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United States v. Vaught

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Big Stone Gap Division

February 10, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
MICHAEL SHANE VAUGHT, Defendant.

          Debbie H. Stevens, United States Attorney’s Office, Abingdon, Virginia for United States; Michael Shane Vaught, Pro Se Defendant.

          OPINION

          James P. Jones United States District Judge.

         The defendant, Michael Shane Vaught, proceeding pro se, filed a Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, based on claims of ineffective assistance of counsel and court error. The government filed a Motion to Dismiss and Vaught responded. Accordingly, this matter is ripe for disposition. After reviewing the record, I will grant the United States’ Motion to Dismiss.

         I.

         A grand jury returned a multi-count Indictment against Vaught and a co-defendant after Vaught, a federal inmate serving time for unrelated charges, physically attacked a guard at the prison with a weapon that he obtained from his codefendant. Vaught was charged with the following crimes: two counts of assault of a federal officer, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 2, 111(a)(1) and (b) (“Counts One and Two”); assault with intent to commit murder, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 113(a)(1) (“Count Three”); assault on a federal officer with a dangerous weapon, with intent to do bodily harm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 113(a)(3) (“Count Four”); assault on a federal officer resulting in serious bodily injury, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 113(a)(6) (“Count Five”); assault and attempted murder of a federal officer with the intent to impede, intimidate and interfere with the federal officer while engaged in the performance of official duties and with intent to retaliate against the officer on account of the performance of official duties with a dangerous weapon, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 115(a)(1)(A), (b)(1)(A); (b)(1)(B)(iv), and (b)(3) (“Count Six”); assault of a federal officer with intent to impede the performance of official duties resulting in bodily injury, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 115(a)(1)(A) and (b)(1)(B)(iii) (“Count Seven”); possession of a prohibited object intended to be used as a weapon, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1791(a)(2) and (d)(1)(B) (“Count Eight”); and conspiracy to assault with a dangerous weapon a federal officer, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 113(a)(3) (“Count Eleven”).

         Vaught pleaded guilty pursuant to a written Plea Agreement to Count Six of the Indictment. Plea Agreement 1, ECF No. 24. The Plea Agreement stipulated that Vaught faced a maximum statutory term of imprisonment of 360 months on that count. Id. In exchange, the government agreed to dismiss the remaining counts. Id. at 2.

         At the guilty plea hearing, I questioned whether Count Six applied to Vaught, noting that although the Indictment described Count Six as a charge of assault and attempted murder of a federal officer, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 115, that statute actually charges “an offense to which there’s an assault or attempted murder of a member of the immediate family of a federal law enforcement officer.” Plea Hr’g Tr. at 2, ECF No. 59. After review, the government admitted that it had erred by including Count Six. Id. at 3. After a recess, the parties agreed to amend the Plea Agreement. Id. at 4. The Amended Plea Agreement stipulated that Vaught would plead guilty to Count Three, assault with intent to murder, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 113(a)(1), which carries a maximum statutory term of imprisonment of 240 months. Am. Plea Agreement 1, ECF No. 30.

         I then proceeded with the guilty plea hearing, and asked defense counsel whether he had “had an adequate opportunity to consult” with Vaught “in regard to the change in the plea agreement to pleading guilty to a different offense.” Plea Hr’g Tr. at 4, ECF No. 59. Defense counsel answered in the affirmative. Vaught himself affirmed that he had had an adequate opportunity to read and discuss the Indictment and Amended Plea Agreement, particularly the change in the charge to which he intended to plead guilty. Id. at 7. Vaught further affirmed that he was “fully satisfied with [his] lawyer’s representation.” Id. The prosecutor summarized the terms of the Amended Plea Agreement, in which Vaught agreed to plead guilty to Count Three, assault with intent to commit murder, in violation of 18 U.S.C § 113(a)(1). Id. at 8. Both the prosecutor and I advised Vaught that he faced a maximum statutory penalty of not more than 240 months’ imprisonment. Id. at 8, 10. Vaught affirmed his understanding that by pleading guilty, he gave up his right to appeal and to collaterally attack his sentence except on matters that cannot be waived under the law or that allege ineffective assistance of counsel. Id. at 9-10. Vaught stated that he wanted to plead guilty to Count Three because he was, in fact, guilty of the crime. Id. at 13. I found that Vaught was fully competent and capable of entering an informed plea and that his guilty plea was knowingly and voluntarily made. (Id. at 15-16.)

         The probation office prepared a Presentence Investigation Report (“PSR”) in anticipation of sentencing. The PSR recommended a total offense level of 36 and a criminal history category of VI, resulting in an advisory guideline range of 324 to 405 months’ imprisonment. PSR ¶ 54, ECF No. 41. However, the statutory maximum sentence that Vaught faced was 240 months’ incarceration; because the statutory maximum was less than the minimum of the applicable guideline range, the guideline term of imprisonment was reduced to 240 months. Id. ¶ 53. I sentenced Vaught to 240 months’ imprisonment to run consecutively to any previous state or federal sentence. Sentencing Hr’g Tr. at 16, ECF No. 61. He did not appeal.

         In his § 2255 motion, Vaught alleges (1) that counsel provided ineffective assistance by advising him to plead guilty pursuant to the Amended Plea Agreement; (2) that his Indictment impermissibly joined counts against his codefendant; and (3) that I failed to consider mitigating evidence at sentencing.

         II.

         To state a viable claim for relief under § 2255, a defendant 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 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). Vaught bears the burden of proving grounds for a collateral attack by a preponderance of the evidence. Miller v. United States, 261 F.2d 546, 547 (4th Cir. 1958).

         A. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel.

         Vaught argues that his counsel was ineffective for advising him to plead guilty to an inapplicable charge in the original Plea Agreement and then advising him to plead guilty to ...


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