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Hatt v. United States

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

November 2, 2017

GREGORY G. HATT, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Raymond A. Jackson, United states District Judge.

         Before the Court is pro se litigant Gregory G. Hatt's ("Petitioner") Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct a Sentence by a Person in Federal custody pursuant Title 28, United States Code, Section 2255 ("§ 2255 Motion"). Having thoroughly reviewed the motions and filings in this case, the Court finds that no hearing is necessary to address Petitioner's motion. For the reasons set forth below, Petitioner's § 2255 Motion is DENIED.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On December 18, 2015, a federal grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia returned an eight count superseding indictment against the Petitioner. ECF No. 26. Count Two, which charged the Petitioner with "Distribution of Heroin Resulting in Death, " in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(C), is at issue in this Petition. Section (b)(1)(C), (the "sentencing enhancement element"), increased the Petitioner's sentencing exposure from a maximum of twenty years to minimum of twenty years and a maximum of Life imprisonment upon conviction. 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(C); ECF No. 38.

         The Petitioner pled guilty to Count Two on Feb. 9, 2017, waiving his right to appeal his conviction and sentence if within statutory guidelines and all other claims cognizable on direct appeal. ECF No. 33. Upon hearing and being convinced that the Petitioner's plea was knowingly and voluntarily entered, the Court convicted the Petitioner of Count Two and sentenced him to a 420 month term of imprisonment. ECF No. 32. The Court dismissed the remaining counts of the indictment upon the government's motion. ECF No. 45. Petitioner did not appeal.

         On May 15, 2017, Petitioner, acting pro se, timely filed the instant § 2255 Petition. ECF No. 48-49. In his motion, Petitioner purportedly raises two constitutional grounds for relief.[1] First, the Petitioner contends that he received constitutionally ineffective assistance of counsel because his counsel failed to (1) "investigate and respond to the information in the state's file, " (2) explain the heightened "but for" causation test required to prove his guilt of the sentencing enhancement provision, and (3) object to the statutory sentencing enhancement. Pet'r's. § 2255 Mot. at 4-5, ECF No. 49. Consequently, Petitioner alleges that counsel's errors prejudiced him in his plea by denying him the "opportunity to accept an alternative plea, or to go to trial." Id. at 5. Secondly, the Petitioner alleges that he was denied due process as a result of prosecutorial misconduct in violation of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), stemming from the government's failure to consider exculpatory evidence during the plea agreement and sentencing stages of the proceedings. ECF No. 48, at 2, 5-8. To the extent that Petitioner raises new claims in his reply that were not raised in his initial § 2255 Motion, the Court declines to address them here. A Helping Hand, LLC v. Baltimore, 515 F.3d 356, 369 (4th Cir. 2008).

         The Government filed its response in opposition, along with the counsel's sworn affidavit on July 16, 2017. ECF No. 54-1. Counsel, being so compelled, declared in a sworn affidavit that he reviewed all discovery records with the Petitioner advising him of both the facts and the law in his case. Id. The Petitioner filed his reply on Aug. 7, 2017. ECF No. 55.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW AND BURDEN OF PROOF

         A Petitioner may move the court to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, in four instances: (1) the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States; (2) the District Court lacked jurisdiction to impose the sentence; (3) the length of the sentence is in excess of the maximum authorized by law; and (4) the sentence is otherwise subject to collateral attack. See 28 U.S.C. § 2255. "Relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 is reserved for transgressions of constitutional rights and for a narrow range of injuries that could not have been raised on direct appeal and would, if condoned, result in a complete miscarriage of justice." Jones v. United States, No. 4:09CV76, 2010 WL 451320, at *4 (E.D. Va. Feb. 8, 2010) (quoting United States v. Vaughn, 955 F.2d 367, 368 (5th Cir. 1992)).

         When a petitioner in federal custody wishes to collaterally attack his sentence or conviction, the appropriate motion is a § 2255 motion. United States v. Winestock, 340 F.3d 200, 203 (4th Cir. 2003). Section 2255 of Title 28 of the United States Code governs post-conviction relief for federal prisoners. It provides in pertinent part:

A prisoner in custody under sentence of a court established by Act of Congress claiming the right to be released upon the ground that the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States, or that the court was without jurisdiction to impose such sentence, or that the sentence was in excess of the maximum authorized by law, or is otherwise subject to collateral attack, may move the court which imposed the sentence to vacate, set aside or correct the sentence.

28 U.S.C. § 2255.

         In a proceeding to vacate a judgment of conviction, the petitioner bears the burden of proving his or her claim by a preponderance of the evidence. Miller v. United States, 261 F.2d 546, 547 (4th Cir. 1958). Additionally, /wo se filers are entitled to more liberal construction of their pleadings. Gordon v. Leeke, 574 F.2d 1147, 1151 (4th Cir. 1978), cert, denied, 439 U.S. 970 (1978) (providing that a pro se petitioner is entitled to have his petition construed liberally and is held to less stringent standards than an attorney drafting such a complaint). In deciding a § 2255 motion, the Court need not hold a hearing if "the motion and the files and the records of the case conclusively show that the prisoner is entitled to no relief." 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Additionally, the Court is not required to hold an evidentiary hearing unless the petitioner's factual allegations, if proven true, would entitle him to relief. Schriro v. Landrigan, 550 U.S. 465, 474 (2007). Furthermore, if the motion is brought before the judge that presided over the conviction, the judge may rely upon recollections of previous events. Blackledge v. Allison, 431 U.S. 63, 74 n.4 (1977); Carvell v. United States, 173 F.2d 348, 348-49 (1949) (stating it is highly desirable that § 2255 motions "be passed on by the judge who is familiar with the facts and circumstances surrounding the trial, and is consequently not likely to be misled by false allegations as to what occurred.").

         Motions under § 2255 "will not be allowed to do service for an appeal." Sunal v. Large, 332 U.S. 174, 178 (1947). For this reason, issues already fully litigated on direct appeal may not be raised again under the guise of a collateral attack. Boeckenhaupt v. United States, 537 F.2d 1182, 1183 (4th Cir. 1976). Ineffective assistance of counsel claims, however, should generally be raised in a collateral motion instead of on direct appeal. United States v. Richardson, 195 F.3dl92, 198 (4th Cir. 1999).

         "A guilty plea does not bar collateral review of allegations of ineffective assistance of counsel in so far as the alleged ineffectiveness bears on the voluntariness of the guilty plea." Fields v. Attorney General of the State of Maryland,956 F.2d 1290, ...


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