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Allen v. United States

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Newport News Division

January 27, 2017

DAVID ALLEN, JR., Petitioner,
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent. Civil No. 4:15cv117



         This natter is before the Court on David Allen, Jr.'S ("Petitioner") Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence, filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, Petitioner's § 2255 motion alleges a single claim for relief, although it relies on various sub-claims seeking to establish that the United States Constitution is void or that this Court otherwise lacks jurisdiction over Petitioner. Having considered the briefs and record, the Court finds that an evidentiary hearing is unnecessary because the record conclusively demonstrates that Petitioner is not entitled to relief. See R. Gov. § 2255 Proc. for U.S. Dist. Cts. 8(a). For the reasons set forth below, Petitioner's § 2255 motion is DISMISSED.


         On February 10, 2015, Petitioner was indicted by a federal grand jury for failure to update his registration under the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2250. On April 16, 2015, Petitioner pled guilty to such charge, and on July 16, 2015, he was sentenced to 30 months imprisonment. ECF No. 34.

         Petitioner did not appeal his conviction or sentence, but did timely file the instant § 2255 motion seeking to vacate his conviction and sentence. ECF No. 38. Petitioner asserts that the United States Government lacked the authority to criminally prosecute him and that this Court lacked jurisdiction to convict and sentence him for committing a federal crime. The United States filed a timely brief in opposition to Petitioner's § 2255 motion, asserting: (1) that Petitioner's § 2255 claim is procedurally defaulted; and (2) that such claim alternatively fails on the merits. ECF No. 44. Petitioner failed to file a reply brief responding to such procedural and substantive arguments, and the deadline for filing a reply has long since passed. This matter is therefore ripe for review.


         A federal prisoner, in custody, may collaterally attack his sentence or conviction by moving the district court "to vacate, set aside or correct the sentence." 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a). To obtain such relief, a petitioner must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that his sentence or conviction was "imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States, " that the district court "was without jurisdiction to impose such sentence, " that the sentence exceeds "the maximum authorized by law, " or that the sentence or conviction is "otherwise subject to collateral attack." Id.; Miller v. United States, 261 F.2d 546, 547 (4th Cir. 1958). Because a § 2255 motion "is ordinarily presented to the judge who presided at the original conviction and sentencing . . . the judge's recollection of the events at issue" may inform the resolution of the motion. Blackledge v. Allison, 431 U.S. 63, 74 n.4 (1977).

         A § 2255 motion is, in essence, a statutory federal habeas corpus action that enables a petitioner to collaterally attack his sentence or conviction through the filing of a new proceeding, as contrasted with a direct appeal.[1] United States v. Hadden, 475 P.3d 652, 663 (4th Cir. 2007). With limited exceptions, a petitioner advancing new claims asserted for the first time in a § 2255 motion "must clear a significantly higher hurdle than would exist on direct appeal." United States v. Frady, 456 U.S. 152, 166 (1982). The "higher hurdle" applies because, once a Petitioner's opportunity to pursue a direct appeal has been waived or exhausted, there is "a final judgment [that] commands respect." Id. at 164-65. Accordingly, the doctrine of procedural default generally prevents a district court from reaching the merits of § 2255 claims that were not raised on direct appeal unless a petitioner can show: (1) "cause" excusing the failure to directly appeal such alleged errors; and (2) "actual prejudice resulting from the errors of which he complains." United States v. Mikalajunas, 186 F.3d 490, 492-93 (4th Cir. 1999).[2]

         "'The existence of cause for a procedural default must turn on something external to the defense, such as the novelty of the claim or a denial of effective assistance of counsel.'" United States v. Pettiford, 612 F.3d 270, 280 (4th Cir. 2010) (quoting Mikalajunas, 186 F.3d at 493) . As for prejudice, it is not enough for a petitioner to demonstrate "a possibility of prejudice, " but rather, he must show that errors "worked to his actual and substantial disadvantage, " infecting the case with "error of constitutional dimensions." Frady, 456 U.S. at 170.


         A. Procedural Default

         Petitioner failed to pursue a direct appeal challenging the validity of the United States Constitution, or this Court's jurisdiction, and thus, his § 2255 claim raising such arguments is procedurally defaulted. Petitioner is therefore precluded from obtaining relief unless he demonstrates both "cause" and "prejudice" excusing his default.[3] Considering first the "cause" prong of the procedural default test, the only explanation Petitioner offers in his § 2255 motion for failing to previously raise such claim is his prior "lack of knowledge." ECF No. 38, at 9.[4] However, an asserted lack of personal knowledge regarding the validity or invalidity of the Constitution and/or authority of the United States District Courts is not "a factor external to the defense." See Anderson v. Clarke, No. 2:13cv223, 2014 WL 1203032, at *5 (E.D. Va. Mar. 24, 2014) (holding that "pro se status, lack of education, or lack of legal training, " are insufficient to establish "cause" (citing Bonilla v. Hurley, 370 F.3d 494, 498 (6th Cir. 2004))). Petitioner therefore fails to demonstrate "cause."

         Petitioner similarly fails to demonstrate "prejudice" because, for the reasons discussed in greater detail below, Petitioner's contention that the United States Constitution is void or otherwise without force, and his associated arguments contending that this Court lacks jurisdiction over the parties to this case and/or federal crimes committed within the United States, fails on its face. Petitioner thus fails to demonstrate that his prosecution, conviction, or sentence was infected "with error of constitutional dimensions." Frady, 456 U.S. at 170. Because Petitioner fails to overcome his procedural default, his § 2255 motion is DISMISSED.

         B. ...

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