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Vinson v. United States

United States District Court, D. Maryland

July 1, 2019

ADRIAN VINSON, prose Petitioner



         Pro se Petitioner Adrian Vinson has filed a Motion to Vacate his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. He claims that his Sixth Amendment right to counsel was violated because his counsel's assistance with regard to pleading and sentencing was ineffective. ECF No. 246. In particular. Vinson argues that counsel should have challenged the applicability of three provisions under the United States Sentencing Guidelines (USSG) that were part of the Government's recommendation as to Vinson's sentencing range. Id. For the reasons set forth below, the Court DENIES the Motion.


         In April and May of 2016. Vinson conspired with four other individuals (Raymond Dexter Parker, Nathan Antonio Davis, Wayne Ellis Hampton, and Tavon Lee Crews) and one undercover agent from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives ("ATF") to steal 10-12 kilograms of cocaine from a drug "stash house." ECF No. 177 at 5-6. Vinson agreed to commit the robbery and confirmed in recorded statements to the undercover ATF agent that he intended to pose as a police officer to enter the stash house and take the cocaine. Id. at 6. Upon Vinson's arrest on May 4, 2016, law enforcement recovered a ski mask, gloves, and three firearms from the scene. Id.

         On May 18, 2016, Vinson was charged by indictment with Conspiracy to Possess with the Intent to Distribute Cocaine (Count One) and Conspiracy to Possess Firearms in Furtherance of a Drug Trafficking Crime (Count Three). Id. at 5. On December 22, 2016, he pled guilty to Counts One and Three pursuant to a plea agreement with the Government, id., which the Court reviewed with Vinson during a Rule 11 plea colloquy. ECF No. 283.

         The plea agreement provided a calculation of Vinson's appropriate sentencing range under the USSG. ECF No. 163 at 4. The calculations included a USSG § 4B1.1 career offender enhancement as to Count One, because Vinson had previously been convicted of two controlled substance offenses (one under District of Columbia law and one under federal law). Id. The career offender enhancement resulted in a total offense level for Vinson of 34 and a criminal history category of VI, including a three-level reduction to account for Vinson's acceptance of responsibility and cooperation with law enforcement. The calculation for Count Three included a base offense level of 24 in accordance with USSG § 2K2.1(a)(2), based on Vinson's two prior controlled substance convictions; a two-level increase under USSG § 2K2.1(b)(1) because the offense involved three or more firearms; and an additional six-level increase for using a stolen firearm in connection with another crime. Id. Under the USSG, Vinson*s grouped sentence for Counts One and Three would have been between 262 and 327 months. USSG Ch, 5, Pt.A (Nov. 2016).

         Notwithstanding these calculations, the plea agreement proposed a sentencing range of between 144 and 180 months. ECF No. 163 at 5. On May 11, 2017, the Court sentenced Vinson to 156 months imprisonment. ECF No. 206.

         II. ANALYSIS

         Vinson has moved under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to vacate his sentence, claiming that he was unconstitutionally denied his right to the effective assistance of counsel. ECF Nos. 245, 246. A Section 2255 claim on this basis requires that a petitioner prove (1) that counsel's performance was deficient and (2) that the petitioner was prejudiced by counsel's deficient performance. See Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668. 687 (1984). The petitioner bears the burden of proving both prongs of the Strickland test by a preponderance of the evidence. See Hall v. United States, 30 F.Supp.2d 883, 889 (E.D. Va. 1998) (citing Vanater v. Boles, 377 F.2d 898, 900 (4lh Cir. 1967)).[1]


         A petitioner first must demonstrate that his counsel's performance fell below an "objective standard of reasonableness." See Strickland. 466 U.S. at 688. Courts generally indulge "a strong presumption that counsel's conduct falls within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance." Id. at 689. Advising a client to plead guilty or reject a plea deal on the basis of a plainly incorrect interpretation of the law is outside the range of reasonable professional assistance. See Lafler v. Cooper, 566 U.S. 156, 174 (2012) (granting habeas petition after counsel incorrectly advised client he could not be convicted of assault with intent to murder): United States v. Lewis, 477 Fed.Appx. 79, 82 (4th Cir. 2012) (holding counsel's performance was deficient when he incorrectly informed client that he was eligible for career offender status under the USSG). On the other hand, an inaccurate prediction about a defendant's sentence is generally an insufficient basis for a claim that counsel's representation was deficient. See Little v. AllsbrooK 731 F.2d 238, 241 (4th Cir. 1984) ("an attorney's 'bad guess' as to sentencing does not justify the withdrawal of a guilty plea and is no reason to invalidate a plea").

         Construing Vinson's petition liberally, he appears to argue that counsel's representation was ineffective because (a) he failed to challenge the Government's sentencing calculations and (b) he told Vinson the calculations accurately represented Vinson's appropriate sentencing range. ECF No. 246 at 3, 8-9. Neither assertion is sustainable.

         The transcript from the sentencing hearing clearly demonstrates that counsel in fact did question the Government's application of the USSG on the grounds that ...

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