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Christopher v. United States

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

October 11, 2017

JOSHUA LEE CHRISTOPHER, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES of AMERICA, Respondent.

          OPINION & ORDER

          HENRY COKE MORGAN, JR. SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter came before the Court on Petitioner Joshua Lee Christopher's ("Petitioner's") Motion Under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence by a Person in Federal Custody ("§ 2255 Motion"), Docs. 48, 64, 69, and the United States of America's (the "Government's") Motion to Dismiss Defendant's §2255 Motion ("Motion to Dismiss"), Doc. 73. The Court GRANTED an evidentiary hearing on part of Petitioner's § 2255 Motion, made findings on the record, and DENIED Petitioner's § 2255 Motion. This Opinion & Order addresses both the findings at the evidentiary hearing and the Court's reasons for DENYING the remainder of the § 2255 Motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On March 18, 2014, the Government filed a criminal information charging Petitioner with one (1) count of Conspiracy to Distribute and Possess with Intent to Distribute Fifty (50) Grams or More of Methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846. Doc. 27. Petitioner pled guilty to the offense on March 19, 2014. Doc. 30. On July 7, 2014, this Court sentenced Petitioner to two hundred forty (240) months imprisonment. Doc. 40.

         On June 24, 2015, Petitioner filed a notice of appeal. Doc. 44. He subsequently filed the instant § 2255 Motion on July 9, 2015. Doc. 48.[1] On November 17, 2015, the Fourth Circuit granted the Government's Motion to Dismiss the appeal "based on the waiver in the plea agreement and because the notice of appeal was not timely filed." Doc. 60. On November 19, 2015, this Court issued a Notice & Order advising Petitioner that he had thirty (30) days to submit a memorandum of law in support of the instant § 2255 Motion. Doc. 62. On December 9, 2015, the Fourth Circuit issued its mandate regarding Petitioner's appeal. Doc. 63.

         Petitioner filed a memorandum in support of the instant § 2255 Motion on December 21, 2015. Doc. 64. He also filed a Motion to Appoint Counsel, Doc. 65, which the Court DENIED, Doc. 66. On January 6, 2016, this Court ORDERED the Government to respond to the instant § 2255 Motion. Doc. 67. The Government filed its opposition on March 3, 2016. Doc. 68. On June 10, 2016, Petitioner sent a letter motion to the Court, Doc. 69, which the Court CONSTRUED on June 21, 2016, as an addendum to the instant § 2255 Motion, see Doc. 70. On August 22, 2016, the Government sought a stay pending the Supreme Court's decision in Beckles v. United States regarding whether the Guidelines are subject to vagueness challenges. Doc. 71. On December 13, 2016, this Court GRANTED the stay. Doc. 72. On March 27, 2017, after the Supreme Court decided Beckles, the Government filed a Motion to Dismiss the instant § 2255 Motion. Doc. 73. On May 2, 2017, the Court FOUND that an evidentiary hearing is necessary on ineffective assistance of counsel and appointed counsel for Petitioner pending the evidentiary hearing. Doc. 75.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         A. § 2255

         Section 2255 is designed to correct fundamental constitutional or jurisdictional errors, which would otherwise "inherently result[] in a complete miscarriage of justice." United States v. Addonizio, 422 U.S. 178, 185 (1979). In order to move the Court to vacate, set aside or correct a sentence under § 2255, a petitioner must prove that one of the following occurred: (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 a sentence; (3) that the sentence was in excess of the maximum authorized by law; or (4) that the sentence is otherwise subject to collateral attack. 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a). A petitioner bears the burden of proving his grounds for collateral review of his sentence by a preponderance of the evidence. Jacobs v. United States, 350 F.2d 571, 574 (4th Cir. 1965); Hall v. United States. 30 F.Supp.2d 883, 889 (E.D. Va. 1998). "Generally, an evidentiary hearing is required under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 unless it is clear from the pleadings, files, and records that a movant is not entitled to relief." United States v. Witherspoon. 231 F.3d 923, 925-26 (4th Cir. 2000); see also 28 U.S.C. § 2255(b).

         A prisoner must file a § 2255 motion within a one (1) year period of limitation, which runs from the latest of:

(1) the date on which the judgment of conviction becomes final;
(2) the date on which the impediment to making a motion created by governmental action in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States is removed, if the movant was prevented from making a motion by such governmental action;
(3) the date on which the right asserted was initially recognized by the Supreme Court, if that right has been newly recognized by the Supreme Court and made retroactively applicable to cases on collateral review; or
(4) the date on which the facts supporting the claim or claims presented could have been discovered through the ...

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