United States District Court, D. Maryland
THEODORE D. CHUANG, J.
Charles Brian Curtin has filed a Motion to Vacate, Set Aside,
or Correct Sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. ~ 2255. In his
Motion, Curtin argues that he was improperly designated as a
career offender under the United States Sentencing Guidelines
("Guidelines") in light of Mathis v. United
States, 136 S.Ct. 2243 (2016), United States v.
Hinkle, 832 F.3d 569 (5th Cir. 2016), and Holt v.
United States, 843 F.3d 720 (7th Cir. 2016). Curtin
further argues, in a reply brief, that his attorneys rendered
ineffective assistance of counsel by failing to object to his
career offender designation at sentencing and by failing to
raise the issue on appeal. Having reviewed the submitted
materials, the Court finds that no hearing is necessary.
See Rule 8(a), Rules Governing Section 2255
Proceedings for the United States District Courts; D. Md.
Local R. 105.6. For the reasons set forth below, the Motion
October 6, 2014, a federal grand jury returned a five-count
Indictment against three defendants in which Curtin was
charged in the following three counts: Conspiracy to
Distribute and Possess with Intent to Distribute 5 Kilograms
or More of Cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846
(Count One); Maintaining a Drug-Involved Premises, in
violation of 21 U.S.C. § 856(a) (Count Four); and
Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon, in violation of
18 U.S.C. § 922(g) (Count Five). The Indictment arose
out of an investigation into drug trafficking in Prince
Georgess County, Maryland which included a wiretap that
intercepted Curtin's telephone conversations relating to
the distribution of cocaine.
March 2015, Curtin entered into a plea agreement in which he
agreed to plead guilty to Counts One and Five and the
Government agreed to dismiss Count Four. The parties agreed
that the total offense level would be 29, which included a
three-level reduction for acceptance of responsibility under
U.S.S.G. § 3E1.1. The plea agreement provided that there
was "no agreement as to [Curtins]] criminal history or
criminal history category, and that his criminal history
could alter his offense level if he is a Career
Offender." Plea Agreement ¶ 7, ECF No. 49.
March 17, 2015, Curtin pleaded guilty to the Conspiracy and
Felon in Possession of a Firearm counts. In the Presentence
Investigation Report ("PSR"), the United States
Probation Office identified three prior criminal convictions
of Curtin in Maryland state court for Possession with Intent
to Distribute a Controlled Dangerous Substance, including
convictions in 1992, 1999, and 2010. On the 1992 conviction,
Curtin received a sentence of 15 years of imprisonment, with
10 years suspended. On the 1999 conviction, he received a
sentence of 12 years of imprisonment, with six years
suspended. On the 2010 conviction, he received a sentence of
five years of imprisonment with four years suspended.
sentencing hearing on January 28, 2016, the Court, consistent
with the findings in the PSR, found that because Curtin had
at least two prior convictions for controlled substance
offenses, he qualified as a career offender under U.S.S.G.
§ 4B1.1(a). Accordingly, the Court found that his total
offense level was 34, his criminal history category was VI,
and the applicable Guideline range was 262-327 months.
See U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1(b). The Court sentenced
Curtin to 200 months of imprisonment.
appeal, Curtin's newly appointed appellate counsel filed
a brief with the United States Court of Appeals for the
Fourth Circuit pursuant to Anders v. California, 386
U.S. 738 (1967), in which he stated, "Counsel is of the
opinion that there are no legitimate grounds for appeal in
this case." Br. Appellant at 12, United States v.
Curtin, No. 16-4071 (4th Cir. June 29, 2016). Curtin was
informed of his right to file a supplemental brief for the
appeal but declined to do so. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the
conviction and sentence, noting that "[t]he district
court correctly calculated Curtin's advisory Guidelines
range." United States v. Curtin, 662 Fed.Appx.
198, 199 (4th Cir. 2016). Curtin then filed the instant
Motion, which is now ripe for disposition.
Motion, Curtin seeks to have his sentence vacated on the
grounds that he was erroneously classified as a career
offender, which led to a higher advisory Guidelines range.
Curtin asserts that in light of Mathis and related
cases, his prior convictions for possession with intent to
distribute controlled substances do not qualify as predicate
"controlled substances offenses" within the meaning
of the career offender guideline. The Government argues that
(1) Curtin is procedurally barred from bringing this claim;
(2) challenges to the application of the career offender
enhancement are not cognizable under § 2255; and (3)
Curtin's claim fails on the merits.
prisoner in federal custody may move to vacate, set aside, or
correct a sentence on the basis that: (1) "the sentence
was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the
United States"; (2) the sentencing court lacked
jurisdiction; (3) the sentence exceeded the maximum
authorized by law; or (4) the sentence is "otherwise
subject to collateral attack." 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a)
(2012). The prisoner bears the burden of proof and must
establish the claim by a preponderanee of the evidence.
See Miller v. United States, 261 F.2d 546, 547 (4th
Government first argues that the Motion is procedurally
defaulted because Curtin did not challenge his career
offender enhancement at sentencing or on direct appeal. When
a petitioner fails to raise a claim on direct appeal, the
claims are procedurally defaulted and prisoners are barred
from raising them in a § 2255 motion unless they can
"demonstrate cause and prejudice, or actual
innocence." United States v. Pettiford, 612
F.3d 270, 280 (4th Cir. 2010). "The existence of cause
for a procedural default must turn on something external to
the defense, such as the novelty of the claim or a denial of
effective assistance of counsel." Id. (quoting
United States v. Mikalajunas,186 F.3d 490, 493 (4th
Cir. 1999)). To demonstrate actual innocence, a petitioner
must establish "factual innocence" such that