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United States v. Wyatt

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

August 15, 2017




         Ricky Timothy Wyatt, Jr., a federal inmate proceeding pro se, submitted this motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence ("§ 2255 Motion, " ECF No. 57). Wyatt contends that he experienced ineffective assistance of counsel[1] in conjunction with his criminal proceedings. Specifically, Wyatt demands relief because:

Claim One: "Ineffective assistance of counsel at the trial proceedings. Counsel was defective for not asserting an affirmative claim under Movant's arrest resulting in the search of his residence illegally." (Mem. Supp. § 2255 Mot. 1, ECF No. 58.)[2]
Claim Two: "Ineffective assistance of counsel at sentencing. The Court aggregated the Counts Two through Six imposing a sentence more extensive. Counsel failed to object causing extended jail time therefore [ineffective assistance of counsel] is shown." (Id. at 3.)
Claim Three: "Ineffective assistance of counsel as to Count One charged offense 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). The indictment lists 'did knowingly and unlawful possess firearms and ammunition.' Counsel was ineffective for not objecting to the element 'possess.'" (Id. at 4.)
Claim Four: "Ineffective assistance of counsel at sentencing. The Sentencing Guidelines were applied wrongly. (1) The leadership role enhancement was applied without authority to support five members. (2) The enhancement for obstruction after the arrest may not be listed as obstruction in this cause but must be a new charge not an enhancement." (Id. at 5.)

         The Government has responded, asserting that Wyatt's claims lack merit. (ECF No. 63.) For the reasons set forth below, Wyatt's § 2255 Motion (ECF No. 57) will be denied.


         On June 18, 2013, a grand jury charged Wyatt with one count of possession of firearms and ammunition by a convicted felon (Count One), and five counts of falsely making, forging, and counterfeiting Federal Reserve Notes (Counts Two through Six). (Indictment 1-2, ECF No. 11.) Subsequently, Wyatt, through counsel Jeffrey Everhart, filed a Motion to Suppress, seeking suppression of the counterfeit United States currency seized during a search of Wyatt's residence. (Mot. Suppress 1-3, ECF No. 16.) On September 12, 2013, the Court denied the Motion to Suppress following an evidentiary hearing. (Sept. 12, 2013 Tr. 37-38, ECF No. 67.) On September 27, 2013, a jury found Wyatt guilty of all six counts of the Indictment. (ECF No. 30, at 1-3.) With respect to Count One, the jury found that Wyatt had possessed three firearms and assorted ammunition. (Id. at 1-2.)

         Prior to sentencing, a Probation Officer determined that Wyatt should receive a two-level enhancement for obstruction of justice under § 3C1.1 of the Sentencing Guidelines. (Pre-Sentence Investigation Report ("PSR") Wksht. A, ECF No. 35.) Wyatt's criminal history placed him in Criminal History Category III of the Sentencing Guidelines (id. Wksht. C), and his Guidelines range called for 70 to 87 months of imprisonment (id. Wksht. D). The Government objected to the PSR because it did not "include the application of a four-level enhancement for an Aggravating Role under United States Sentencing Guidelines, § 3B1.1(a)." (ECF No. 38, at 1.) The Government argued that the enhancement was appropriate because Wyatt qualified as "an organizer or leader of a criminal activity that involved five or more participants or was otherwise extensive ...." (Id. at 8.)

         On January 2, 2014, the Court entered a Notice of Contemplated Upward Variance, placing the parties "on notice that the Court [was] considering imposing an upward variance from the otherwise applicable guideline range established in this case." (ECF No. 40, at 1.) During the sentencing hearing on January 3, 2014, the parties argued with respect to the enhancement for obstruction of justice, as well as the Government's request that the Court impose a four-level enhancement pursuant to § 3B1.1(a) of the Sentencing Guidelines. (Jan. 3, 2014 Tr. 45-60.) The Court concluded that the two-level obstruction of justice enhancement was appropriate. (Jan. 3, 2014. Tr. 61.) The Court also determined "that [Wyatt] was an organizer and leader in the manufacturing and trafficking of counterfeit Federal Reserve notes, and that five or more individuals were supervised by him as a part of that operation." (Jan. 3, 2014 Tr. 63.) The Court therefore imposed a four-level enhancement under § 3B1.1(a). (Jan. 3, 2014 Tr. 63.) With that enhancement, Wyatt's total offense level increased to 26, which, at Criminal History Category III, called for 78 to 97 months of incarceration. (Jan. 3, 2014 Tr. 66.) The Court, however, determined that this Guidelines range was insufficient to serve the factors set forth in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a). (Jan. 3, 2014 Tr. 79.) Instead, the Court determined that Wyatt's Criminal History Category should be increased to IV, which, with a total offense level of 26, called for 92 to 115 months of incarceration. (Jan. 3, 2014 Tr. 80.)

         On January 9, 2014, the Court entered judgment against Wyatt and sentenced him to 112 months on each count, to be served concurrently. (J. 2, ECF No. 44.) Wyatt appealed. (ECF No. 46.) On appeal, Wyatt "challenge[d] his four-level role enhancement under U.S. Sentencing Guidelines Manual § 3B 1.1 (2012) and the district court's imposition of a variance sentence . . . ." United States v. Wyatt, 581 F.App'x 174, 175 (4th Cir. 2014). The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed. Id. at 178. The United States Supreme Court denied Wyatt's petition for a writ of certiorari. Wyatt v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 767 (2014).


         To demonstrate ineffective assistance of counsel, a convicted defendant must show first, that counsel's representation was deficient and second, that the deficient performance prejudiced the defense. Strickland v. Washington,466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984). To satisfy the deficient performance prong of Strickland, the convicted defendant must overcome the "'strong presumption' that counsel's strategy and tactics fall 'within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance.'" Burch v. Corcoran, 273 F.3d 577, 588 (4th Cir. 2001) (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 689). The prejudice component requires a convicted defendant to "show that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different. A reasonable probability is a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome." Strickland, ...

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