United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Norfolk Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
RAYMOND A. JACKSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
the Court is pro se litigant Jeremy Lynn
Saunders's ("Petitioner") Motion to Vacate, Set
Aside, or Correct a Sentence by a Person in Federal custody
pursuant to Title 28, United States Code, Section 2255
("§ 2255 Motion"). Having reviewed the motions
and filings, the Court finds that a hearing is not necessary
to address Petitioner's motion. For the reasons set forth
below, Petitioner's § 2255 Motion is
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
case involves various narcotics distribution crimes that
Petitioner committed with his brother. ECF No. 1, 3. In
connection with these crimes, a grand jury indicted Jeremy
Saunders on January 7, 2015. ECF No. 21. Petitioner pled
guilty to Counts 1 and 8, drug conspiracy and possession of a
firearm in furtherance of that conspiracy. ECF No. 28.
Petitioner signed the Plea Agreement, initialed each page,
indicated that he understood the possible punishments, and
waived the right to appeal a sentence within the statutory
maximum. ECF No. 28 at 1-3. Petitioner further indicated and
his counsel affirmed that they had reviewed the charges and
penalties, and that Petitioner knew and understood the
agreement's terms. Id. at 13.
pled guilty to Counts 1 and 8 at a change of plea hearing
before this Court on January 20, 2015. ECF No. 27. He
indicated that he was satisfied with his counsel, and that he
entered this plea agreement willingly. ECF No. 45 at 3-4.
Petitioner also indicated that he waived his rights to trial
and appeal by entering this guilty plea. Id. at 6-7.
The Court accepted the guilty plea, and noted that Petitioner
made the plea knowingly and voluntarily. Id. at 15.
court-appointed counsel, Mr. Gantous, filed a Motion to
Withdraw as Counsel on February 20, 2015, the court granted
the motion after a hearing on March 10, 2015, and appointed a
new counsel, Mr. Theuer, to represent Petitioner. ECF Nos.
33, 35, 36. Petitioner challenged his plea in a Motion to
Withdraw. ECF No. 39. The Court held a hearing on this matter
and subsequently denied the motion after consideration of the
parties' arguments and a thorough review of the guilty
plea colloquy. ECF No. 47. On September 14, 2015, Petitioner
appealed to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ("Fourth
Circuit"). No. 15-4413, Docket No. 12. Petitioner's
attorney submitted an Anders brief and Petitioner
also submitted a pro se supplemental brief and
asserted that his guilty plea was neither knowing nor
voluntary. No. 15-4413, Docket No. 12, 22. On January 6,
2016, the Fourth Circuit affirmed this Court's denial of
the motion to withdraw finding "no doubt that Saunders
knowingly and voluntarily entered his plea and that the plea
was supported by an independent basis in fact." No.
15-4413, Docket No. 23, at 3.
then filed the instant motion on May 15, 2017, and requested
that this Court vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence
under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. ECF No. 134. The United States
responded to Petitioner's Motion on July 10, 2017, and
Petitioner replied on August 3, 2017. ECF Nos. 136-137.
Section 2255 Generally
petitioner in federal custody wishes to collaterally attack
his sentence or conviction, the appropriate motion is a
§ 2255 Petition. United States v. Winestock,
340 F.3d 200, 203 (4th Cir. 2003). Section 2255 of Title 28
of the United States Code governs postconviction 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
28 U.S.C. § 2255.
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,
pro 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).
deciding a § 2255 motion, the Court must promptly grant
a hearing "unless the motion and the files and records
of the case conclusively show that the prisoner is entitled
to no relief." 28 U.S.C. § 2255(b). 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.3d 192, 198 (4th Cir. 1999).
Ineffective Assistance of Counsel
viable claim alleging the ineffective assistance of counsel
arises when "the counsel's conduct so undermined the
proper functioning of the adversarial process that the trial
did not result in a just outcome." Strickland v.
Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 686 (1984). To prove a claim
of ineffective assistance of counsel, a petitioner must make
two showings. Id. at 687.
a petitioner must show that counsel's performance was
deficient. Id. In other words, counsel's errors
must have been so serious that he or she was not actually
functioning as the "counsel" guaranteed by the
Sixth Amendment. Id. In order to demonstrate
deficient performance, a petitioner must show "that
counsel's representation fell below an objective standard
of reasonableness" under the prevailing norms of the
legal community. Id. at 688.
scrutiny of counsel's performance must be highly
deferential, " and "a court must indulge a strong
presumption that counsel's conduct falls within the wide
range of reasonable professional assistance."
Id. at 689. That presumption is even greater when
counsel's decisions represent strategic, tactical
decisions requiring "assessment and balancing of
perceived benefits against perceived risks." United
States v. Terry, 366 F.3d 312, 317 (4th Cir. 2004). A
petitioner bears the burden of rebutting this presumption.
Strickland, 466 U.S. at 689.
a petitioner must show that the deficient performance
prejudiced the defense. Id. at 687. In other words,
counsel's errors must have been so serious that the
petitioner was deprived of a fair trial with a reliable
result. Id. To demonstrate prejudice, a petitioner
must prove that "there is a reasonable probability that,
but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of
the proceeding would have been different." Id.
at 694. The Supreme Court defined a reasonable probability as
"a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the
outcome." Id. In short, "[a]n error by
counsel, even if professionally unreasonable, does not
warrant setting aside the judgement of a criminal proceeding
if the error had no effect on the judgment."
Id. at 691. Instead, to prevail on the prejudice