United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Norfolk Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER
Raymond A. Jackson United States District Judge.
the Court is the pro se motion of Christie Ann
Easter ("Petitioner") to Vacate, Set Aside, or
Correct a Sentence Previously Imposed, pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 2255. ('"§ 2255 Motion"). Having
thoroughly reviewed the motions, fiies, and records 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
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
March 6, 2017. Petitioner Christie Easter pled guilty to
counts one and thirty-nine of the superseding indictment
charging Petitioner with conspiracy to commit mail fraud,
bank fraud, and wire fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §
1349, and aggravated identity theft, in violation of Title 18
U.S.C. § 1028A. On June 26, 2017, Petitioner was
sentenced to consecutive prison terms of 106 months on count
one and 24 months on count thirty-nine. On July 2, 2018,
Petitioner filed a Motion to Vacate under 28 U.S.C. §
2255 on three grounds: (1) Petitioner alleges her cooperation
with the government warranted a reduction in sentence
pursuant to the Plea Agreement signed by both parties; (2)
Petitioner was assessed an improper enhancement due to false
information within her Presentence Investigation Report
("PSR"); (3) Petitioner received ineffective
assistance from defense counsel. The United States responded
to Petitioner's Motion to Vacate on September 25, 2018
asserting: (1) the Plea Agreement created no obligation to
request a downward departure on behalf of the Defendant; (2)
Petitioner's PSR appropriately allotted enhancement
points due to Petitioner's criminal history; (3)
Petitioner received effective assistance from Counsel. This
matter has been fully briefed and is now ripe for judicial
Title 28 U.S.C. § 2255 generally
28 U.S.C. § 2255 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
petitioner collaterally attacking his sentence or conviction
pursuant to § 2255 bears the burden of proving his
grounds for collateral attack by a preponderance of the
evidence. Miller v. United States, 261 F.2d 546 (4th
Cir. 1958); Vanater v. Boles, 377 F.2d 898, 900 (4th
Cir. 1967). 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.
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
burden upon a petitioner collaterally attacking his sentence
under § 2255 is a "significantly higher hurdle than
would exist on direct appeal." Id. at 166.
Petitioner must "shoulder the burden" of showing
that the trial errors not only created a possibility of
prejudice but infected the entire proceeding to his actual
and substantial disadvantage. United States v.
Frady, 456 U.S. 152, 170 (1982). Therefore, to obtain
relief, a petitioner must meet the two part "cause and
actual prejudice" test. Id. at 167-68. Under
that test, "[t]o obtain collateral relief based on trial
errors to which no contemporaneous objection was made, a
convicted defendant must show both (1) 'cause'
excusing his double procedural default, and (2) 'actual
prejudice' resulting from the errors of which he
complains." Id. at 168. If the petitioner fails
to meet the "actual prejudice" prong of the test,
the Court need not address whether the petitioner has shown
cause. Id. At 168.
Ineffective Assistance of Counsel
petitioner must satisfy two factors to establish ineffective
assistance of counsel: "(1) that [counsel's
performance fell below an objective standard of
reasonableness, and (2) that [petitioner] was prejudiced by
the deficiency because it created a reasonable probability
that but for counsel's errors, the result of the
proceeding would have been different." United States
v. Hoyle, 33 F.3d 415, 418 (4th Cir. 1994) (citing
Smith v. Smith, 931 F.2d 242, 244 (4th Cir. 1991));
see also Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 693
(1984). "A reasonable probability is one that is
sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome."
Hoyle, 33 F.3d at 418.
before, during, or after trial, when the Sixth Amendment
applies, the formulation of the standard is the same:
reasonable competence in representing the accused.
Strickland, 466 U.S. at 688-89. In applying and
defining this standard, substantial deference must be
accorded to counsel's judgment. Id. at 689. If
petitioner makes an insufficient showing on one prong, there
is no reason for a court deciding an ineffective assistance
claim to address both components of the inquiry. Id.
at 697. The court is not required to begin with an analysis
of the first prong of Strickland because "a
court need not approach the inquiry in the same order,"
and "need not determine whether counsel's
performance was deficient before examining the prejudice
suffered by the defendant as a result of the alleged
demonstrate deficient representation, petitioner must show
"that counsel's representation fell below an
objective standard of reasonableness."
Strickland, 466 U.S. at 688. A petitioner must
overcome a strong presumption that counsel's performance
falls within the wide range of reasonable professional
assistance under the circumstances. Id. at 689.
Also, a petitioner bears the burden of proving prejudice.
Fields v. Attorney Gen. of the State of Md., 956
F.2d 1290, 1297 (4th Cir. 1992). To demonstrate prejudice, a
petitioner must prove that "there is a ...