United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Big Stone Gap Division
M. Kulpa, Assistant United States Attorney, Harrisonburg,
Virginia, for United States; Samuel Lee Courtney, Pro Se
P. Jones United States District Judge
defendant, Samuel Lee Courtney, has filed a Motion to Vacate,
Set Aside, or Correct Sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
2255. The United States has filed a Motion to Dismiss and the
issues have been fully briefed. After reviewing the record
and considering the arguments of the parties, I will grant
the United States' Motion to Dismiss and deny
Courtney's § 2255 motion.
August 25, 2015, Courtney and multiple codefendants were
indicted in this court for drug-related crimes. Courtney was
charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute
and distribute a mixture or substance containing a detectable
amount of alpha-PVP, a controlled substance, and use of a
communications facility in the commission of that offense, in
violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 846, 841(a)(1),
841(b)(1)(C), and § 843(b) (“Count One”);
two counts of possession with intent to distribute and
distribution of a mixture or substance containing a
detectable amount of alpha-PVP, in violation of 21 U.S.C.
§§ 841(a)(1), 841(b)(1)(C) (“Counts Five and
Seven”); and one count of using and carrying a firearm
in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, in violation of
18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A) (“Count Thirteen”).
Courtney agreed to plead guilty, pursuant to a written Plea
Agreement, to Counts One and Thirteen. The government agreed
to move, at sentencing, for the dismissal of the remaining
counts. Plea Agreement 2, ECF No. 371.
change-of-plea hearing was held on February 8, 2016, before
United States Magistrate Judge Pamela Meade Sargent, with
Courtney's consent. Plea Hr'g Tr. 6, ECF No. 919.
Courtney affirmed that he had received a copy of the
Indictment and the Plea Agreement and had had an adequate
opportunity to review both documents with counsel.
Id. at 35, 38. Judge Sargent asked him whether he
was “satisfied with [his] attorney's
representation” and he answered, “Yes.”
Id. at 38. Courtney affirmed his understanding that
he was giving up his right to appeal and collaterally attack
his sentence, except for matters that cannot be waived under
the law and claims of ineffective assistance of counsel.
Id. at 48. Courtney affirmed that no one had
attempted to force him to plead guilty. Id. The
government stated that if the case were to proceed to trial,
it was prepared to prove that Courtney purchased and obtained
alpha-PVP from suppliers, that Courtney sold alpha-PVP on two
occasions to confidential informants, and that he carried a
handgun to protect himself and further his drug-trafficking
offenses. Id. at 59-60. Courtney did not dispute any
of the facts against him, including that he sold drugs and
that “on at least one of those occasions . . . [he] had
a firearm present.” Id. at 63. Judge Sargent
found Courtney fully competent and capable of entering an
informed guilty plea. Id. at 65.
Presentence Investigation Report (“PSR”) was
prepared by the Probation Office in advance of sentencing. It
recommended an advisory guideline range of 57 to 71 months
incarceration on Count One and a consecutive 60 months
incarceration on Count Thirteen. PSR ¶¶ 554-56, ECF
No. 693. Courtney did not file any objections to the PSR. I
sentenced Courtney to a within-guideline sentence of 57
months on Count One and 60 months on Count Thirteen, to be
served consecutively, for a total of 117 months'
incarceration. J. 2, ECF No. 689. Courtney did not appeal.
§ 2255 Petition contends that he received ineffective
assistance of counsel because: (1) his counsel coerced him
into pleading guilty by stating that there would not be
“any people of color on the jury panel, ” and if
he did not plead guilty, he faced a much harsher sentence if
found guilty; (2) counsel recommended that he plead guilty
even though the evidence did not support his conviction; and
(3) his counsel failed to provide him with discovery. 2255
Mot. 6, ECF No. 895.
state a viable claim for relief under § 2255, a
defendant must prove: (1) that his or her 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). Courtney 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).
argues that he received ineffective assistance because
counsel coerced him into pleading guilty by telling him that
“there won't be any people of color on the jury
panel” and that he would face a significantly longer
prison sentence if he proceed to trial and was found guilty.
2255 Mot. 6, ECF No. 895. This claim is without merit.
defendant's sworn statements during a plea colloquy
“carry a strong presumption of verity. The subsequent
presentation of conclusory allegations unsupported by
specifics is subject to summary dismissal.”
Blackledge v. Allison, 431 U.S. 63, 74 (1977). Thus,
at a guilty plea hearing, if a defendant testifies that he is
guilty of the charged offenses, admits that he understands
the plea agreement, and affirms he was not threatened or
pressured into pleading guilty, a subsequent allegation that
he was coerced into pleading guilty will not overcome his
contrary sworn statements. See, e.g., United
States v. Lemaster, 403 F.3d 216, 221 (4th Cir. 2005)
(holding that in the absence of extraordinary circumstances,
which do not appear here, “a defendant's solemn
declarations in open court affirming [a plea] agreement ...
carry a strong presumption of verity”) (internal
quotation marks and citation omitted). Courtney affirmed at
his guilty plea hearing that he was satisfied with counsel,
had reviewed and considered the plea agreement, wanted to
plead guilty because he was, in fact guilty, and had not been
forced or coerced into pleading guilty. Plea Hr'g Tr. 38,
ECF No. 919. Accordingly, his claims to the contrary are
an advocate must provide realistic advice to a defendant.
United States v. Fry, 629 F. App'x 823, 827
(10th Cir. 2015) (unpublished) (noting that providing
“realistic legal advice” does not constitute
“coercion”). Counsel's advice that Courtney
would likely face an increased sentence if he went to trial
and was found guilty was ...