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Lingenfelter v. United States

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia

December 21, 2017



          Raymond A. Jackson, United stales District Judge

         Before the Court is a Motion submitted pursuant to Title 28, United States Code, Section, 2255 to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence by a person in federal custody ("§ 2255 Petition"), filed by pro se litigant Larry Eugene Lingenfelter ("Petitioner"). For the reasons set forth below, Petitioner's § 2255 Petition is DENIED.


         On September 22, 2010, a federal grand jury returned a Criminal Indictment charging Petitioner with three counts. ECF No. 30. Count One charged Petitioner with Conspiracy to Commit Murder for Hire, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1958(a). Id. Counts Two and Three each charged Petitioner with Murder for Hire, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1958(a) and 2. Id.

         On February 1, 2011, following a six-day trial, a jury convicted Petitioner of all three counts. ECF No. 80. On May 18, 2011, Petitioner was sentenced to a consecutive 110-month imprisonment sentence on each of the three counts, resulting in a total sentence of 330 months imprisonment. ECF No. 93. Petitioner appealed on May 31, 2011. ECF No. 94. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ("Fourth Circuit") affirmed the conviction on April 2, 2012. ECF No. 111.

         On October 31, 2014, Petitioner, acting pro se, filed the instant § 2255 Petition. ECF No. 125. In his § 2255 Petition, Petitioner raised two grounds for relief, both relating to ineffective assistance of counsel. He alleges he received constitutionally ineffective assistance of counsel because: (1) his attorney failed to communicate the government's second plea offer; and (2) counsel failed to adequately investigate his case and present substantial evidence in mitigation of guilt at trial and on appeal. Id. On August 5, 2016, this Court dismissed Petitioner's § 2255 Petition on procedural grounds. ECF No. 138.

         Petitioner, through counsel, appealed on September 30, 2016. ECF No. 142. On April 20, 2017, the Fourth Circuit granted a certificate of appealability on the issue of "whether Lingenfelter was deprived of the effective assistance of counsel through his counsel's alleged failure to apprise him of a plea offer . . . ." ECF No. 148 at 3. The Fourth Circuit denied a certification of appealability on Petitioner's second allegation (i.e., "the assertion of ineffective assistance based on counsel's decision not to introduce certain evidence at trial."). Id. at 4. The Fourth Circuit vacated this Court's dismissal order and remanded for further proceedings. Id.

         In light of the Fourth Circuit's ruling, this Court ordered Petitioner's former counsel and the United States Attorney to respond to Petitioner's § 2255 Petition. ECF No. 150. On June 9, 2017, Petitioner's former counsel filed affidavits. ECF No. 151. On June 13, 2017, the United States Attorney filed a response. ECF No. 153. On June 16, 2017, Petitioner, through counsel, filed a reply. ECF No. 154. Finally, on October 19, 2017, the Court held an evidentiary hearing. ECF No. 157.


         A. Section 2255 Generally

         Section 2255 of Title 28 of the United States Code provides prisoners in federal custody a means of collateral attack against their sentence as follows:

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(a). It is within the discretion of the district court to deny § 2255 motions without a hearing. Raines v. United States, 423 F.2d 526, 529-31 (4th Cir. 1970). When deciding a § 2255 motion, the court must grant a prompt hearing "[u]nless the motion and the files and records of the case conclusively show that the prisoner is entitled to no relief, " id. § 2255(b); however, the petitioner bears the burden of proving his claim by a preponderance of the evidence, see Miller v. United States, 261 F.2d 546, 547 (4th Cir. 1958). Additionally, pro se filers are entitled to a more liberal construction of their pleadings. Gordon v. Leeke, 574 F.2d 1147, 1151 (4th Cir. 1978).

         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 ...

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