United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division
MICHAEL F. URBANSKI, District Judge.
Jeremiah Batchelor, III, a federal inmate proceeding pro se, has moved to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. The government has filed a motion to dismiss, and Batchelor has responded, making this matter ripe for consideration. Upon review of the record, the court concludes that Batchelor 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 Batchelor in a five-count indictment. Counts one through three charged Batchelor with distribution of heroin, and count four charged Batchelor with possession with the intent to distribute heroin, all in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(c). Count five charged Batchelor with possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 9249(c). A plea agreement was filed with the court pursuant to Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, which was fully endorsed by Batchelor, his counsel, and the Assistant United States Attorney. The plea agreement provided that Batchelor would plead guilty to count four of the indictment. (Plea Agreement at 1, Dkt. No. 31.) The plea agreement further provided, "If this is my third or more conviction of a federal or state offense consisting of the distribution of controlled substances, I understand I could be permanently ineligible for all federal benefits...." (Id. at 10.) Finally, Batchelor agreed to waive his right to appeal and collaterally attack the judgment, with the exception that he preserved his right to file a collateral attack based on ineffective assistance of counsel. (Id. at 8-9.)
On April 26, 2013, Batchelor pleaded guilty to count four, possession of heroin with the intent to distribute. During the guilty plea hearing, Batchelor affirmed that he understood that count four carried a maximum sentence of 20 years. (Plea Hr'g Tr. at 3, 10, ECF No. 40.) The court asked Batchelor, "Are you satisfied with the legal services your attorney has rendered you? Do you have any complaints at all to make about the way he has handled your case?" (Id. at 5.) Batchelor responded, "I'm satisfied." (Id. ) Batchelor also affirmed that counsel had reviewed the plea agreement with him and that he understood what was in the plea agreement. (Id. at 15.) The court asked, "You've read [the plea agreement], you and your attorney have gone over it, you feel like you understand it?" (Id. at 19.) Batchelor responded, "Yes, sir." (Id. ) He further affirmed that he understood that the court was not bound by any recommendation or stipulation by the parties regarding sentencing and that he would not be permitted to withdraw his guilty plea, regardless of the sentence imposed. (Id. at 16.) Batchelor affirmed that he was waiving his right to collaterally attack his plea and sentence. (Id. at 18.) The court found that Batchelor was competent and capable of entering an informed plea and that his plea was knowing and voluntary, and accepted his plea.
On August 30, 2013, the court conducted Batchelor's sentencing hearing, where Batchelor was present with counsel. During the sentencing hearing, the court adopted the Presentence Investigation Report ("PSR"), and the parties did not object. The PSR stated that, "having been convicted of a third or subsequent drug distribution offense, [Batchelor was] permanently ineligible for all federal benefits." (PSR at 18); See 21 U.S.C. § 862. The PSR proposed a total offense level of 29 and a criminal history category of VI, resulting in a guideline range of imprisonment of 151 to 188 months. (PSR at 17, ECF No. 38.) The court imposed a sentence of 132 months' imprisonment. The court also determined that Batchelor was permanently ineligible for all federal benefits pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 862. (Judgment at 7, Dkt. No. 36.) Batchelor did not appeal.
In his § 2255 motion, Batchelor claims counsel provided ineffective assistance by advising him to enter into the plea agreement when it was not to his advantage. Batchelor also claims that the court wrongfully determined that he was permanently ineligible for federal benefits. The court finds that Batchelor'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 his 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(a). Batchelor 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, Batchelor 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 U.S. 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.
Batchelor fails to show both deficient performance and resulting prejudice as required by Strickland. Accordingly, the ineffective assistance of counsel claims must be dismissed.
A. Ineffective Assistance of ...