United States District Court, D. Maryland
Lipton Hollander United States District Judge
Memorandum Opinion resolves a motion to vacate under 28
U.S.C. § 2255, filed in July 2019 by Joseph Young, the
self-represented Petitioner. ECF 2159 (the
“Petition”). The government opposes the Petition.
ECF 2164. Young has replied. ECF 2166.
hearing is necessary to resolve the Petition. For the reasons
that follow, I shall deny the Petition.
Factual and Procedural Background
relevant time, Young was a member of a gang known as the
Black Guerilla Family (“BGF”). In 2013, Young was
one of 44 defendants indicted on charges that included
racketeering conspiracy, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §
1962(d), under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt
Organizations Act (“RICO”), 18 U.S.C. § 1961
et seq. He was also charged with conspiracy to
distribute and possess with intent to distribute controlled
dangerous substances, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846,
and money laundering conspiracy, under 18 U.S.C. §
criminal charges were rooted in a pervasive criminal
enterprise at the Baltimore City Detention Center
(“BCDC”), a facility for pretrial detainees. The
defendants generally consisted of two groups: BGF members who
were inmates at BCDC, and corrupt correctional officers who
worked at BCDC and helped to facilitate the enterprise. The
Second Superseding Indictment (ECF 869), which was the
operative charging instrument, alleged that the racketeering
enterprise spanned the period from 2007 to November 2013.
Id. ¶ 11 at 6.
of the defendants, including Young, proceeded to a jury trial
at which Judge J. Frederick Motz presided. The trial began
on November 17, 2014. On February 5, 2015, Young was
convicted on all charges. Four other defendants were also
convicted. ECF 1425; ECF 1426. Two of the five defendants who
were found guilty were BGF gang members who had been inmates
at BCDC. The other three were correctional officers who
worked at BCDC.
24, 2015, Judge Motz sentenced Young to a total term of
imprisonment of fifteen years. See ECF 1709
(Judgment, docketed 6/30/15). On appeal to the Fourth
Circuit, the court affirmed all of the convictions but
vacated Young's sentence and remanded for resentencing.
ECF 1992; see United States v. Carrington, et al.,
700 Fed.Appx. 224 (4th Cir. 2017). I presided at the
resentencing. In connection with the resentencing, I
held several hearings and issued a lengthy Memorandum
Opinion. See ECF 2085.
March 28, 2018, I sentenced Young to a guidelines sentence of
170 months' imprisonment. See ECF 2089; ECF 2091
(Amended Judgment of 3/29/18). That sentence was affirmed by
the Fourth Circuit in a per curiam opinion issued on January
9, 2019. ECF 2144.
Trial, first appeal, and remand
February 5, 2015, a jury convicted Young of racketeering
conspiracy, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1962(d);
conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, in violation
of 21 U.S.C. § 846; and money laundering conspiracy, in
violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1956(h). The jury also
convicted four codefendants of racketeering conspiracy and
noted, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the convictions in an
unpublished opinion. See United States v.
Carrington, 700 Fed.Appx. 224 (4th Cir. 2017). In its
opinion, the Fourth Circuit said, id. at 225-26
For a number of years, the Black Guerilla Family
(“BGF”), a prison and street gang, ran a criminal
enterprise inside the Baltimore City Detention Center. With
the help of complicit correctional officers and other
Detention Center employees, BGF inmates were able to smuggle
narcotics, cell phones, and other contraband into the
facility, and to use their dominant position to control other
inmates and to support gang members on the outside . . . From
2007 through 2013, the Baltimore City Detention Center was
home to a sprawling criminal enterprise led by the [BGF]. BGF
members, correctional officers, and other jail employees all
played central roles in the enterprise. BGF members bribed
correctional officers to smuggle into the facility contraband
supplied by gang members on the outside, including drugs,
tobacco, and cell phones . . . And BGF used its position
within the Detention Center to assist gang members outside
the jail, financially supporting BGF with profits from
narcotics trafficking and coordinating outside criminal
activity. In exchange for their cooperation in this extensive
BGF enterprise, Detention Facility employees were paid with
“Green Dot MoneyPak” cards, prepaid debit cards
available at retail stores . . . Joseph Young and Russell
Carrington were inmates and members of BGF: Young, a
high -ranking BGF member, sold controlled substances
in the jail . . . Witnesses also testified to the
participation of Carrington and Young as BGF members . . . .
the Fourth Circuit affirmed Young's convictions, it
vacated his sentence. In its view, the original sentencing
court failed to resolve disputed factual matters that were
pertinent to the calculation of Young's advisory
sentencing guidelines range. Id. at 234.
Resentencing and second appeal
remand, counsel for both sides filed numerous motions,
exhibits, and memoranda. See Docket, beginning at
ECF 2006. Between November 28, 2017 and March 28, 2018, I
conducted several hearings. See ECF 2019; ECF 2021;
ECF 2036; ECF 2041; ECF 2046; ECF 2078; ECF 2089. And, on
March 22, 2018, I issued a forty-five page Memorandum Opinion
(ECF 2085), in which I reviewed, inter alia, the
evidence as to the drug quantity foreseeable to Young.
Id. at 12-35. I concluded, id. at 35:
Based on the evidence as to Young's personal involvement
with drug trafficking during his incarceration; Young's
stature in BGF, as a Bushman who outranked White and a person
with considerable authority, particularly as to the floor of
BCDC where he was detained; BGF's extensive drug
trafficking organization at BCDC, of which Young was a part;
and the many participants in the conspiracy, I am satisfied
that the smuggling of Percocet pills into BCDC was within the
scope of the jointly undertaken criminal enterprise and in
furtherance of it. Moreover, as to Young, the criteria of
U.S.S.G. § 1B1.3(a)(1)(B)(i)-(iii) have been met with
respect to a drug quantity of at least Level 20, which only
requires 300 Percocet pills of 30 milligrams each, or 600
Percocets of 15 milligrams each. Put another way, this drug
quantity was clearly foreseeable to Young.
addition, I found that Young was subject to certain upward
adjustments under the United States Sentencing Guidelines
(“U.S.S.G.”), including a two-level upward
adjustment based on evidence that he used violence, made a
credible threat to use violence, or directed the use of
violence, and a two-level increase as to the racketeering
count, under U.S.S.G. § 2S1.1(b)(2)(B). Id. at
35-38. Further, I found that Young was subject to a
three-level upward adjustment based on his role in the
offense, although the Presentence Report (ECF 1643,
“PSR”) awarded a four-level upward adjustment.
See ECF 1643, ¶ 29. Therefore, I found that
Young had a final offense level of 31. ECF 2085 at 41-43.
And, although the PSR (ECF 1643) concluded that Young had a
criminal history category of V (id. ¶ 44), I
determined that his criminal history category was a IV. ECF
2085 at 43-44.
noted, at the resentencing on March 28, 2018, I sentenced
Young to concurrent terms of imprisonment of 170 months. That
sentence was below the government's recommendation of 188
months and below the original sentence of 180 months. An
amended judgment was entered on March 29, 2018. ECF 2091.
filed a notice of appeal to the Fourth Circuit on April 4,
2018. ECF 2095. On January 9, 2019, in per curiam decision,
the Fourth Circuit affirmed the sentence. ECF 2144. The
mandate issued on January 31, 2019. ECF 2147.
2255(a) of Title 28 of the United States Code 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 of the maximum authorized by law; or
that the sentence is otherwise subject to collateral attack.
to 28 U.S.C. § 2255(b), the court must hold a hearing
“[u]nless the motion and the files and records
conclusively show that the prisoner is entitled to no relief.
. . .” See, e.g., United States
v. White, 366 F.3d 291, 302 (4th Cir. 2004). Courts have
determined that a hearing is not necessary where “the
motion . . . fail[s] to allege sufficient facts or
circumstances upon which the elements of constitutionally
deficient performance might properly be found [or] where the
defendant has failed to present any affidavits or other
evidentiary support for the naked assertions contained in his
motion.” United States v. Taylor, 139 F.3d
924, 933 (D.C. Cir. 1998) (internal quotation marks and
citation omitted); accord United States v. McGill,
11 F.3d 223, 225-26 (1st Cir. 1993). On the other hand, a
hearing is generally “required when a movant presents a
colorable Sixth Amendment claim showing disputed material
facts and a credibility determination is necessary to resolve
this issue.” United States v. Robertson, 219
Fed. App'x 286, 286 (4th Cir. 2007); see United
States v. Ray, 547 Fed. App'x 343, 345 (4th Cir.
reviewing the Motion, the Court is mindful that a
self-represented litigant is generally “held to a
‘less stringent standard' than is a lawyer, and the
Court must liberally construe his claims, no matter how
‘inartfully' pled.” Morrison v. United
States, RDB-12-3607, 2014 WL 979201, at *2 (D. Md. Mar.
12, 2014) (internal citations omitted); see also Erickson
v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007); Haines v.
Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972) (stating that claims of
self-represented litigants are held “to less stringent
standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers”);
Bala v. Commonwealth of Virginia Dep't of
Conservation & Recreation, 532 Fed.Appx. 332, 334
(4th Cir. 2013) (same). Nevertheless, in my view, no hearing
is necessary to resolve the Petition.
claims that his attorney provided ineffective assistance of
counsel. Ineffective assistance of counsel is a well
recognized basis for relief under § 2255. See
generally Missouri v. Frye, 566 U.S. 133 (2012);
Lafler v. Cooper, 566 U.S. 156 (2012); Padilla
v. Kentucky, 559 U.S. 356 (2010). This is because the
Sixth Amendment to the Constitution guarantees a criminal
defendant the effective assistance of counsel. Strickland
v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 686 (1984); see also
Buck v. Davis, __ U.S.__, 137 S.Ct. 759, 775 (2017).
mount a successful challenge under 28 U.S.C. § 2255
based on a Sixth Amendment claim of ineffective assistance of
counsel, a petitioner must satisfy the two-pronged test set
forth in Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687-88. See
Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 390 (2000); United
States v. Winbush, 922 F.3d 227, 229 (4th Cir. 2019);
United States v. Carthorne, 878 F.3d 458, 465 (4th
Cir. 2017); United States v. Powell, 850 F.3d 145,
149 (4th Cir. 2017). First, the petitioner must show that
counsel's performance was deficient. Second, the
petitioner must show that he was prejudiced by the deficient
performance. Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687; see
Buck, 137 S.Ct. at 775; Chaidez v. United
States, 568 U.S. 342, 348 (2013); Roe v.
Flores-Ortega, 528 U.S. 470, 477 (2000); Hill v.
Lockhart, 474 U.S. 52, 57 (1985); Winbush, 922
F.3d at 229; Powell, 850 F.3d at 149; United
States v. Rangel, 781 F.3d 736, 742 (4th Cir. 2015);
United States v. Dyess, 730 F.3d 354, 361 (4th Cir.
2013); United States v. Baker, 719 F.3d 313, 318
(4th Cir. 2013); Richardson v. Branker, 668 F.3d
128, 139 (4th Cir. 2012); United States v. Higgs,
663 F.3d 726, 735 (4th Cir. 2011).
first prong is known as the “performance prong, ”
which relates to professional competence. The petitioner must
demonstrate that his attorney's performance fell
“below an objective standard of reasonableness, ”
as measured by “prevailing professional norms.”
Strickland, 466 U.S. at 688; see Harrington v.
Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 104 (2011); Powell, 850
F.3d at 149. The central question is whether “an
attorney's representation amounted to incompetence under
‘prevailing professional norms,' not whether it
deviated from best practices or most common custom.”
Richter, 562 U.S. at 88 (quoting
Strickland, 466 U.S. at 690).
Supreme Court recently reiterated, the “first prong
sets a high bar.” Buck, 137 S.Ct. at 775;
see also Powell, 850 F.3d at 149. In
Padilla, the Court said, 559 U.S. at 371:
“Surmounting Strickland's high bar is
never an easy task.” Notably, a “lawyer has
discharged his constitutional responsibility so long as his
decisions fall within the ‘wide range of professionally
competent assistance.'” Buck, 137 S.Ct. at
775 (citation omitted). Consequently, the performance prong
is “‘difficult'” to establish.
Lawrence v. Branker, 517 F.3d 700, 709 (4th Cir.
2008) (quoting James v. Harrison, 389 F.3d 450, 457
(4th Cir. 2004)).
satisfy the high bar, the burden is on the petitioner to
establish “‘that counsel made errors so serious
that his “counsel” was not functioning as the
“counsel” guaranteed by the Sixth
Amendment.'” Richter, 562 U.S. at 88
(quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687). Notably,
“the Strickland standard must be applied with
scrupulous care, ” Richter, 562 U.S. at 105,
and “the standard of judging counsel's
representation is a most deferential one.” Id.
Indeed, “[k]eenly aware of the difficulties inherent in
evaluating counsel's performance, the Supreme Court has
admonished that courts ‘must indulge a strong
presumption that counsel's conduct falls within the wide
range of reasonable professional assistance.'”
Lawrence, 517 F.3d at 708 (quoting
Strickland, 446 U.S. at 689)); see Cullen v.
Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 189 (2011); Richter,
562 U.S. at 104; Lee v. Clarke, 781 F.3d 114, 122
(4th Cir. 2015).
the petitioner must show that his attorney's deficient
performance “prejudiced [his] defense.”
Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687. To satisfy the
“prejudice prong, ” a petitioner must show that
“there is a reasonable probability that, but for
counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the
proceeding would have been different.” Id. at
694; see also Buck, 137 S.Ct. at 776;
Lafler, 566 U.S. at 163; Lockhart v.
Fretwell, 506 U.S. 364, 369-70 (1993). “A
reasonable probability is a probability sufficient to
undermine confidence in the outcome” of the
proceedings. Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687.
Therefore, a petitioner is not entitled to post-conviction
relief based on prejudice where the record establishes that
it is “not reasonably likely that [the alleged error]
would have made any difference in light of all the other
evidence of guilt.” Berghuis v. Thompkins, 560
U.S. 370, 390 (2010).
“need not determine whether counsel's performance
was deficient before examining the prejudice suffered by the
defendant as a result of the alleged deficiencies.”
Strickland, 466 U.S. at 697. Nor must a court
address both components if one is dispositive. Jones v.
Clarke, 783 F.3d 987, 991 (4th Cir. 2015). This is
because failure to satisfy either prong is fatal to a
petitioner's claim. As a result, “there is no
reason for a court...to address both components of the
inquiry if the defendant makes an insufficient showing on
one.” Strickland, 466 U.S. at 697.
error of law does not provide a basis for collateral attack
unless the claimed error constituted ‘a fundamental
defect which inherently results in a complete miscarriage of
justice.'” United States v. Addonizio, 442
U.S. 178, 185 (1979) (quoting Hill, 368 U.S. at
428). In other words, the movant must establish (1) an error
of constitutional magnitude; (2) a sentence imposed outside
the statutory limits; or (3) an error of fact or law so
fundamental as to render the entire proceeding invalid.
Moss v. United States, 323 F.3d 445, 454 (6th Cir.
the scope of collateral attack under § 2255 is far
narrower than on appeal, and a “‘collateral
challenge may not do service for an appeal.'”
Foster v. Chatman, __ U.S.__, 136 S.Ct. 1737, 1758
(2016) (quoting United States v. Frady, 456 U.S.
152, 165 (1982)). Thus, any failure to raise a claim on
direct appeal constitutes a procedural default that bars
presentation of the claim in a § 2255 motion, unless the
petitioner can demonstrate “cause and actual prejudice
resulting from the errors of which he complains, ” or
“actual innocence.” United States v.
Pettiford, 612 F.3d 270, 280 (4th Cir. 2010) (citing
United States v. Mikalajunas, 186 F.3d 490, 492-93
(4th Cir. 1999)). See Bousley v. United States, 523
U.S. 614, 621 (1998) (“Habeas review is an
extraordinary remedy and will not be allowed to do service
for an appeal.”) (internal quotations and citations
omitted); Murray v. Carrier, 477 U.S. 478, 485
(1986); see also Dretke v. Haley, 541 U.S. 386, 393
(2004); Reed v. Farley, 512 U.S. 339, 354 (1994)
(“the writ is available only if the petitioner
establishes ‘cause' for the waiver and shows
‘actual prejudice resulting from the alleged
violation.'”); Finch v. McKoy, 914 F.3d
292, 298 (4th Cir. 2019) (discussing requirements for a claim
of actual innocence); United States v. Linder, 552
F.3d 391 (4th Cir. 2009).
the “cause and prejudice” standard, the
petitioner must show: (1) cause for not raising the claim of
error on direct appeal; and (2) actual prejudice from the
alleged error. Bousley, 523 U.S. at 622; see
also Dretke, 541 U.S. at 393; Reed, 512 U.S. at
354; Frady, 456 U.S. at 167-68.
order to show cause for failure to raise a claim of error on
direct appeal, a petitioner must prove that “some
objective factor external to the defense such as the novelty
of the claim or a denial of effective assistance of
counsel” impeded the efforts to raise the issue
earlier. Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 753
(1991); see also Carrier, 477 U.S. at 492
(“[C]ause . . . requires a showing of some external
impediment preventing counsel from constructing or raising
the claim.”); Mikalajunas, 186 F.3d at 493
(movant must demonstrate “something external to the
defense, such as the novelty of the claim or a denial of
effect assistance of counsel”). Additionally, the
alleged error cannot simply create “a
possibility of prejudice, ” but must be proven
to work to the petitioner's “actual and
substantial disadvantage, infecting his entire trial with
error of constitutional dimensions.” Frady,
456 U.S. at 170 (emphasis in original). Put another way,
prejudice does not support relief of a procedural default in
the absence of a showing of cause. Carrier, 477 U.S.
at 494; Engle v. Isaac, 456 U.S. 107, 134 n.43
actual innocence exception “only applies in limited
circumstances.” United States v. Jones, 758
F.3d 579, 583 (4th Cir. 2014). The Fourth Circuit recently
said in the context of a habeas case under 28 U.S.C. §
2254: “A valid actual innocence claim
‘requires petitioner to support his allegations of
constitutional error with new reliable evidence - whether it
be exculpatory scientific evidence, trustworthy eyewitness
accounts, or critical physical evidence - that was not
presented at trial.'” Finch v. McKoy, 914
F.3d 292, 298 (4th Cir. 2019) (quoting Schlup v.
Delo, 513 U.S. 298, 325 (1995). Moreover, a petitioner
must “‘demonstrate that the totality of the
evidence would prevent any reasonable juror from finding him
guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, such that his incarceration
is a miscarriage of justice.'” Finch, 914
F.3d at 298 (quoting Teleguz v. Pearson, 689 F.3d
322, 329 (4th Cir. 2012)). It is an “exacting standard,
” based on a “‘holistic judgment about all
the evidence'. . . .” Finch, 914 F.3d at
299 (quoting House v. Bell, 547 U.S. 518, 539
order to show “actual innocence, ” then, the
petitioner “must demonstrate actual factual innocence
of the offense of conviction, i.e., that petitioner
did not commit the crime of which he was convicted; this
standard is not satisfied by a showing that a petitioner is
legally, but not factually, innocent.”
Mikalajunas, 186 F.3d at 494 (citing Sawyer v.
Whitley, 505 U.S. 333, 339 (1992)); see also
Bousley, 523 U.S. at 623. Moreover, the petitioner must
meet his burden by clear and convincing evidence.
Mikalajunas, 186 F.3d at 494. In other words, a
“petitioner must show that it is more likely than not
that no reasonable juror would have convicted him in light of
the new evidence.” Jones, 758 F.3d at 583
(emphasis added); see Bousley, 523 U.S. at 623.