United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Harrisonburg Division
Michael F. Urbanski United States District Judge
Harvey Spruhan, IV, a federal inmate proceeding pro se, has
filed a motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. The government filed a
motion to dismiss, and Spruhan responded, making this matter
ripe for consideration. After reviewing the record, the court
concludes that the government's motion to dismiss must be
granted and the § 2255 motion must be dismissed.
December 5, 2013, a federal grand jury charged Spruhan with
conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute 500 grams or
more of methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C.
§§ 846 and 841(b)(1)(A). The count carried a
mandatory minimum sentence often years' to life
imprisonment. 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(A). The government
filed a notice pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 851 informing
Spruhan that he was subject to an enhanced penalty of twenty
years' to life imprisonment based on a 2008 felony drug
22, 2014, Spruhan pleaded guilty to Count One in a written
plea agreement pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure
11(c)(1)(C). The plea agreement established an agreed-upon
sentencing range of 144 to 180 months' incarceration, and
the government agreed to dismiss the § 851 information.
The parties agreed to a stipulated drug weight of at least 15
kilograms of methamphetamine, which resulted in a base
offense level of 38, pursuant to United States Sentencing
Guideline ("U.S.S.G.") § 2D1.1(c)(1). The plea
agreement also provided that "all other sentencing
matters ... are left to the Court's discretion" and
that "other guideline sections may be applicable."
Plea Agt. 4, ECF No. 233.
the plea colloquy, the government entered into the record a
statement of facts signed by Spruhan. The statement of facts
noted that: "Spruhan began supplying [two girls] with
'ice' methamphetamine to sell.... When Spruhan began
supplying [them] with 'ice' they were still
minors." Ex. 2 to Response to § 2255 Mot. 1, ECF
No. 438-2. It also stated that "in addition to being a
seller, he was a user with an addiction of his own."
Id. The government summarized the statement of facts
on the record, Spruhan agreed that he had previously reviewed
it and that it was accurate. Plea Hr'g Tr. 36-37, ECF No.
430. Spruhan also affirmed that he was "fully satisfied
with the advice and representation provided by [his] counsel
in this case." Id. at 31. The government
reviewed on the record the terms of the plea agreement, and
Spruhan said that he understood and agreed to them.
Id. at 13-19. Spruhan affirmed that he understood
that if the court were to accept his plea, his sentencing
range would be 144 to 189 months. Id. at 26. The
court found that Spruhan was fully competent and capable of
entering an informed plea and that his guilty plea was
knowingly and voluntarily made; the court took the plea and
plea agreement under advisement pending the Presentence
Investigation Report ("PSR"). Id., at 17.
noted that Spruhan had provided "ice"
methamphetamine to two minors who sold the drugs for him. PSR
If 17, ECF No. 319. The PSR applied a two-level enhancement
for using or attempting to use a person less than eighteen
years of age to commit the offense. The PSR ultimately
recommended a total offense level of 37 and a criminal
history category of III, which resulted in an imprisonment
range of 262 to 327 months' incarceration. Id. Â¶
75. Neither party filed any objections to the PSR.
defense counsel did file a sentencing memorandum arguing that
the court should sentence Spruhan to 144 months because his
actions were largely the result of his own methamphetamine
addiction, he was twenty-one years old when he provided the
minors, who were seventeen, with drugs, he was committed to
caring for his daughter and he had been "walk[ing] along
a path of recovery and rehabilitation" before he was
arrested. Sent. Mem. 6, 8, ECF No. 316. The memorandum also
noted that Spruhan was twenty-one years old when he provided
the minors, who were seventeen, with drugs, and one of the
minors provided inconsistent statements about Spruhan's
role in supplying her drugs to sell.
the sentencing hearing, the court adopted the findings in the
PSR. Defense counsel called Spruhan's mother as a witness
on his behalf and she testified that Spruhan had been
addicted to methamphetamine. The AUSA argued that Spruhan
should receive a 180 month sentence, in part, because he used
minors to help him sell drugs. Sent. Hr'g Tr. 19, ECF No.
431. The court accepted Spruhan's plea and sentenced him
to 180 months. Id. at 41. Spruhan did not appeal and
filed the § 2255 motion alleging two ineffective
assistance of counsel claims: (1) counsel failed to object to
the two-level enhancement for use of a minor; and (2) counsel
failed to present mitigating evidence of Spruhan's drug
state a viable claim for relief under § 2255, a
petitioner 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). Spruhan 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).
defendants have a Sixth Amendment right to effective legal
assistance. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668,
687 (1984). The proper vehicle for a defendant to raise an
ineffective assistance of counsel claim is by filing a §
2255 motion. United States v. Baptiste, 596 F.3d
214, 216 n.l (4th Cir. 2010). However, ineffective assistance
claims 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."
Strickland, 466 U.S. at 686. Accordingly, 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.
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.
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 pleaded guilty
and would have insisted on going to trial. Hill v.
Lockhart, 474 U.S. 52, 59 (1985). "A ...