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Wasson v. United States

December 20, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Collier Chief United States District Judge


Defendant Ronald Layne Wasson ("Wasson") has filed a pro se motion for post-conviction relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (Court File No. 1). Wasson was convicted pursuant to his guilty plea of one count of possession of equipment and chemicals used to manufacture methamphetamine in violation of 28 U.S.C, § 842(a)(6) & (d)(2).

Wasson claims his plea of guilty was involuntary because he did not understand he was waiving his constitutional right to a jury trial. In support of this claim Wasson contends the Court found, by a preponderance of the evidence, that his sentence should be enhanced by three levels because his conduct created a substantial risk of harm to a human being which increased his sentence above the range covered by his plea agreement.*fn1 In his second claim, Wasson asserts he was improperly sentenced in violation of Blakely v. Washington, 542 U.S. 296 (2004) and United States v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220 (2005), when the Court enhanced his sentence using a preponderance of the evidence standard to find that his conduct created a substantial risk of harm to a human being. It actually appears that Wasson is making one claim-- that the Supreme Court's decisions in Blakely and Booker rendered his guilty plea involuntary because his sentence had been enhanced under the federal sentencing guidelines based on additional fact-finding by this district Court under a preponderance-of-the-evidence standard rather than by a jury under a reasonable-doubt standard. However, the Court will address the issues as Wasson raised them in his § 2255 motion. The United States opposes the § 2255 motion.

After reviewing the record, the Court concludes that Wasson's § 2255 motion will be DENIED. The record conclusively shows that Wasson is not entitled to any relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. There is no need for an evidentiary hearing.


A federal prisoner may file a motion pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence on the ground that the sentence was imposed in violation of the United States Constitution. To obtain relief under § 2255 based on an alleged constitutional error, Wasson bears the burden of establishing an error of constitutional magnitude which had a substantial and injurious effect or influence on the criminal proceedings. Brecht v. Abrahamson, 507 U.S. 619, 637-38 (1993); Hill v. United States, 368 U.S. 424, 428 (1962); Griffin v. United States, 330 F.3d 733, 736 (6th Cir. 2003); Watson v. United States, 165 F.3d 486, 488 (6th Cir.1999). To warrant relief under § 2255, Wasson is required to show a fundamental defect in the criminal proceedings which inherently results in a complete miscarriage of justice or an egregious error that rises to the level of a violation of constitutional due process. Davis v. United States, 417 U.S. 333, 346 (1974); Griffin, 330 F.3d at 736; Gall v. United States, 21 F.3d 107, 109 (6th Cir.1994).


On September 23, 2003, a federal grand jury filed a four-count indictment charging Wasson with drug offenses. Wasson pleaded guilty to Count One of the four-count indictment. Wasson was sentenced to 80 months imprisonment for possessing equipment, chemicals, products, and materials used in manufacturing methamphetamine in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 843(a)(6). Wasson did not appeal, thus his March 11, 2004 judgment became final when the ten-day period expired within which he could have filed a notice of appeal. See Nichols v. United States, 285 F.3d 445, 447 (6th Cir.) (judgment is final ten days after entry where no direct appeal filed), cert. denied, 537 U.S. 1023 (2002). Wasson timely filed the instant § 2255 motion on March 15, 2005.


The following recitation of the facts is from the Presentence Investigation Report ("PSI"):

8. On May 12, 2003, an officer with the Chattanooga Police department responded to a call involving a domestic disturbance at 4323 Cummings Highway, Chattanooga, Tennessee. Upon arrival, the officer was met by the defendant's girlfriend, Diane Watts, in the parking lot of the apartment complex. Ms. Watts told the officer that she had been living with Ronald Wasson in apartment #7, and that Mr. Wasson had thrown her belongings out of the apartment for no reason. Mr. Wasson saw the officer outside and opened the door to speak with him. The officer explained his purpose for being there and asked permission to come in the apartment to get his side of the story. Mr. Wasson initially denied the officer's request to come inside, but after being asked a second time, Mr. Wasson allowed the officer to enter the apartment. Upon entering the apartment, Mr. Wasson told the officer that Ms. Watts had ripped the curtains off the wall in the bedroom and living room. The officer observed several components used to manufacture methamphetamine sitting in plain view on and under the kitchen table (Red Devil Lye, Flask, and a Pyrex Dish containing suspect Ephedrine). When the officer entered the bedroom to investigate the allegations of Ms. Watts ripping the curtains off the wall, the officer observed the following chemicals and components in plain view: blue tote box containing a funnel, Red Devil Lye, and rubber tubing; one length of large rubber tubing (approximately 3 feet long), burner plates, three layer liquid, and assorted glassware. Ronald Wasson and Diane Watts were arrested. Hamilton County Narcotics Detectives assisted the Chattanooga Police in taking samples of the lab and photographing all the evidence. The inventory log lists the following items, which in addition to the previously mentioned items were also found: 13 empty bottles (36 count) of Max Brand 60 mg. pseudoephedrine (25 mg. Ephedrine per tablet), used coffee filters, hydrogen peroxide, propane torches, Heet, jars with layered liquids, funnels, Coleman fuel, one gallon muriatic acid (90%), 16 ounces acetone (80%), hot plate with residue, heat lamp, rock salt, drain opener, and syringes.

9. On September 11, 2003, while two Chattanooga Police (CPD) officers responded to 2531 Cummings Highway to assist the Chattanooga Fire Department in blocking traffic for an apartment fire, one CPD officer advised another CPD officer that warrants had just been taken out for Ronald Wasson who lived at 2531 Cummings Highway, Apartment #9 for Domestic Assault and Vandalism, in which Diane Watts was the victim. The second officer knew that Ronald Wasson lived in the apartment adjacent to the apartment that was on fire and had been previously involved in manufacturing methamphetamine. After the CPD finished directing traffic, an officer attempted to locate Ronald Wasson in Apartment #19. Mr. Wasson's vehicle was observed in front of Apartment #19, which led the officer to believe Ronald Wasson was possibly at home. The CPD officer requested a back-up unit and an officer with the Drug Task Force office arrived to assist him in trying to locate Mr. Wasson. The officer knocked on the door of Apartment #19, and after no response, he turned the door knob and noticed the door was unlocked, which further led the officer to believe Mr. Wasson was possibly inside the residence. The officer entered the unlocked door and upon entering noticed a strong chemical odor and a pyrex dish with coffee filters and white powder on top of the microwave in plain view from the doorway. Also in plain view was a bottle of butane gas on the bed. During a protective sweep of the apartment to ensure that Mr. Wasson was not hiding inside, several other items were observed which are used to manufacture methamphetamine. A small amount of marijuana was also noticed on the night stand located by the bed. Mr. Wasson was not located in the apartment. After a search warrant was obtained and executed, agents located an assortment of items and chemicals used to manufacture methamphetamine including: glass containers with layered liquids, hot plate, propane stove, stained coffee filters, iodine crystals, flasks, mason jars, rock salt, hoses, Coleman fuel, aluminum foil, butane, one empty bottle (36 count) Max Brand 60 Mg. pseudoephedrine (25 mg. per tablet), and Red Devil Lye.

10. On October 15, 2003, Ronald Wasson met with Drug Force Task agents in regard to his participation in the manufacturing of methamphetamine and he waived his rights by signing a constitutional rights waiver. Mr. Wasson admitted that the two laboratories he was charged with were his, but he only cooked methamphetamine for his personal use. Mr. Wasson also admitted to selling small quantities and giving some methamphetamine to his girlfriend, Diane Watts, for her personal use. The defendant further advised that he has been cooking methamphetamine since he was laid off from work, approximately one year ago. Mr. Wasson advised that he has cooked at least every three weeks for the past year. Each cook has resulted in six to seven grams of methamphetamine, which would be a minimum of at least 104 grams of methamphetamine. According to the defendant, Dianne Watts was present at most labs that he ran and that she helped collect the necessary ingredients for cooking. Mr. Wasson told agents that he purchased most of his iodine in two ounce jars from Broadway Feed Store. Mr. Wasson also admitted to buying up to one pound of iodine at a time from Broadway Feed Store. The store clerk always asked the defendant what he was using the iodine for and Mr. Wasson stated that he routinely told the clerk that he was using ...

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