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Harmon v. United States

United States District Court, D. Maryland

October 24, 2018

ERNEST LEE HARMON Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          ELLEN L. HOLLANDER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This Memorandum Opinion resolves a motion filed by the self-represented Petitioner, Ernest Lee Harmon, under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, seeking to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence. ECF 238 (“Petition”).[1] In sum, Harmon claims that he is entitled to relief pursuant to the decision of the Supreme Court in Johnson v. United States, U.S., 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015). In particular, he claims that he was improperly designated as a career offender and thus his sentence was unlawfully enhanced.

         Pursuant to a motion for stay filed by the government (ECF 242), the case was initially stayed, by Order of January 29, 2016. ECF 243. Thereafter, the government filed an opposition to the Petition (ECF 244), which it subsequently amended. ECF 246. Harmon filed a reply. ECF 247.

         Based on the content of Harmon's reply, the Court issued an Order (ECF 248) directing the government to address an issue raised by Harmon in his reply. The government responded at ECF 250. Thereafter, Harmon responded with two submissions. ECF 252; ECF 254.

         No hearing is necessary to resolve the matter. For the reasons that follow, I shall deny the Petition.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         Ernest Lee Harmon and five others were indicted on June 11, 2013 (ECF 1) and charged, inter alia, with conspiracy to distribute 280 grams or more of cocaine base, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846. Harmon entered a plea of guilty to the conspiracy offense on February 28, 2014 (ECF 154), pursuant to a plea agreement. ECF 159 (“Plea Agreement”). Notably, the offense to which Harmon pleaded guilty carries a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment of ten years, and a maximum term of life imprisonment. See 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(A); see also ECF 159, ¶ 3. Mr. Harmon's plea was entered under Fed. R. Crim. P. 11(c)(1)(C), by which the parties agreed to a sentence of imprisonment ranging from 180 months to 240 months. Id. ¶¶ 5, 7.

         In the Plea Agreement, the parties agreed that defendant qualified as a Career Offender under U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1. See ECF 159, ¶ 6B. In exchange for the defendant's plea of guilty, the government agreed not to file a notice of defendant's prior felony drug convictions, pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 851. ECF 159, ¶ 9 at 7. As a result, the government agreed not to seek an enhancement of the sentence.

         According to the Presentence Report (ECF 165, “PSR”), defendant qualified as a Career Offender. See ECF 165, ¶ 57. This was based on two prior State felony drug convictions for possession with intent to distribute controlled dangerous substances (id. ¶¶ 39, 51) and a second degree murder conviction. Id. ¶ 46. Based on a final offense level of 34 and a criminal history category of VI, Harmon had an advisory sentencing guidelines range of 262 to 327 months imprisonment. Id. ¶ 66.[2]

         Sentencing was held on April 14, 2014. ECF 174. The Court agreed with the Career Offender designation. A sentence of 198 months' incarceration was imposed. ECF 176. That sentence was well below the top end of the C plea range, and well below the Career Offender advisory guidelines range.

         No appeal was taken to the Fourth Circuit.

         II. Discussion

         A.

         Section 2255(a) of Title 28 of the United States Code, under which Harmon filed his Petition, provides relief to a prisoner in federal custody only on specific grounds: that the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States; that the court was without jurisdiction to impose such a sentence; that the sentence was in excess ...


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