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Coleman v. United States

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division

March 26, 2014

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. Criminal Action No. 3:09-CR-207


JAMES R. SPENCER, District Judge.

THIS MATTER is before the Court on Petitioner Paul Bernard Coleman's Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 for Writ of Habeas Corpus ("§ 2255 Motion") (ECF No. 139). For the reasons below, the Court will DENY Coleman's § 2255 Motion.


On July 7, 2009, Coleman was charged in a two-count Indictment with two counts of Possession with the Intent to Distribute 50 Grams or More of Cocaine Base ("Counts One and Two"), in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(A)(iii). (ECF No. 1). On September 15, 2009, the United States filed an Information to Establish Prior Conviction and Notice to Seek a Sentencing Enhancement against Coleman, in accordance with 21 U.S.C. § 851. (ECF Nos. 17, 18). Pursuant to this enhancement, Defendant was subject to an increased penalty provision due to his two prior felony drug convictions. ( Id. ) On September 25, 2009, Coleman appeared before this Court for a jury trial. (ECF No. 25). Defendant was found guilty of Counts One and Two the same day. (ECF No. 26). Coleman was sentenced on December 20, 2010, to mandatory life imprisonment. (ECF No. 79).

After appealing multiple issues to the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, which were all denied, Coleman filed an appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States. (ECF Nos. 81, 91, 94, 103, 105). On June 29, 2012, as a result of Coleman's appeal, the Supreme Court vacated his judgment and remanded his case to the Fourth Circuit for further consideration in light of United States v. Dorsey, 132 S.Ct. 2321 (2012). On December 5, 2012, the Fourth Circuit in United States v. Coleman, 490 F.App'x 609 (4th Cir. 2012), affirmed Coleman's conviction, vacated his sentence, and remanded the case to this Court for re-sentencing. On February 19, 2013, Coleman was re-sentenced to 240 months on Counts One and Two, to be served concurrently. (ECF No. 127). On February 22, 2013, Coleman filed a notice of appeal. (ECF No. 129). On June 27, 2013, Coleman's voluntary dismissal of his appeal was granted by the Fourth Circuit. (ECF No. 138).

On August 27, 2013, Coleman filed this § 2255 Motion. (ECF No. 139). The Government filed its opposition on September 4, 2013. Coleman filed his reply on September 24, 2013. This matter is now ripe for review.


Under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, a prisoner in federal custody may attack his sentence if: (1) the sentence violates the Constitution or the laws of the United States; (2) the court lacked jurisdiction to impose the sentence; (3) the sentence exceeded the maximum authorized by law; or (4) the sentence is otherwise subject to collateral attack. 28 U.S.C. § 2255; see also Hill v. United States, 368 U.S. 424, 426-27 (1962). To prevail, the movant bears the burden of proof by a preponderance of the evidence. Miller v. United States, 261 F.2d 546, 547 (4th Cir. 1958); United States v. King, 36 F.Supp.2d 705, 707 (E.D. Va. 1999). A claim that does not challenge the constitutionality of a sentence or the court's jurisdiction is cognizable in a § 2255 motion only if the alleged violation constitutes a miscarriage of justice. See United States v. Addonizio, 442 U.S. 178, 185 (1979). To show that a denial of the § 2255 motion would result in a miscarriage of justice, the petitioner must show actual innocence by clear and convincing evidence. United States v. Mikalajunas, 186 F.3d 490, 493 (4th Cir. 1999).


A. Sixth Amendment Due Process Claim

Petitioner argues that the Government violated his Sixth Amendment rights pursuant to a recent Supreme Court case, Alleyne v. United States, 133 S.Ct. 2151 (2013), when it neglected to list the applicable sentence enhancement under 21 U.S.C. § 851 in the indictment. Coleman avers that, because of this oversight, he was unable to predict the legally applicable penalty from the face of the indictment. Coleman represents that Alleyne stands for the general proposition that "any fact that increases the mandatory minimum is an element that must be submitted to the jury." Id. at 2155. Petitioner contends that his core crimes under § 841 and the sentence enhancement under § 851 combined to constitute a new aggravated crime, the elements of which should have been submitted to a jury under Alleyne.

Petitioner's arguments are virtually identical to those recently rejected by the Fourth Circuit in United States v. Williams, No. 13-4330, 2014 WL 407418 (4th Cir. Feb. 4, 2014). In Williams, petitioners argued that a district court erred in failing to submit to the jury the issue of whether they had previously been convicted of felony drug offenses sufficient to trigger the statutory mandatory minimum penalties, thus implicating Alleyne. Id. at *2. The Fourth Circuit held that this claim is foreclosed by Almendarez-Torres v. United States, 523 U.S. 224 (1998): " Alleyne did not address, much less overrule, the exception for the use of prior convictions to enhance a sentence that was recognized by the Supreme Court in Almendarez-Torres. " Williams, 2014 WL 407418, at *2 (citing Alleyne, 133 S.Ct. at 2160 n.1) (citations omitted). Accordingly, Coleman's identical argument similarly fails and will be DENIED.

B. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel Claim

Ineffective assistance of counsel claims under the Sixth Amendment are examined under the two-prong test set forth in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984). To succeed under Strickland, a petitioner must show both that: (1) his attorney's performance fell below an objective standard of reasonableness, and (2) he suffered actual prejudice. Id. The first Strickland prong requires the petitioner to "show that counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness' measured by prevailing professional norms.'" Lewis v. Wheeler, 609 F.3d 291, 301 (4th Cir. 2010) (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 688). There is a "strong presumption that counsel's conduct falls within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance, " and "[j]udicial scrutiny of counsel's performance must be highly deferential." Strickland, 466 U.S. ...

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