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United States v. Roughgarden

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

June 8, 2016




         Petitioner Tonya Lynell Roughgarden, a federal inmate proceeding pro se, filed this motion to vacate, set aside, or correct sentence, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, challenging her 52-month sentence following a guilty plea. Roughgarden claims that she received ineffective assistance of counsel during plea negotiations and at sentencing. The government filed a motion to dismiss and Roughgarden responded. Accordingly, this matter is ripe for consideration. I conclude that Roughgarden’s ineffective assistance of counsel claims fail to meet the standard set forth in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 669 (1984). Therefore, I will grant the government’s motion to dismiss.


         On May 28, 2014, a grand jury returned a two-count indictment against Roughgarden. Count One charged Roughgarden with conspiring to distribute 500 grams or more of methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(A) and 846; Count Two charged her with using or carrying a firearm or possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A).

         Roughgarden pled guilty, pursuant to a written plea agreement, to both Counts One and Two. At the guilty plea hearing, Roughgarden affirmed that she had ample time to consult with counsel before signing the plea agreement. (Plea Hr’g Tr. 4, ECF No. 43.) Roughgarden further affirmed that she was “fully satisfied with the counsel, representation and advice given” to her by her lawyer. (Id. at 5.) The prosecutor summarized the terms of the plea agreement. (Id. at 6-9.) He noted that Roughgarden faced a statutory penalty on Count One of ten years to life in prison and on Count Two a consecutive sentence of not less than five years. (Id. at 7, 8.) Roughgarden stated that she understood that her sentence would be determined by the court at a sentencing hearing. (Id. at 10.) Roughgarden affirmed her understanding that by pleading guilty, she gave up her right to appeal and to collaterally attack her sentence except for matters that cannot be waived by law or that allege ineffective assistance of counsel. (Id. at 15.) Roughgarden affirmed that no one had made any promises to her other than those contained in the plea agreement to cause her to plead guilty and that no one had attempted to force her to plead guilty. (Id.)

         The parties stipulated to the following facts, which were read into the record: from February to August 2013, Roughgarden distributed at least 1, 499 grams of methamphetamine. (Id. at 16.) In addition, when Roughgarden met with her supplier, she “feared physical harm” and on more than one occasion “possessed a firearm for the purpose of her protection.” (Id. at 16-17.) “Roughgarden acknowledge[d] the purpose of the statement of facts . . . [wa]s to provide an independent factual basis for her guilty plea.” (Id. at 17.)

         I found that Roughgarden was fully competent and capable of entering an informed plea and that her guilty plea was knowingly and voluntarily made. (Id. at 17.)

         The probation office prepared a Presentence Investigation Report (“PSR”) in anticipation of sentencing. The PSR recommended a total offense level of 29[1] and a criminal history category of I, resulting in a guideline imprisonment range of 87 to 108 months for Count One and a consecutive 60 month sentence for Count Two. (PSR ¶ 66, ECF No. 30.) Prior to sentencing, Roughgarden’s counsel filed a memorandum arguing that a sentence of 35 months was reasonable, taking into consideration her lack of criminal history and prolonged battle with mental illness. (Sent. Mem. 9, ECF No. 28.) With regard to Count Two, Roughgarden’s counsel stated that the facts supporting the gun charge were “about as modest as can be and still touch on all of the elements of the crime.” (Id. at 5.) Because Roughgarden cooperated in the investigation, the government filed a motion for substantial assistance pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3553(e) and § 5K1.1 of the Sentencing Guidelines, requesting that the court impose a shorter sentence than that provided for by statute or the Sentencing Guidelines. I granted the government’s substantial assistance motion and sentenced Roughgarden to 52 months’ imprisonment, 32 months for Count One and 20 months for Count Two. (Sent. Hr’g Tr. 13, ECF No. 44.) She did not appeal.

         In her § 2255 motion, Roughgarden alleges that her counsel provided ineffective assistance by (1) failing to review with her the government’s discovery or establish how the government could prove the elements of Count Two; (2) advising her not to dispute Count Two or claim that she never carried a firearm; (3) telling her that he would get Count Two dismissed and coercing her to plead guilty; and (4) failing to review the PSR with her or object to the statements in the PSR that alleged that she carried a firearm. (§ 2255 Mot. 10, 13, 15, ECF No. 484.) In her reply to the government’s motion to dismiss, Roughgarden also claims, for the first time, that she asked her counsel to note an appeal but he refused to do so. (§ 2255 Reply 1, ECF No. 53.)


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


         The proper vehicle for a defendant to raise ineffective assistance of counsel claims is by filing a § 2255 motion. United States v. Baptiste, 596 F.3d 214, 216 n.1 (4th Cir. 2010). However, in order to establish a viable claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, a defendant must satisfy a two-prong analysis showing both that counsel’s performance fell below an objective standard of reasonableness and establishing prejudice due to counsel’s alleged deficient performance. Strickland, 466 U.S. 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 Stickland, 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. A defendant who has pleaded guilty must demonstrate that, but for counsel’s alleged error, there is a reasonable probability that he would not have pled guilty and would have insisted on going to trial. Hill v. Lockhart, 474 U.S. 52, 59 (1985). “A ...

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