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Highsmith v. United States

March 14, 2007

RONALD RAY HIGHSMITH
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA



The opinion of the court was delivered by: J. Ronnie Greer United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Ronald Ray Highsmith ("petitioner" or "Highsmith"), a federal prisoner,*fn1 has filed this pro se motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, along with a supporting memorandum. [Doc.1]. The United States has responded in opposition to the motion [Doc. 6] and the petitioner has replied to the government's response. [Doc. 11]. Highsmith later filed a "Supplemental Brief" in this matter. [Doc. 12]. The matter is now ripe for disposition. The Court has determined that the files and records of the case conclusively establish that the petitioner is not entitled to relief under § 2255 and, therefore, no evidentiary hearing is necessary. For the reasons which follow, the petitioner's motion pursuant to § 2255 lacks merit and will be DENIED.

I. Procedural Background

On January 26, 2000, a two count indictment was returned by the federal grand jury charging the defendant with manufacturing marijuana and being a felon in possession of a firearm. On August 22, 2000, a four count superseding indictment was returned charging Highsmith with manufacturing at least 100 marijuana plants, possessing with the intent to distribute 100 marijuana plants, possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute and being a felon in possession of a firearm. On November 20, 2000, the defendant pleaded guilty, pursuant to a plea agreement with the government, to Counts 1 and 4 of the indictment, which charged the defendant with manufacturing at least 100 marijuana plants in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and with being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g). Pursuant to the terms of the plea agreement, Counts 2 and 3 of the indictment were dismissed at sentencing.

On June 18, 2001, Highsmith was sentenced to a 60 month term of imprisonment as to Count 1 and to 30 months imprisonment as Count 4, to run concurrently, for a net effective sentence of 60 months. Judgment was entered on July 5, 2001. Highsmith appealed to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals and the judgment was affirmed on January 16, 2003. Petitioner then timely filed the present motion.

II. Standard of Review

This Court must vacate and set aside the sentence if it finds that "the judgment was rendered without jurisdiction, or that the sentence imposed was not authorized by law or otherwise open to collateral attack, or that there has been such a denial or infringement of the constitutional rights of the prisoner as to render the judgment vulnerable to collateral attack, . . ." 28 U.S.C. § 2255 Under Rule 4 of the Governing Rules, the Court is to consider initially whether the face of the motion itself, together with the annexed exhibits and prior proceedings in the case, reveal the movant is not entitled to relief. If it plainly appears the movant is not entitled to relief, the court may summarily dismiss the § 2255 motion under Rule 4.

When a defendant files a § 2255 motion, he must set forth facts which entitle him to relief. Green v. Wingo, 454 F. 2d 52, 53 (6th Cir. 1972); O'Malley v. United States, 285 F. 2d 733, 735 (6th Cir. 1961). "Conclusions, not substantiated by allegations of fact with some probability of verity, are not sufficient to warrant a hearing." O'Malley, 285 F. 2d at 735 (citations omitted). A motion that merely states general conclusions of law without substantiating allegations with facts is without legal merit. Loum v. Underwood, 262 F. 2d 866, 867 (6th Cir. 1959); United States v. Johnson, 940 F. Supp. 167, 171 (W.D. Tenn. 1996).

To warrant relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 because of constitutional error, the error must be one of constitutional magnitude which had a substantial and injurious effect or influence on the proceedings. Brecht v. Abrahamson, 507 U.S. 619, 637 (1993) (§ 2254 case); Clemmons v. Sowders, 34 F. 3d 352, 354 (6th Cir. 1994); see also United States v. Cappas, 29 F. 3d 1187, 1193 (7th Cir. 1994) (applying Brecht to a § 2255 motion). If the sentencing court lacked jurisdiction, then the conviction is void and must be set aside. Williams v. United States, 582 F. 2d 1039, 1041 (6th Cir.) , cert. denied, 439 U.S. 988 (1978). To warrant relief for a non-constitutional error requires a showing of a fundamental defect in the proceeding that resulted in a complete miscarriage of justice or an egregious error inconsistent with the rudimentary demands of fair procedure. Reed v. Farley, 512 U.S. 339, 354 (1994); Grant v. United States, 72 F. 3d 503, 506 (6th Cir.), cert. denied, 517 U.S. 1200 (1996). In order to obtain collateral relief under § 2255, a petitioner must clear a significantly higher hurdle than would exist on direct appeal. United States v. Frady, 456 U.S. 152 (1982).

The Sixth Amendment provides, in pertinent part, "[i]n all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right . . . to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense." U.S. Const. amend. VI. A defendant has a Sixth Amendment right not just to counsel, but to "reasonably effective assistance" of counsel. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 2064, 80 L.Ed. 2d 674 (1984). In Strickland, the Supreme Court set forth a two-pronged test for evaluating claims of ineffective assistance of counsel:

First, the defendant must show that counsel's performance was deficient. This requires showing that counsel made errors so serious that counsel was not functioning as the "counsel" guaranteed the defendant by the Sixth Amendment. Second, the defendant must show that the deficient performance prejudiced the defense. This requires showing that counsel's errors were so serious as to deprive the defendant of a fair trial, a trial whose result is reliable. Unless a defendant makes both showings, it cannot be said that the conviction . . . resulted from a breakdown in the adversary process that renders the result unreliable. 466 U.S. at 687, 104 S.Ct. at 2064.

As with any other claim under § 2255, the burden of proving ineffective assistance of counsel is on the petitioner. Virgin Islands v. Nicholas, 759 F. 2d 1073, 1081 (3rd Cir. 1985).

In considering the first prong of the test set forth in Strickland, the appropriate measure of attorney performance is "reasonableness under prevailing professional norms." Strickland, 466 U.S. at 688, 104 S.Ct. at 2065. A defendant asserting a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel must "identify the acts or omissions of counsel that are alleged not to have been the result of reasonable professional judgment." Id. at 690, 104 S.Ct. at 2066. The evaluation of the objective reasonableness of counsel's performance must be made "from counsel's perspective at the time of the alleged error and in light of all the circumstances, and the standard of review is highly deferential." Kimmelman v. Morrison, 477 U.S. 365, 381, 106 S.Ct. 2574, 2586, 91 L.Ed. 2d 305 (1986).

The second prong of the Strickland test requires the petitioner show counsel's deficient performance prejudiced the defense. Thus, "[a]n error by counsel, even if professionally unreasonable, does not warrant setting aside the judgment of a criminal proceeding if the error had no effect on the judgment." Strickland, 466 U.S. at 691, 104 S.Ct. at 2066. The petitioner must show "there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different." Id. at 694, 104 S.Ct. at 2068. The Strickland court ...


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