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United States v. Wilson

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division

May 27, 2016

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
CHARLES ANTHONY WILSON, JR., Defendant. Civil Action No. 7:15CV80831

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Hon. Glen E. Conrad Chief United States District Judge

         Charles Anthony Wilson, Jr., a federal inmate proceeding pro se, has moved to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence, under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. The government has filed a motion to dismiss, making this matter ripe for consideration. Upon review of the record, the court concludes that the government's motion to dismiss must be granted and Wilson's § 2255 motion dismissed.

         I.

         On January 24, 2013, a grand jury charged Wilson in a six-count indictment with: (1) being a felon in possession of a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) ("Count One"); (2) knowingly and intentionally distributing a mixture and substance containing a detectible amount of marijuana, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(D) ("Count Two"); (3) knowingly possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) ("Count Three"); (4) being a felon in possession of a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) ("Count Four"); knowingly possessing an unregistered shotgun with a barrel length of 18 inches, in violation of 26 U.S.C. § 5861(d) and 5845 ("Count Five"); and being a felon in possession of a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) ("Count Six").

         Wilson pleaded guilty to Counts Three and Five, and the government agreed to dismiss the remaining charges, pursuant to a written plea agreement. At the guilty plea colloquy, Wilson affirmed that he had had an adequate opportunity to read and discuss the plea agreement with counsel, that he understood the plea agreement, and that no one had forced him or made any promises to cause him to plead guilty. (Plea Hr'g Tr. at 7, 19, ECF No. 70.) Wilson further affirmed that he was "satisfied with all the services afforded [him] by [his counsel]." (Id. at 47.) Wilson affirmed that he understood the elements of the offenses for which he was charged, and the evidence the government would have to show in order for a jury to find him guilty. (Id. at 12-13.) Wilson stated that he understood that for Count Three, he faced a mandatory minimum sentence of five years and a maximum of life in prison and for Count Five, he faced a maximum often years in prison. (Id. at 13-14) He also acknowledged his understanding that the sentences would run consecutively. (Id. at 14.) Wilson stated that he understood that he was waiving his right to appeal and collaterally attack his plea and sentence, other than that allowed by law. (Id. at 19-20.)

         An Assistant United States Attorney ("AUSA") provided a summary of the evidence against Wilson. She said that on two separate occasions, a confidential informant made a controlled purchase of an unregistered firearm from Wilson, one of which was a sawed-off shotgun. (Id. at 43.) At a third meeting, the confidential informant bought 9.2 grams of marijuana and a handgun from Wilson. (Id. at 42.) The AUSA noted that Wilson had been convicted of multiple felony offenses and did not legally have the right to possess a firearm. Wilson stated that he agreed with the summary of evidence presented against him and pleaded guilty to both Counts Three and Five. (Id. at 46, 49.)

         The court then found that Wilson was "fully competent and capable of entering an informed plea" and that his pleas of guilty were knowing and voluntary and supported by an independent basis in fact. (Id. at 49-50.) Therefore, the court accepted Wilson's pleas. (Id. at 50.)

         On June 26, 2014, the court sentenced Wilson to 60 months' imprisonment on Count Three and 37 months' imprisonment on Count Five, to run consecutively. It dismissed the remaining counts in the indictment. Wilson did not appeal.

         In his § 2255 motion, Wilson argues that counsel provided ineffective assistance by failing (1) to object to Count Three because he did not have the "mens rea" required for a conviction of possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime; (2) to review discovery materials; and (3) to object to "cumulative errors."

         II.

         To state a viable claim for relief under § 2255, a defendant must prove: (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). Wilson 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).

         Criminal defendants have a Sixth Amendment right to effective legal assistance. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984). Ineffective assistance claims, however, are not lightly granted; "[t]he benchmark for judging any claim of ineffectiveness must be whether counsel's conduct so undermined the proper functioning of the adversarial process that the [proceeding] cannot be relied on as having produced a just result." Id. at 686.

         To that end, a defendant must satisfy a two-prong analysis showing both that counsel's performance fell below an objective standard of reasonableness and that the defendant was prejudiced by counsel's alleged deficient performance. Id. at 687. When considering the reasonableness prong of Strickland, courts apply a "strong presumption that counsel's conduct falls within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance." Id. at 689; Gray v. Branker, 529 F.3d 220, 228-29 (4th Cir. 2008). Counsel's performance is judged "on the facts of the particular case, " and assessed "from counsel's perspective at the time." Strickland, 466 U.S. at 689, 690.

         To satisfy the prejudice prong of Strickland, a defendant must show that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional error, the outcome of the proceeding would have been different. Id. at 694. When a defendant pleads guilty, he must show that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's errors, he would have gone to trial instead. Hill v. Lockhart, 474 U.S. 52, 59, (1985). The inquiry is objective: a defendant "must convince the court that a decision to reject the plea bargain would have been rational under the circumstances." Padilla v. ...


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