United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Alexandria Division
CLAUDE M. HILTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
THIS MATTER comes before the Court on Petitioners' Motions to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. As Petitioner Wilson and Petitioner Collins make identical arguments in their motions, the Court addresses them together herein.
I. BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
On November 29, 2012, Petitioner Wilson and Petitioner Collins were charged with conspiracy to distribute 5 kilograms or more of cocaine and 280 kilograms or more of cocaine base. Petitioner Collins was also charged with possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime.
As part of the drug conspiracy, Wilson and Collins obtained and distributed cocaine and cocaine base. From 2009 to 2012, Petitioner Wilson and Petitioner Collins were involved in the sale and distribution of illegal drugs in the Houston, Texas area. To facilitate cocaine trafficking, Collins operated a truck featuring a hidden compartment, which he used to store a pistol, cocaine, and cash. Wilson operated an Acura SUV with a similar hidden compartment. On April 12, 2011, Wilson delivered cocaine during a drug sale and accepted payment on behalf of Collins.
On March 26, 2012, Collins was arrested while driving Wilson's Acura SUV, in which officers found cocaine, approximately $35, 000 in cash, and a .45 caliber handgun in the hidden compartment.
On February 26, 2013, a jury returned a verdict finding Wilson and Collins guilty of the charge of conspiracy to distribute 5 kilograms or more of cocaine and 280 kilograms or more of cocaine base. The jury also found Collins guilty of possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. On March 12, 2013, Wilson and Collins filed motions for a new trial, which were denied on May 31, 2013. On June 5, 2014, Wilson was sentenced to 240 months incarceration and a term of 10 years supervised release. Collins was sentenced to 240 months and 60 months incarceration to be served consecutively and terms of 10 years and 5 years of supervised release to be served concurrently. On June 12, 2013, Wilson and Collins noted their appeals from the denials of their motions for new trials. On July I, 2014, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed this Court's denials of the motions of Wilson and Collins, which decisions took effect on August 6, 2014. Wilson and Collins did not file petitions for writ of certiorari.
Wilson and Collins filed the instant motions for relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 on October 5, 2015 and October 6, 2015, respectively.
II. LEGAL STANDARD
A petitioner attacking his conviction or sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 bears the burden of proving that at least one of four grounds justify relief: (1) "that the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States;" (2) "that the court was without jurisdiction to impose such sentence;" (3) "that the sentence was in excess of the maximum authorized by law;" or (4) that the sentence is "otherwise subject to collateral attack." 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a) (2008) . The catch-all fourth category of non-jurisdictional, non-constitutional errors are cognizable under § 2255 only where the alleged error presents either "a fundamental defect which inherently results in a complete miscarriage of justice, " "an omission inconsistent with the rudimentary demands of fair procedure, " or other "exceptional circumstances" that make the need for remedy apparent. See Hill v. United States, 368 U.S. 424, 428 (1962).
A motion pursuant to § 2255 "may not do service for an appeal." United States v. Frady, 456 U.S. 152, 165 (1982) (internal citation omitted); see also Dragonice v. Ridge, 389 F.3d 92, 98 (4th Cir. 2004) (citing Frady, 456 U.S. at 164-65). Errors that should have been raised at trial or on direct appeal, but were not, are procedurally defaulted. Frady, 456 U.S. at 167-68.
There are three exceptions to the well-established procedural default rule. First, procedural default will not act as a bar to collateral relief where a petitioner demonstrates cause for the procedural default and actual prejudice therefrom. Frady, 456 U.S. at 167. Such an error must work to the "actual and substantial disadvantage" of the petitioner-not merely create a possibility of prejudice. Murray v. Carrier, 477 U.S. 478, 494 (1986) (quoting Frady, 456 U.S. at 170). Second, procedural default will not act as a bar where a petitioner can demonstrate actual innocence in either a capital case or a case in which a recidivist sentencing enhancement was applied. United States v. Mikalajunas, 186 F.3d 490, 494-95 (4th Cir. 1999). Third, procedural default will not act as a bar where a petitioner brings a claim of constitutionally ineffective assistance of counsel. United States v. DeFusco, 949 F.2d 114, 120-21 (4th Cir. 1991).
In Strickland v. Washington, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the Sixth Amendment right to counsel includes the right to the effective assistance of counsel. 466 U.S. 668, 686 (1984). To establish a claim for ineffective assistance of counsel, a defendant must prove both that his counsel's conduct fell below an objective standard of reasonableness and that the deficient performance caused the defendant actual prejudice. Id. at 687-88, 691-92. "The defendant bears the burden of proof as to both prongs of the [Strickland] standard." United States v. Luck, 611 F.3d 183, 186 (4th Cir. 2010).
Under Strickland, "a court must indulge a strong presumption that counsel's conduct falls within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance; that is, the defendant must overcome the presumption that, under the circumstances, the challenged action 'might be considered sound trial strategy.'" 466 U.S. at 689. The Strickland standard is highly deferential to counsel. Id. at 686, 689, 690. The evaluation of a defense counsel's performance is ...