

         Following Judge Mittelstaedt's sentence, Richards remained in state custody and was not transferred into federal custody until November 9, 2016, after he had satisfied his state obligation.[1] At that time, Richards first became aware that he was not going to receive any credit for his time in state custody against his federal sentence, as a result of which he faced a sentence in custody 54 months longer than he anticipated.

         As a result, Richards filed the present Motion through Attorney Lawlor, who had been his attorney in the state proceeding. ECF No. 45. Richards seeks an order vacating his federal sentence on the grounds that he was denied effective assistance of counsel because counsel failed to ensure that his federal and state sentences would run concurrently. Id.

         On August 22, 2017, before Richards' § 2255 Motion was ripe for decision, the Bureau of Prisons sent a letter to the Court indicating that Richards had requested that his federal sentence run concurrently with his state sentence. ECF No. 49-1. In response, the Court stated that, per its usual practice, the federal sentence was intended to run consecutive to any state sentence. ECF No. 49.

         However, on November 2, 2017, the Government filed its response to Richards' Motion. In it, the Government agreed that Richards is entitled to some form of relief, but maintains that he has not satisfied the requisite standard for an ineffective assistance of counsel claim under § 2255. ECF No. 57.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Ineffective assistance of counsel claims are governed by the two-part test first set forth by the Supreme Court in Stricklan ...


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