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United States v. Taylor

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

October 31, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
QUINCY O'NEILL TAYLOR, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          PAUL W. GRIMM, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Quincy O'Neill Taylor pled guilty to two offenses related to drug trafficking while possessing a firearm and was sentenced to 120 months in prison, forfeiture of assets, a special assessment, and a term of supervised release. Pending is Taylor's motion to vacate his conviction and sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. ECF No. 37. Taylor argues that he received ineffective assistance of counsel, his conviction violates the Equal Protection Clause, and that his guilty plea should be withdrawn. Id. For the reasons discussed below, each of Taylor's arguments fails and his motion is DENIED.

         Background

         Taylor was charged in a two-count indictment for conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846 (Count 1); and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A)(i) (Count 2). Indictment, ECF No. 1. On December 1, 2017, pursuant to a written Plea Agreement with the Government, Taylor entered a “guilty” plea as to both Counts. Plea Agreement, ECF No. 25. For acceptance of responsibility and prompt entry of a guilty plea, Taylor received a three-level reduction in offense level under the Sentencing Guidelines. Sentencing Transcript at 4:25-5:5, ECF No. 41. As agreed in the Plea Agreement, Taylor acknowledged under oath his understanding that Count 1 carried a mandatory minimum sentence of imprisonment of five years and Count 2 carried a mandatory minimum sentence of imprisonment to be imposed consecutively to any sentence on Count 1. Plea Agreement at 2; Re-arraignment Transcript at 7:11-9:12, ECF No. 44. As also agreed in the Plea Agreement, Taylor acknowledged under oath that he was waiving his right to appeal his conviction and to appeal any sentence imposed within the sentencing guidelines range for the agreed-upon offense level of 21 on Count 1, followed by the mandatory minimum consecutive sentence on Count 2. Plea Agreement at 2-3.

         Upon finding that Taylor's plea was knowing and voluntary, the Court adjudged Taylor guilty. Re-arraignment Transcript at 27:12-28:23. The Court sentenced Taylor to a total sentence of 120 months incarceration. ECF No. 34. The Court also imposed a supervised release term of four years; imposed a $200 special assessment; and issued a Forfeiture Order for the firearm at issue in Count 2, 440 rounds of ammunition, three extended magazines, and $34, 640 in connection with the charges. ECF Nos. 33, 34. Upon request of the defense counsel, the Court entered an order modifying Taylor's release conditions to remove electronic monitoring. ECF No. 32.

         Now pending is Taylor's Motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence, ECF No. 37, in which he contends that his trial counsel failed to provide effective assistance, that his sentence is a violation of the Equal Protection Clause, and that he is entitled to withdraw his guilty plea. The motion is fully briefed.[1]

         Standard of Review

         28 U.S.C. § 2255(a) permits a prisoner to file a motion to vacate, set aside, or correct a sentence on the ground that it “was in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States . . . or that the sentence was in excess of the maximum authorized by law . . . .” 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.” 28 U.S.C. § 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 [as here] 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 4563376, at *5 (citing Gordon v. Leeke, 574 F.2d 1147, 1151-53 (4th Cir. 1978); 28 U.S.C. § 2255(b).

         Discussion

         I. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

         Taylor argues that his sentence was in violation of the Constitution based on a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. Ineffective assistance of counsel claims are evaluated under the two prong test announced in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984). As the Fourth Circuit explained:

Strickland announces a two-part test for evaluating a lawyer's effectiveness. First, “the defendant must show that counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness.” Second, “[t]he defendant must show that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different.

Fields v. Attorney Gen. of State of Md., 956 F.2d 1290, 1297 (4th Cir. 1992) (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687-88, 694.

         Under the first prong, “[j]udicial scrutiny of counsel's performance must be highly deferential, ” and there is “a strong presumption that counsel's conduct was within the wide range of reasonable professional ...


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