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Spearman v. United States

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Alexandria Division

July 19, 2016




         This matter is before the Court on pro se Petitioner Jihaad Spearman’s motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 due to ineffective assistance of counsel. (Petition [Dkt. 53].) As described below, the Court will deny the petition.

         I. Background

         On December 9, 2011, Jihaad Spearman (“Spearman” or “Petitioner”) pleaded guilty to a single-count criminal information charging him with knowingly and intentionally possessing with the intent to distribute 28 grams or more of cocaine base in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1). (See Plea [Dkt. 19].) On March 2, 2012, this Court sentenced Spearman to 92 months imprisonment, followed by a four year term of supervised release. Spearman did not appeal.

         Spearman’s conviction arose from the following circumstances.[1] In April 2011, a confidential source informed the Fairfax County, Virginia Police Department (“FCPD”) that Spearman was involved in the distribution of narcotics in the area. (PSR ¶ 14.) The source arranged a meeting on April 29, 2011, where Spearman sold 3.6 grams of cocaine base to an undercover FCPD officer. (PSR ¶ 15.) Spearman gave the undercover officer his phone number so the officer could call if he wished to buy more drugs. (PSR ¶ 15.)

         The undercover officer contacted Spearman on June 1, 2011, and requested to purchase one ounce of cocaine base. (PSR ¶ 19.) Spearman directed the officer to deposit $1, 400 into a bank account for Spearman to use to purchase the drugs. (PSR ¶ 19.) Spearman then purchased the cocaine base with the deposited money and arranged a time and location to meet the officer. (PSR ¶¶ 19, 20.) When the two met at Spearman’s chosen location, the officer recorded Spearman selling him 37.1 grams of cocaine base. (PSR ¶ 20.)

         Sometime after that transaction, FCPD officers placed a warrantless GPS tracking device on Spearman’s vehicle. (Richman [Dkt. 60] ¶ 7.)[2] On July 5, 2011-about a month after the controlled purchase of 37.1 grams of cocaine base-FCPD officers arrested Spearman after conducting a traffic stop. (Richman ¶ 7; PSR ¶ 21.) A later search of Spearman’s vehicle discovered 26 grams of cocaine hydrochloride and 17 grams of cocaine base. (PSR ¶¶ 21, 24.)

         Acting under the advice of Federal Public Defendant Todd Richman, Spearman pleaded guilty to a single-count criminal information for possession with intent to distribute 28 grams or more of cocaine base on December 9, 2011. The only drug transaction charged in the information or discussed in the plea agreement’s statement of facts was the 37.1 grams of cocaine base Spearman sold on June 2, 2011. (See SOF [Dkt. 20].) The subsequent discovery of drugs in Spearman’s vehicle was not part of the plea or criminal information. The 37.1 grams involved in the June 2 transaction earned Spearman a base offense level of 26 under the 2011 U.S. Sentencing Commission Guidelines, [3] and subjected him to a statutory mandatory minimum of 5 years imprisonment with a maximum of 40 years imprisonment.[4] At sentencing, the Court also considered the weight of the drugs discovered in Spearman’s vehicle on July 5, 2011. The addition of those drugs, however, did not alter Spearman’s base offense level or statutory sentencing provisions. (PSR ¶¶ 25, 80; Richman ¶ 8.)

         On September 15, 2015, Spearman petitioned to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, based on three claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. On October 19, 2015, Federal Public Defender Richman filed a declaration regarding his defense of Spearman. (Richman [Dkt. 60].) On November 9, 2015, the Government filed its opposition to Spearman’s motion. Spearman received notice of his right to respond to Richman and the Government, but Spearman did not do so. This petition is now ripe for disposition.

         II. Standard of Review

         Section 2255 of Title 28 of the U.S. Code permits a prisoner to challenge his sentence as “imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a).[5]A claim of ineffective assistance of counsel is a well-recognized basis for asserting a section 2255 motion. See United States v. King, 119 F.3d 290, 295 (4th Cir. 1997). The familiar Strickland standard for evaluating that claim requires the petitioner to prove (1) his counsel’s performance was deficient; and (2) the deficient performance was prejudicial. See Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 694 (1984). The petitioner bears the burden of demonstrating his grounds for relief by a preponderance of the evidence. See Hall v. United States, 30 F.Supp.2d. 883, 889 (E.D. Va. 1998).

         To prove deficient performance, a petitioner must show that “counsel’s representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness, ” and that the acts and omissions of counsel were “outside the range of professionally competent assistance.” Strickland, 466 U.S. at 688, 690. The court must assess counsel’s performance in light of all the circumstances and apply a “highly deferential” review with a “strong presumption that counsel’s conduct falls within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance.” Id. at 689; see also Burket v. Angelone, 208 F.3d 172, 189 (4th Cir. 2000).

         To satisfy Strickland’s prejudice prong, a “defendant must show that there is 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. “In cases where a defendant complains that ineffective assistance led him to accept a plea offer as opposed to proceeding to trial, the defendant will have to show ‘a reasonable probability that, but for counsel’s errors, he would not have pleaded guilty and would have insisted on going to trial.’” Missouri v. Frye, 132 S.Ct. 1399, 1409 (2012) (quoting Hill v. Lockhart, 474 U.S. 52, 58 (1985)). The court must make that prediction “objectively, without regard for the ‘idiosyncrasies of the particular decisionmaker.’” Hill, 474 U.S. at 60 (quoting Evans v. Meyer, 742 F.2d 371, 375 (7th Cir. 1984)). In other words, the petitioner “must convince the court that a decision to reject the plea bargain would have been rational under the circumstances.” Padilla v. Kentucky, 559 U.S. 356, 372 (2010).

         The Court will now apply those standards to Spearman’s petition. Spearman alleges[6] the following three claims of ineffective assistance of counsel: (1) failure to advise, prior to the plea colloquy, that United States v. Jones, 132 S.Ct. 945 (2012), held that tracking a vehicle through a GPS device is a “search” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment; (2) failure to suppress evidence obtained pursuant to the placement of a warrantless GPS device on Spearman’s vehicle; and (3) failure to advise Spearman of the availability of an entrapment defense.[7] The Court will address each claim separately.

         A. The Statute of Limitations Bars this Petition

         As an initial dispositive issue, the Court must deny Spearman’s petition as untimely. “A person convicted of a federal offense has one year to file a § 2255 motion.” 28 U.S.C. § 2255(f). In most cases, as in this case, the statute of limitations begins to run when the judgment of conviction becomes final. Id. § 2255(f)(1).[8] Because Petitioner did not directly appeal his sentence, the judgment of conviction became final when the judgment was entered on March 2, 2012. See United States v. Saquella, No. 1:11-cv-1258, 2012 WL 405060, at *2 (E.D. Va.) (citing United States v. Sanders, 247 F.3d 139, 142-44 (4th Cir. 2001), appeal dismissed, 474 ...

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