United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division
MICHAEL F. URBANSKI, District Judge.
Marchetta Anita Jones, a federal inmate proceeding pro se, has moved to vacate, set aside, or correct her sentence, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. The government has filed a motion to dismiss, and the time allotted for Jones to respond has expired, making this matter ripe for consideration. Upon review of the record, the court concludes that Jones has not stated any claim for relief under § 2255 and that the government's motion to dismiss must be granted.
A federal grand jury charged Jones and ten codefendants in a seven-count indictment. Jones was charged with count one, conspiracy to distribute one thousand kilograms or more of marijuana, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846, and counts two and three, conspiracy to commit money laundering, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1956(h). On December 10, 2012, a plea agreement was filed with the court pursuant to Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, which was fully endorsed by Jones, her counsel, and the Assistant United States Attorney. In the plea agreement, Jones stipulated that she was responsible for between 400 and 700 kilograms of marijuana. (Plea Agreement at 3, Dkt. No. 226.) Jones agreed to waive her right to appeal and collaterally attack the judgment, with the exception that she preserved her right to file a collateral attack based on ineffective assistance of counsel. ( Id. at 8-9.) Jones also agreed to "willingly stipulate there is a sufficient factual basis to support each and every material factual allegation contained within the charging document(s) to which [she was] pleading guilty." ( Id. at 12).
On July 28, 2014, Jones pleaded guilty to a lesser included offense of count one, conspiracy to distribute more than 100 kilograms of marijuana, and to count two, conspiracy to commit money laundering. During the guilty plea hearing, the government stated that Jones "would be held responsible for between 400 and 700 kilograms of marijuana." (Plea Hr'g Tr. at 4, Dkt. No. 439.) Jones affirmed that she had received a copy of the indictment pending against her and had "fully discussed those charges and this case in general with [her] counsel." ( Id. at 7.) She further affirmed that she had read and understood the plea agreement, and that no one had "made any other or different promises or assurance[s] to [her] of any kind in an effort to induce [her] to enter a plea of guilty." ( Id. at 8-9.) Jones also affirmed that she understood she was waiving her right to collaterally attack her plea and sentence and that she understood that if "the sentence is more severe than [she] expected it to be" she would still be bound by her plea. ( Id. at 17-18.) She affirmed she was "pleading guilty because [she was] in fact guilty...." ( Id. at 19.) The court found that Jones was "fully competent and capable of entering an informed plea and that [her] pleas of guilty were knowing and voluntary" and accepted her plea of guilty. ( Id. at 24-25.)
On June 6, 2013, the court conducted Jones's sentencing hearing, where Jones was present with counsel. During the sentencing hearing, the court adopted the Presentence Investigation Report ("PSR") and the parties did not object. The PSR proposed a total offense level of 27 and a criminal history category of VI, resulting in a guideline range of imprisonment of 130 to 162 months. (PSR at 27, Dkt. No. 362.) The court imposed a sentence of 130 months imprisonment, and Jones did not appeal.
In her § 2255 motion, Jones claims that counsel provided ineffective assistance by (1) failing to challenge the government's breach of the plea agreement; (2) failing to challenge the plea agreement for lacking information regarding her potential sentence; and (3) failing to explain the elements of money laundering. Jones also claims that the court failed to provide a basis for the sentence imposed and that her sentence was too severe compared to the sentences of her codefendants. Finally, Jones moves the court to apply the holding in Alleyne v. United States, ___ U.S. ___, 133 S.Ct. 2151 (2013), to the facts of her case. The court finds that Jones's motion to vacate fails and will be dismissed.
To state a claim for relief under § 2255, a petitioner must prove that one of the following occurred: (1) that her sentence was "imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States"; (2) that "the court was without jurisdiction to impose such a sentence"; or (3) that "the sentence was in excess of the maximum authorized by law, or is otherwise subject to collateral attack." 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Jones bears the burden of proving grounds for a collateral attack by a preponderance of the evidence. Jacobs v. United States, 350 F.2d 571, 574 (4th Cir. 1965); Hall v. United States, 30 F.Supp.2d 883, 889 (E.D. Va. 1998).
To establish a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, Jones must satisfy the two-pronged test set forth in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 671 (1984). The first prong of Strickland requires a petitioner to show "that counsel made errors so serious that counsel was not functioning as the counsel' guaranteed the defendant by the Sixth Amendment, " meaning that counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness. Id. at 687-88. Courts apply a strong presumption that counsel's performance was within the range of reasonable professional assistance. Id. at 689; see also Fields v. Att'y Gen. of Md., 956 F.2d 1290, 1297-99 (4th Cir. 1992); Hutchins v. Garrison, 724 F.2d 1425, 1430-31 (4th Cir. 1983).
The second prong of Strickland requires a petitioner to show that counsel's deficient performance prejudiced him by demonstrating a "reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different." Strickland, 466 at 694. A petitioner who pleaded guilty must demonstrate that, but for counsel's alleged error, there is a reasonable probability that he would not have pleaded guilty and would have insisted on going to trial. Hill v. Lockhart, 474 U.S. 52, 59 (1985). "A reasonable probability is a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome." Strickland, 466 U.S. at 694.
Jones fails to show both deficient performance and resulting prejudice as required by Strickland.
A. Ineffective Assistance of ...