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Parker v. United States

United States District Court, D. Maryland

May 30, 2019



         On August 19, 2015, a grand jury indicted Defendant Delonte Parker on a charge of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute one kilogram or more of heroin, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846. See ECF No. 1. A superseding information filed on July 26, 2016, broadened his potential liability, charging him with one count of conspiracy to distribute one kilogram of heroin, 21 U.S.C. § 846 (“Count 1”), and one count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, 18 U.S.C. § 922(g) (“Count 2”). See ECF No. 143. Parker pleaded guilty to both counts. See Plea Agreement, ECF No. 147. The plea agreement stipulated that a sentence of “not less than 60 months (five years) and not more than 108 months (nine years) imprisonment” was appropriate. Id. at 5. The parties did not agree on the quantity of heroin for which Parker was responsible. See Id. at 4. The Government's position was that Parker was responsible for at least 400 grams but less than 700 grams of heroin, while Parker maintained he was responsible for at least 100 grams but less than 400 grams. See id.

         On January 25, 2017, this Court sentenced Parker to a total of 90 months of imprisonment on Count 1 and 90 months on Count 2, to run concurrently. Judgment 2, ECF No. 217. At the sentencing hearing, this Court found the amount of heroin attributable to Parker was less than 400 grams. See Sentencing Hr'g Tr. 76:5-24, ECF 236. Parker subsequently filed an appeal, which the Fourth Circuit dismissed on November 14, 2017. See United States v. Parker, 701 Fed.Appx. 282 (4th Cir. 2017) (per curiam).

         Parker then filed a motion to vacate pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 on March 23, 2018. ECF 244. With this motion, Parker seeks to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence based on ineffective assistance of counsel. See Mot. to Vacate, ECF No. 244. He alleges his counsel was ineffective in three ways: (1) counsel informed him, falsely, that he would receive a 60-month sentence, or at most a 71-month sentence, if he accepted the Government's plea deal, (2) counsel advised him to take the Government's plea deal without further investigating his case, and (3) counsel was ineffective during the sentencing phase in failing to object to the Court's findings regarding the weight of the controlled substance. See Pet'r's Mem. 3, 5-7, 9, ECF No. 244-1.

         The Government opposed Parker's motion, contending that all his claims are meritless and should be denied without a hearing. Opp'n 7, ECF No. 255. Parker filed a response to the Government's motion, reiterating the same arguments he made in his motion to vacate. See Pet'r's Reply 2, ECF 264. I have reviewed all of the filings and conclude that a hearing is unnecessary. See Loc. R. 105.6.

         I. DISCUSSION

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, a prisoner sentenced by a federal court may seek to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence on the ground that it “was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a). The prisoner must prove his case by a preponderance of the evidence. Brown v. United States, Civil No. DKC-10-2569 & Crim. No. DKC-08-529, 2013 WL 4562276, at *5 (D. Md. Aug. 27, 2013). If the court finds for the prisoner, “the court shall vacate and set the judgment aside and shall discharge the prisoner or resentence him or grant a new trial or correct the sentence as may appear appropriate.” § 2255(b). Although “a pro se movant is entitled to have his arguments reviewed with appropriate deference, ” the court may summarily deny the motion without a hearing “if the § 2255 motion, along with the files and records of the case, conclusively shows that [the prisoner] is not entitled to relief.” Brown, 2013 WL 4562276, at *5 (citing Gordon v. Leeke, 574 F.2d 1147, 1151-53 (4th Cir. 1978)).

         To prevail on a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel as the alleged constitutional violation,

a petitioner must show that counsel's performance was constitutionally deficient to the extent that it fell below an objective standard of reasonableness, and that he was prejudiced thereby. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687-91 (1984). In making this determination, there is a strong presumption that counsel's conduct was within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance. Id. at 689; see also Fields v. Attorney Gen. of Md., 956 F.2d 1290, 1297-99 (4th Cir. 1992). Furthermore, the petitioner “bears the burden of proving Strickland prejudice.” Fields, 956 F.2d at 1297. “If the petitioner fails to meet this burden, a reviewing court need not consider the performance prong.” Fields, 956 F.2d at 1297 (citing Strickland, 466 U.S. at 697). In considering the prejudice prong of the analysis, the Court may not grant relief solely because the petitioner can show that, but for counsel's performance, the outcome would have been different. Sexton v. French, 163 F.3d 874, 882 (4th Cir. 1998). Rather, the Court “can only grant relief under . . . Strickland if the ‘result of the proceeding was fundamentally unfair or unreliable.'” Id. (quoting Lockhard v. Fretwell, 506 U.S. 364, 369 (1993)).

United States v. Lomax, Civil No. WMN-13-2375 & Crim. No. WMN-10-145, 2014 WL 1340065, at *2 (D. Md. Apr. 2, 2014). The Strickland standard applies to “guilty pleas based on ineffective assistance of counsel.” Hill v. Lockhart, 474 U.S. 52, 58 (1985). “When a petitioner alleges ineffective assistance of counsel following the entry of a guilty plea, he ‘must show that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's errors, [he] would not have pleaded guilty and would have insisted on going to trial.'” United States v. Fabian, 798 F.Supp.2d 647, 670- 71 (D. Md. 2011) (quoting Hill, 474 U.S. at 59). “A reasonable probability is a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome.” Strickland, 466 U.S. at 694.

         A. Ineffective Assistance - Advising Parker that He Would Be Sentenced Only to 60-71 Months if He Pleaded Guilty

          Parker first contends that his attorney provided ineffective assistance of counsel by telling him -- incorrectly, as it turns out - that he would “get no more than 71 months, and would likely end up with a 60 month sentence.” Pet'r's Mem. 5. Parker alleges that his “[c]ounsel's assurances that he would get no more than a 71-month sentence was the motivating factor to the entry of a guilty plea in this case to an amount of heroin that he did not feel he was guilty of, nor did the evidence demonstrate he was guilty of.” Pet'r's Reply 2, ECF No. 264.

         Parker's arguments are in tension both with the plea agreement he signed and with the record of his Rule 11 colloquy. The plea agreement was clear. In it, the parties stated that they “stipulate and agree pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(c)(1)(C) that, regardless of the final applicable guidelines range, a sentence of not less than 60 months (five years) and not more than 108 months (nine years) imprisonment in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons is the appropriate disposition of this case.” Plea Agreement 5. At Parker's Rule 11 colloquy, when this Court asked Parker if he had signed the plea agreement and read and understood it before doing so, he said he had. Rearraignment Tr. 7:17-19, ECF No. 235.

         The Court went on to discuss with Parker the potential penalties he could incur from his plea agreement:

THE COURT: As part of this agreement, there's an agreement that you give up the right to appeal and the government gives up the right to appeal. And basically, it means that if I sentence you to at least 60 months, but no more than 108 month[s], then neither you or the government can appeal. If I sentence you to more than that, you can appeal; or less than that, the government can appeal. But otherwise, if I sentence you within that ...

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