United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Greeneville Division
Jordan United States District Court Judge.
Leslie R. Beals (“Beals”) has filed a motion
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (“§ 2255”)
[Doc. 434]. The United States has responded to the motion,
objecting to Beals's requested relief. [Doc. 445]. The
matter is now ripe for the Court's resolution.
was indicted for one count of conspiring to distribute and
possess with the intent to distribute at least 50 grams of
methamphetamine and at least 500 grams of a mixture
containing methamphetamine in violation of 21 U.S.C.
§§ 846 and 841(b)(1)(A), one count of conspiring to
manufacture at least 50 grams of methamphetamine and at least
500 grams of a mixture and substance containing
methamphetamine in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 846
and 841(b)(1)(A), and one count of possessing chemicals,
equipment, products, and materials used in the manufacture of
methamphetamine in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 843(a)(6).
[Doc. 169, Superseding Indictment]. If convicted,
Beals faced a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment of 120
months on count one and two, and a maximum of term of
imprisonment of 120 months on count three. A total of
forty-nine defendants were ultimately charged through five
separate indictments. Only Beals and one co-conspirator, Bobby
Ambrose, opted to proceed to trial. United States v.
Beals, 698 F.3d 248, 258 (6th Cir. 2012). They were
tried jointly, and at the conclusion of the five-day jury
trial, Beals was found guilty all of three counts [Doc. 245].
Presentence Report (“PSR”) estimated that Beals
was responsible for 192 grams of actual methamphetamine. This
translated into a base offense level of 34. PSR ¶ 34. It
then enhanced the base offense level by three levels for
manufacturing methamphetamine in a location that involved a
substantial risk of harm to life and/or the environment. PSR
¶ 35; see U.S.S.G. § 2D1.1(b)(13)(C)(ii).
As Beals proceeded to trial, he was not eligible for the
three level reduction for acceptance of responsibility.
See U.S.S.G. § 3E1.1. Based on a total offense
level of 37 and a criminal history category of III, the PSR
calculated Beals' advisory Guideline Range to be 262 to
327 months. PSR ¶ 73.
filed numerous objections to the PSR [Doc. 386]. He
challenged the drug quantity, claimed he played a minor role
in the offense, challenged the specific offense enhancement
under U.S.S.G. § 2D1.1(b)(13)(C)(ii). He also argued for
a criminal history category of I, concluding that, with these
adjustments, his advisory Guideline Range was 78-97 months.
[Doc. 386-1, pg. 2]. He also argued that the District Court
should avoid unwarranted sentencing disparities as among the
defendants in Beals' indictment. Id. The
District Court addressed each of these objections at the
sentencing hearing and overruled each of them. [Doc. 423,
Transcript of Sentencing Hearing, pg. 2-28]. The
Court found that based on an offense level of 37 and a
criminal history category of III, Beals faced an advisory
Guideline Range of 262-327 months and a mandatory minimum
term of imprisonment of ten years. Id. at 28. While
the District Court was considering the factors outlined in 18
U.S.C. § 3553, the Court mentioned that Beals “did
have a firearm.” However, Beals attorney immediately
advised the Court that “[t]here was no firearm involved
in this.” The Court accepted that and stated:
“All right. That's good.” Id. at 31.
The District Court granted Beals a variance from his advisory
guideline range and sentenced him to a total effective
sentence of 180 months. Id. at 38; see also [Doc.
389, Judgment]. Beals timely filed his Notice of
Appeal. [Doc. 390].
appeal to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, Beals argued
the evidence presented at trial was insufficient to establish
one overall conspiracy as opposed to smaller, multiple
conspiracies. Beals, 698 F.3d at 258. He contended
that this discrepancy constituted a fatal variance in the
proof. He further asserted that a lack of proof existed
regarding the count of possession of equipment used to
manufacture methamphetamine. Id. at 261. The Sixth
Circuit rejected both of these contentions, finding that
sufficient evidence existed to permit the jury to find the
existence of a single drug conspiracy, as well as to find him
guilty of possessing equipment used to manufacture
methamphetamine. Id. at 259-61. Beals thereafter
timely filed this § 2255 motion [Doc. 434].
STANDARD OF REVIEW
prisoner in federal custody may file a motion to vacate, set
aside, or correct a sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
2255 “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.” Relief
under § 2255 is limited, however, to: (1) errors
involving lack of jurisdiction; (2) constitutional
violations; and (3) those non-constitutional errors
constituting “fundamental defect[s] which inherently
result in a complete miscarriage of justice.”
Reed v. Farley, 512 U.S. 339, 348-49 (1994) (quoting
Hill v. United States, 368 U.S. 424, 428 (1962));
see also United States v. Addonizio, 442 U.S. 178,
185 (1979). To prevail on a § 2255 motion, the prisoner
must show that the error had a substantial and injurious
effect or influence on the proceedings. Brecht v.
Abrahamson, 507 U.S. 619, 637-38 (1993); see
Humpress v. United States, 398 F.3d 855, 860 (6th Cir.
challenges that are not made on direct appeal are generally
waived and cannot be raised for the first time in a §
2255 motion. Cole v. United States, No. 10-4029,
2013 WL 6068030, at *1 (6th Cir. Jan. 25, 2013); see
Weinberger v. United States, 268 F.3d 349, 351 (6th Cir.
2001). A failure to raise a claim on direct appeal results in
a procedural default of that claim. Peveler v. United
States, 269 F.3d 693, 698 (6th Cir. 2001). However,
sentencing challenges are permitted for review as part of a
successful ineffective assistance of counsel claim.
Id. To obtain review of a defaulted claim in a
§ 2255 motion, the prisoner must show cause to excuse
the failure to raise the claim previously and actual
prejudice resulting from the alleged violation. Bousley
v. United States, 523 U.S. 614, 622 (1998). The two-step
review is not always necessary; if the prisoner fails to
establish cause, it is unnecessary to determine whether
prejudice exists from the alleged violation. Id.
§ 2255 motion, Beals raises two arguments: (1) he was
sentenced to a term of imprisonment significantly higher than
the majority of those in the conspiracy, constituting a
disproportionate punishment as a direct result from him
choosing to exercise his right to a jury trial, and (2) this
Court was under an incorrect impression that a firearm was
found or attributed to him, which was used as an enhancement
for sentencing purposes.
response, the Government asserts that these claims are
procedurally defaulted because Beals failed to raise either
ground on direct appeal despite the ability to do so.
Further, it contends, the arguments are not cognizable
because the challenge to Beals's sentence does not
involve jurisdictional or constitutional concerns. Finally,
the Government asserts, the arguments he advances are
meritless. It notes that Beals was not subject to any
firearms enhancement, and the sole fact that he may have
received a sentence longer than some of his co-defendants
does not establish that it was excessive or disproportionate.
Nor can Beals establish a violation of 18 U.S.C. §
3553(a)(6) because it is focused on national disparities as
opposed to between co-defendants.
is challenging his sentence for the first time despite having
filed a direct appeal. On appeal, he only challenged the
sufficiency of the evidence that was used to convicted him,
despite the fact that these arguments were available to him
to be raised. See Beals, 698 F.3d at 258. As Beals
is not alleging ineffective of counsel, these claims are
procedurally defaulted. Peveler, 269 F.3d at 698.
Furthermore, Beals has failed to show any cause to excuse his
failure to raise the claims during his direct appeal or