United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division
JAMES R. SPENCER, Senior District Judge.
THIS MATTER is before the Court on pro se Petitioner Justin Eugene Taylor's Motion Under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence by a Person in Federal Custody ("§ 2255 Motion") (ECF No. 58). For the reasons set forth below, the § 2255 Motion is DENIED.
a. Factual Background
According to the Statement of Facts (ECF No. 32), starting before January 1, 2001 and continuing through December 14, 2003, Petitioner Justin Eugene Taylor ("Taylor" or "Petitioner") conspired with others to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute marijuana. Taylor and others, known and unknown, would obtain wholesale quantities of marijuana and distribute the marijuana to co-conspirators for redistribution. Also in furtherance of the conspiracy, Taylor and others would arrange wholesale marijuana transactions and, rather than complete the transaction, would take the money from the customer, intentionally fail to distribute the marijuana to the customer, and use the money to finance their own drug trafficking business.
Specifically, prior to August 14, 2003, Taylor met Martin Sylvester ("Sylvester") and Jonathan Hartzell ("Hartzell"). During that meeting, Taylor discussed his ability to supply Sylvester with marijuana for redistribution and exchanged cell phone numbers with Sylvester.
On August 14, 2003, Taylor arranged to meet with Sylvester for the purpose of distributing marijuana to Sylvester. Per their arrangement, Taylor met Sylvester and Hartzell at the residence of a mutual acquaintance. Taylor was driven in his car to the residence by a co-conspirator, who dropped Taylor off without being seen. Taylor met with Sylvester and Hartzell at the residence and then rode in Hartzell's car with Hartzell and Sylvester to the area of Hanover Avenue and North Lombardy Street, in Richmond, Virginia, in order to obtain marijuana for Sylvester. Upon arriving at that area, Taylor asked Sylvester for the money to pay for the marijuana, but Sylvester refused to give the money to Taylor until he saw the marijuana. Taylor left Hartzell's vehicle in order to obtain the marijuana, but he was unable to do so.
Taylor later contacted his co-conspirator and the two of them devised a plan to steal the money that Sylvester had to purchase the marijuana. Pursuant to that plan, the co-conspirator who was armed with a 9mm semiautomatic pistol would pose as the drug dealer, meet with Sylvester and demand to see the purchase money. Upon Sylvester showing the co-conspirator the money, the plan was for the co-conspirator to take the money by force and flee the area with Taylor in Taylor's car.
Pursuant to this plan, the co-conspirator went to the alleyway located between Hanover and Grove Avenues, and North Lombardy and North Vine Streets. Taylor called Sylvester and told him to meet the man in the alleyway to obtain the marijuana. Taylor then went to his car to wait for the co-conspirator.
The co-conspirator met Sylvester in the alleyway, displayed the 9mm semiautomatic pistol and demanded Sylvester's marijuana purchase money. Sylvester resisted, the pistol discharged and Sylvester was fatally shot. The co-conspirator fled to Taylor's car and the pair fled the area. Sylvester died the next day from the gunshot wound.
b. Procedural Background
On February 4, 2009, a federal grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia returned a seven-count second superseding indictment, charging Taylor with (1) conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and distribute marijuana, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846 ("Count One"); (2) attempt to distribute marijuana, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846 ("Count Two"); (3) possess a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) ("Count Three"); (4) use and carry firearm during and in relation to a drug trafficking crime, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) ("Count Four"); (5) conspiracy to interfere with commerce by threats and violence, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1951 ("Count Five"); (6) interference with commerce by threats and violence, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 2 and 1951 ("Count Six"); and (7) use and carry firearm during and in relation to a felony crime of violence, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) ("Count Seven").
On February 13, 2009, Taylor entered into a written plea agreement with the United States, wherein he pleaded guilty to Counts Five and Seven of the second superseding indictment. (ECF No. 31.) In anticipation of sentencing, a presentence investigation report ("PSR") was prepared. The probation officer found that the applicable guideline range was the First Degree Murder guideline contained in U.S.S.G. § 2A1.1. (ECF No. 66, at 184.) After deducting two points for acceptance of responsibility, the probation officer calculated that Taylor's offense level was 41 and his criminal history category was III, resulting in an advisory guideline range of 360 to life. ( Id. at 189.) Taylor filed two motions in response to the PSR: (1) a motion for downward departure from the First Degree Murder guidelines to the Second Degree Murder guidelines, ( see ECF No. 65, Ex. 2 [hereinafter, "JA-2"], at 51); and (2) a motion for redetermination of criminal history category, ( see id., at 54). At the sentencing hearing on May 14, 2009, this Court denied both motions and sentenced Taylor to 240 months' imprisonment on Count Five, and 120 consecutive months' imprisonment on Count Seven.
On May 19, 2009, Taylor filed a timely notice of appeal to the Fourth Circuit. (ECF No. 42.) On January 7, 2011, the Fourth Circuit granted the government's motion to dismiss, finding that Taylor knowingly and voluntarily waived his right to appeal and that the issues he sought to raise on appeal fell within the compass of that waiver. ( See Gov'ts Resp., Ex. 5.) Taylor then filed a petition for rehearing, which was denied on February 22, 2011. ( ...