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Wright v. United States

United States District Court, D. Maryland

January 15, 2019




         Nikko Taylor Wright has filed a Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. In his Motion, Wright challenges his conviction and sentence in the underlying criminal action on the basis that his trial counsel acted in a constitutionally deficient manner. 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 is DENIED.


         On May 25, 2016, a federal grand jury returned a one-count Indictment charging Nikko Wright ("Wright") and ten others with Conspiracy to Distribute and Possess with Intent to Distribute Controlled Substances 500 g or more of Cocaine and a Detectable Amount of Heroin, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 846 and 841(b)(1)(B). The Indictment issued after a two-year investigation in multiple states.

         According to a factual statement agreed to by Wright, between March 2014 and May 2016, Wright was a member of a drug trafficking organization ("DTO"), led by his brother and co- defendant Mario Wright, that formed the basis of the conspiracy charge. The DTO was based in Newark, New Jersey, but it reached into other states, including Connecticut and Maryland. Wright was the head of the Maryland arm of the DTO, which received heroin and cocaine from Mario Wright in New Jersey in amounts meant for distribution. Wright orchestrated the transfer of drugs from New Jersey to Maryland either by driving to New Jersey and picking up drugs, delegating that duty to his Maryland associates, or meeting Mario Wright's associates in Maryland or at a highway rest area in Delaware to conduct the handoff. Wright oversaw the distribution of cocaine and heroin obtained from Mario Wright to drug dealers and users in Maryland.

         Wright at times possessed firearms and ammunition as part of his role in the DTO. Specifically, Shahryar Talebi-Nejad, another member of the DTO, stored at his home a Rossi .38 caliber revolver, six CBC .38 caliber cartridges, and two Winchester .38 caliber cartridges for Wright. On March 16, 2016, Wright asked Talebi-Nejad to bring the revolver and cartridges to him. Wright put the firearm and ammunition in the trunk of a car in which he was riding, next to cocaine meant for sale, during a trip to threaten a drug customer who had recently attacked Wright's sister and insulted Wright. That night, Wright was seriously injured when he and his driver, Daniel Rocco Famulare, led the police on a high-speed chase and crashed the car into a tree.

         Following the return of the Indictment, attorney William A. Mitchell, Jr. was appointed as Wright's counsel. On February 24, 2017, Wright entered into a plea agreement in which he agreed to plead guilty to the Indictment. The plea agreement was entered pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(c)(1)(C), under which Wright would be permitted to withdraw his guilty plea if the Court did not agree to sentence him within the parties' agreed-upon sentencing range of 78 to 96 months of imprisonment "regardless of the applicable [United States Sentencing Guidelines] calculations." Plea Agreement ¶ 9, ECF No. 316; see Fed. R. Crim. P. 11(c)(1)(C). The parties agreed that the total offense level under the United States Sentencing Guidelines ("Guidelines") was 29, including a two-level enhancement to the base offense level because Wright had possessed a dangerous weapon, pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 2D1.1(b)(1). In the plea agreement, Wright admitted that he knowingly possessed the Rossi revolver in furtherance of the drug trafficking conspiracy. In signing the agreement, Wright attested that he had "read this agreement" and "carefully reviewed every part of it with my attorney." Plea Agreement 8. His attorney confirmed that he had reviewed the plea agreement with Wright. Wright further affirmed that he voluntarily agreed to the plea agreement, had reviewed the Factual and Advisory Guidelines Stipulation with his attorney and did "not wish to change any part of it," and was "completely satisfied with the representation of my attorney." Id.

         On February 24, 2017, Wright pleaded guilty to the drug conspiracy charge. At the sentencing hearing on June 26, 2017, the Court found that the total offense level was 30, including the agreed-upon two-level enhancement for a dangerous weapon and a three-level increase for Wright's role in the conspiracy as a manager under U.S.S.G. § 3B1.1(b), and that the Guidelines range was 108-135 months, but sentenced Wright to 90 months of imprisonment, within the parties' agreed-upon range. At the hearing, Wright's counsel conceded that the possession of the gun "was sufficient under the guidelines and under the case law to prove at least a two-level enhancement" due to the proximity of the gun to the drug business, but argued to the Court that the possession was not "in furtherance of in the actual sense" because Wright was reacting in anger to the assault of his sister. Sentencing Hr'g Tr. 18, ECF No. 521-2. Wright did not file a direct appeal of his conviction and sentence. On June 5, 2018, he filed the pending Motion.


         In his Motion, Wright collaterally attacks his conviction based on his claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. Specifically, he asserts that his attorney's performance was constitutionally inadequate by failing to contest the two-level sentencing enhancement for possessing a dangerous weapon pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 2D 1.1 (b)(1), to investigate mitigating circumstances surrounding his possession of that weapon, and to present evidence of those mitigating circumstances to the Court. He appears to complain about the application of this particular enhancement because it has made him ineligible for a reduction in his sentence of up to one year based on successful completion of the Bureau of Prisons' Residential Drug Abuse Program ("RDAP"). See 18 U.S.C. § 3621(e)(2)(B) (2012). Offenders who have been convicted of an offense involving the possession of a firearm are not eligible for early release through RDAP. 28 C.F.R. § 550.55(b)(5)(ii) (2018).

         I. Legal Standards

         A. Section 2255 Motions

         A prisoner in federal custody may move to vacate, set aside, or correct his 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 petitioner bears the burden of proof and must establish the claim by a preponderance of the evidence. See Miller v. United States, 261 F.2d 546, 547 (4th Cir. 1958). In § 2255 proceedings, "[u]nless the motion and the files and records of the case conclusively show that the prisoner is entitled to no relief, the court shall. . . grant a prompt hearing thereon, determine the issues and make findings of fact and conclusions of law with respect thereto." 28 U.S.C. § 2255(b). A hearing is necessary where there are disputed issues of fact that need to be resolved in order for the court to rule on the motion. See United States v. Witherspoon, 231 F.3d 923, 927 (4th Cir. 2000). "If it plainly appears from the motion, any attached exhibits, and the record of prior proceedings that the moving party is not entitled to relief, the judge must dismiss the motion." Rule 4(b), Rules Governing Section 2255 Proceedings for the United States District Courts. Moreover, absent extraordinary circumstances, a court may, "without holding an evidentiary hearing, dismiss any § 2255 motion that necessarily relies on allegations that contradict the sworn statements" made during a Rule 11 guilty plea colloquy, because such allegations are '"palpably incredible' and 'patently frivolous or false."' United States v. Lemaster, 403 F.3d 216, 221-22 (4th Cir. 2005). Because, as discussed below, Wright has not asserted extraordinary circumstances that would justify departure from this rule, and the Court need not resolve factual disputes in order to resolve the Motion, the Court declines to hold an evidentiary hearing.

         B. Ineffective ...

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