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Strom v. United States

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

October 6, 2016




         This matter is before the Court on Petitioner Justin Deonta Strom's (“Petitioner” or “Strom”) Motion under Rule 60(b) to Vacate or Set Aside Criminal Judgment and Motion for an Evidentiary Hearing. [Dkt. 223.] This Court will also consider Petitioner's recent Rule 50 and Rule 36 Motions. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will deny Petitioner's motions.

         I. Background

         In April of 2012, a federal grand jury returned a ten-count indictment charging Petitioner with sex trafficking of a minor and several related offenses. (Indictment [Dkt. 47] at 1-2.) These charges stemmed from Petitioner's involvement in a prostitution ring that recruited minor women to engage in commercial sex acts. (Id. at 2.) On June 26, 2012, pursuant to a written plea agreement, Petitioner pled guilty to one count of sex trafficking of a child. (Plea Agreement [Dkt. 67] at 1.) On September 14, 2012, the Court conducted a sentencing hearing, and sentenced Petitioner to 480 months imprisonment. (Sentencing Mins. [Dkt. 77] at 1.) Petitioner did not appeal.

         On July 24, 2014, after full briefing and an evidentiary hearing, the Court granted in part Petitioner's first Motion to Vacate under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. (Mem. Op. [Dkt. 150]; Order [Dkt. 151].) The Court found that Petitioner had instructed his trial attorney to file a direct appeal, but the trial attorney failed to take any action, which constituted per se ineffective assistance of counsel. (Id.) The Court did not consider any of Petitioner's remaining claims, as he had failed to raise them on direct appeal. (Id.) On July 29, 2014, the Court re-sentenced Petitioner to 480 months imprisonment. (Judgment [Dkt. 152].) One day later, on July 30, 2014, Petitioner, by counsel, noticed his direct appeal. (Notice of Appeal [Dkt. 154].)[1] In his direct appeal to the Fourth Circuit, Petitioner challenged the validity of his guilty plea.

         On March 5, 2015, the Fourth Circuit affirmed Petitioner's conviction and sentence, finding that Petitioner failed to “establish that his plea was unknowing or involuntary, ” that the Court properly advised him of the nature of the charges and the associated penalties, and that the Court properly informed Petitioner of the procedures that would be employed to determine his sentence. (Unpublished Op. [Dkt. 188]; Judgment [Dkt. 189]; Mandate [Dkt. 192].) The Fourth Circuit declined to address Petitioner's ineffective assistance of counsel claims, as those issues are more properly raised in a Section 2255 motion. (Id.)

         Petitioner then filed a pro se motion to re-file an arrest of judgment motion. [Dkt. 193.] The Court dismissed this motion without prejudice, and directed Petitioner to file a motion pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. [Dkt. 194.] On May 14, 2015, Petitioner filed a pro se motion pursuant to Section 2255 [Dkt. 195], and subsequently requested that the Court appoint counsel. [Dkt. 203.] Petitioner also filed a motion for an evidentiary hearing on June 22, 2015. [Dkt. 205.] The Court appointed counsel [Dkts. 206, 210], and through counsel, Petitioner filed an amended motion under Section 2255 on July 31, 2015. [Dkt. 211.]

         Petitioner's claims included ineffective assistance of counsel as well as other, unrelated claims. (Pet'r's Mem. [Dkt. 212.] at 10.) Because Petitioner did not raise the claims that were unrelated to ineffective assistance of counsel on direct appeal, the Court held that those claims were procedurally barred. [Dkt. 216.] In addition, the Court denied Petitioner's request for an evidentiary hearing, [Dkt. 216.], and held that there is no evidence that he received ineffective assistance of counsel before entering a guilty plea. [Id.] The Court also denied a certificate of appealability. [Id.] Petitioner, through counsel, filed a notice of appeal to the Fourth Circuit on September 9, 2015. [Dkt. 219.] The appeal was later dismissed. [Dkt. 225.]

         While waiting to hear from the Fourth Circuit, Petitioner filed pro se a Rule 60(b) Motion and requested another evidentiary hearing on October 15, 2015. [Dkt. 223.] Petitioner then filed pro se a Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law on September 16, 2016. [Dkt. 231.] Finally, he filed pro se a Motion for Rule 36 Clerical Error on September 27, 2016. [Dkt. 232.] These motions are now ripe for disposition.

         II. Analysis

         A. Motion for Evidentiary Hearing

         As an initial matter, the Court will deny Petitioner's request for an evidentiary hearing. “Evidentiary hearings on § 2255 petitions are the exception, not the norm, and there is a heavy burden on the petitioner to demonstrate that an evidentiary hearing is warranted.” Moreno-Morales v. United States, 334 F.3d 140, 145 (1st Cir. 2003) (citation omitted). In short, the Court need not hold an evidentiary hearing when the record before the Court is adequate to dispose of the habeas petition. Mueller v. Angelone, 181 F.3d 557, 586-87 (4th Cir. 1999); see also 28 U.S.C. § 2255(b). In the context of a habeas petition that challenges the validity of an underlying guilty plea, the Court must first “determine whether the petitioner's allegations, when viewed against the record of the Rule 11 plea hearing, were so palpably incredible, so patently frivolous or false as to warrant summary dismissal.” United States v. Lemaster, 403 F.3d 216, 220-21 (4th Cir. 2005) (quoting United States v. White, 366 F.3d 291, 296 (4th Cir. 2004)). “Only if a petitioner's allegations can be so characterized can they be summarily dismissed.” White, 366 U.S. at 296-97.

         Petitioner appears to be renewing his request for an evidentiary hearing pursuant to the § 2255 motion he filed in July 2015. However, the Court has already ruled on that request and denied an evidentiary hearing. Moreover, the Court finds that Petitioner has not included any additional evidence to demonstrate that an evidentiary hearing is warranted. Accordingly, the Court will deny Petitioner's request.

         B. ...

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