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United States v. Entsminger

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division

April 6, 2017

NATHAN ALLEN ENTSMINGER, Defendant. Civil Action No. 7:14CV80784



         Nathan Allen Entsminger, a federal inmate proceeding pro se, moved to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. The government filed a motion to dismiss, and Entsminger responded. This case was held in abeyance pending a decision by the United States Supreme Court in Beckles v. United States. 137 S.Ct. 886 (2017), which has now been decided. Accordingly, this matter is ripe for disposition. Upon review of the record, the court concludes that Entsminger's claims lack merit, and the government's motion to dismiss must be granted.


         On June 13, 2013, a grand jury charged Entsminger in an indictment with three counts of knowingly and intentionally distributing a mixture and substance containing a detectable amount of cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(C). These charges stemmed from an investigation into cocaine trafficking in Roanoke, Virginia, during which members of a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Task Force conducted three controlled buys of cocaine from Entsminger at his home.

         On June 18, 2013, Entsminger was arrested. At the time of his arrest, he was on supervised release for a previous conviction for being a felon in possession of a firearm. Entsminger entered into a written plea agreement. He stipulated to a drug weight of 50 grams but less than 100 grams of cocaine, corresponding to a base offense level of 16 under United States Sentencing Guidelines Manual ("U.S.S.G.") § 2D1.1. Plea Agreement at 3, ECF No. 22. The plea bargain provided that Entsminger might be treated as a career offender under U.S.S.G. § 4BT.1, if the court determined that he had at least two prior convictions for felony drug offenses and/or crimes of violence. IcL Pursuant to the plea agreement, however, the government agreed not to seek an enhanced sentence under 21 U.S.C. § 851 based on Entsminger's prior felony drug offense. IcL at 4.

         The court conducted a guilty plea hearing on August 19, 2013. At the hearing, Entsminger affirmed that he had had an adequate opportunity to read and discuss the plea agreement with counsel, that he understood the plea agreement, and that no one had forced him or made any promises to cause him to plead guilty. Plea Hr'g Tr. at 9-10, ECF No. 43. Entsminger further affirmed that he was "satisfied with all of the elements of [counsel's] services in [his] case." Id. at 32. He stated that he understood the elements of the offense for which he was charged, and the evidence the government would have to show in order for a jury to find him guilty at trial. Id. at 9. Entsminger also affirmed that he understood that by pleading guilty he was waiving his right to appeal or collaterally attack his plea and sentence, other than to bring a claim for ineffective assistance of counsel. Id. at 10-11.

         Entsminger stated that he understood that the maximum penalty he could face for each of the three charges to which he pleaded guilty was twenty years in prison. Id. at 8. The court advised Entsminger that if his past offenses qualified him as a career offender, he would face a higher advisory guidelines range. Enstminger affirmed that he understood. Id. at 16.

         The Assistant United States Attorney ("AUSA") provided a summary of the evidence against Entsminger. Id. at 29-31. She stated that a confidential informant purchased approximately seven grams of cocaine from Entsminger at his house on three separate occasions. Id. at 29-30. After his arrest, Entsminger turned over to the arresting officers an additional 32.3 grams of cocaine from his home. Following his arrest, he was informed of his Miranda rights, [1]waived them, and then admitted his involvement in distributing cocaine. Id. at 30-31. Entsminger agreed with this summary of the evidence. Li at 31. He also admitted that he thought the plea agreement correctly attributed to him a drug weight of between 50 to 100 grams of cocaine. Id. at 28.

         Entsminger affirmed that he wanted to plead guilty because he had "distributed cocaine." Id. at 28, 34. The court then accepted Entsminger's plea and found that he was "fully competent and capable of making an informed plea" and that his plea of guilty was knowing and voluntary and supported by an independent basis in fact. Id. at 34.

         The Probation Office prepared a presentence investigation report ("PSR"), recommending an enhanced offense level of 32 because Entsminger qualified as a career offender due to two prior convictions for burglary and one prior conviction for distribution of cocaine. PSR ¶ 18, 19, ECF No. 37. With a three-point reduction for acceptance of responsibility, the PSR proposed an adjusted total offense level of 29, and a criminal history category of VI, which resulted in an advisory guidelines range of 151 to 188 months' imprisonment. Id. at ¶ 67.

         Prior to the sentencing hearing, the government made a motion for substantial assistance. At the hearing, the court first revoked Entsminger's period of supervised release. Sent. Tr. at 10, ECF No. 44. Entsminger affirmed that he had had a chance to read and review the PSR before the hearing. Id. at 11. Neither the Assistant United States Attorney ("AUSA") nor defense counsel raised any objections to the PSR and the court adopted it. Id. at 12. The AUSA recommended a ten-point reduction to Entsminger's offense level, from 29 to 19, due to the substantial assistance that he provided, resulting in a guidelines range of 63-78 months' imprisonment. She also recommended that any sentence imposed for his supervised release violation run concurrent to the sentence imposed in the present action. Id. at 19. The court imposed a sentence of 78 months each on Counts One, Two and Three to run concurrently. It also imposed an additional 24 months for the supervised release violation, to be served consecutive to the 78-month sentence, reasoning that Entsminger's supervised release violation was separate and distinct from his current cocaine distribution plea. IcL at 26. Entsminger did not appeal.

         Entsminger filed a § 2255 motion, arguing that counsel provided ineffective assistance by failing to: (1) object to the possibility that the government would file a motion pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 851 for an enhanced sentence; (2) object to his status as a career offender under the guidelines; (3) file a motion to suppress evidence; and (4) negotiate a lawful plea agreement and sentence. Pursuant to Standing Order 2015-5, the court appointed counsel to represent Entsminger with regard to any claims he might raise under Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015). Counsel notified the court that he would not be filing an amended § 2255 on Entsminger's behalf and moved to withdraw, which the court granted. Entsminger filed two amended motions to vacate, challenging his career offender status under Johnson. Amend. § 2255 Mots., ECF No. 80, 81. The court stayed Entsminger's case, pending a decision by the Supreme Court in Beckles v. United States, 137 S.Ct. 886 (2017). The Supreme Court issued a decision in Beckles on March 6, 2017, making this matter ready for adjudication.


         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). Entsminger 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 Claims

         Criminal defendants have a Sixth Amendment right to effective legal assistance. Strickland v. Washington,466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984). In order to establish a viable ineffective assistance claim, a defendant must satisfy a two-prong analysis: he must show both that counsel's performance fell below an objective standard of reasonableness and that he was prejudiced by counsel's alleged deficient performance. Strickland, 466 U.S. at 669. 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; see also Gray v. Branker.529 F.3d 220, 228-29 ...

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