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Strader v. United States

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

February 14, 2019

JONATHAN DAVID STRADER, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Robert G. Doumar, Judge

         This matter comes before the Court upon Jonathan David Strader's ("Petitioner") pro se Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 ("§ 2255 Motion"). ECF No. 122. In such motion, Petitioner asks the Court to vacate and correct his sentence on three grounds, each of which alleges that the performance of Petitioner's defense counsel violated his Sixth Amendment rights. As set forth below, Petitioner's § 2255 Motion is denied as to all claims except Ground Three.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On May 4, 2017, a federal grand jury sitting in Norfolk, Virginia named Petitioner and three co-defendants in an eight-count criminal indictment. ECF No. 3. Petitioner was charged with seven of the eight counts as follows: one count of Conspiracy to Distribute and Possess with Intent to Distribute Methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 846, 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(A) (Count 1); two counts of Distribute and Possess with Intent to Distribute Methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) (Counts 2, 4); one count of Maintaining a Drug-Involved Premises, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 856(a)(1) (Count 5); and three counts of Using a Communication Facility to Cause, Commit and Facilitate a Felony Violation of the Controlled Substances Act, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 843(b) (Counts 6-8). ECF No. 3. On August 22, 2017, Petitioner appeared before a magistrate judge of this Court and pled guilty to Count 1 pursuant to a written plea agreement with the United States (the "Government"). ECF No. 47.

         On December 4, 2017, Petitioner appeared before the Court for sentencing. During the hearing, neither party objected to the contents of Petitioner's presentence investigation report ("PSR"), which determined that Petitioner had a total offense level of 39 and a criminal history category of VI, resulting in advisory range of 360 months to life in prison. PSR, ECF No. 80, ¶¶ 110-11. The Court accepted Petitioner's PSR without change, and sentenced Petitioner to the low-end of his Guidelines range: 360 months. ECF No. 93 at 2. Judgment was entered on December 5, 2017. Id. Petitioner did not appeal.

         On December 3, 2018, Petitioner timely filed the instant § 2255 Motion and a supporting memorandum ("Pet. Mem."), ECF Nos. 122 and 123, which were docketed by the Clerk of this Court on December 14, 2018. See 18 U.S.C. § 2255(f)(1); Houston v. Lack. 487 U.S. 266, 276 (1988) (establishing prison mailbox rule). Petitioner's Motion is now before the Court.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         28 U.S.C. § 2255 allows a federal prisoner to move to "vacate, set aside or correct" a federal sentence on one of four grounds: "[1] that the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States, or [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 [4] is otherwise subject to collateral attack." 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a). The Supreme Court has held that § 2255 is the appropriate vehicle by which a federal prisoner may challenge both his conviction and sentence. Davis v. United States. 417 U.S. 333, 343-44 (1974).

         However, a § 2255 motion "may not do service for an appeal." United States v. Fradv. 456 U.S. 152, 165 (1982). Generally, any claim that could have been raised at trial or on direct appeal, but was not, is barred as procedurally defaulted. Bouslev v. United States. 523 U.S. 614, 622 (1998). But this rule of default excludes claims of ineffective assistance of counsel, Massaro v. United States. 538 U.S. 500, 504 (2003), which are generally not cognizable on direct appeal unless the record on appeal conclusively shows ineffective assistance, United States v. Richardson. 195 F.3d 192, 198 (4th Cir. 1999) (internal citation omitted).

         To state a claim for ineffective assistance of counsel, the petitioner must satisfy the two-prong test set forth in Strickland v. Washington. 466 U.S. 668 (1984), by showing (1) deficient performance of counsel and (2) resulting prejudice. To satisfy the first prong, the petitioner must articulate specific acts or omissions whereby "counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness." Id. at 687-88. To satisfy the second prong, the petitioner must show that it is "reasonably likely" that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceedings would have been different. Harrington v. Richter. 562 U.S. 86, 111-12 (2011) (citing Strickland. 466 U.S. at 696). Moreover, "[t]he likelihood of a different result must be substantial, not just conceivable." Id. (citing Strickland. 466 U.S. at 693). Failure to satisfy either prong of Strickland is fatal to a petitioner's claim. Carillo-Morales v. United States. 952 F.Supp.2d 797, 803 (E.D.Va. 2013).

         Finally, when filing a § 2255 petition, the petitioner bears the burden of proving his grounds for relief by a preponderance of the evidence. Miller v. United States. 261 F.2d 546, 547 (4th Cir. 1958)). However, a pro se petitioner is entitled to have his petition and issues asserted therein construed liberally. Gordon v. Leeke. 574 F.2d 1147, 1151 (4th Cir. 1978). Upon reviewing a § 2255 motion, the district court may, in its discretion, summarily dismiss such motion without a hearing. Raines v. United States. 423 F.2d 526, 529-31 (4th Cir. 1970). But it may only do so if "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).

         III. DISCUSSION

         In his § 2255 Motion and supporting memorandum, Petitioner asserts three grounds on which this Court should vacate his conviction and sentence, each alleging ineffective assistance by his defense counsel. The Court will address each of these grounds in turn.

         1. Ground One: Counsel's Failure to Challenge Petitioner's 30-Year Sentence for His ...


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