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Seaton v. United States

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Knoxville

July 26, 2017



         Defendant Jere Lynn Seaton (“Seaton”) has filed a motion to vacate, set aside or correct his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (“§ 2255”) [Doc. 164]. The United States has responded to the motion, objecting to Seaton's requested relief [Doc. 172]. The matter is now ripe for consideration. The Court has determined that Seaton is not entitled to relief under § 2255 and, therefore, no evidentiary hearing is necessary. For the reasons set forth herein, Seaton's § 2255 motion lacks merit and will be DENIED, and the case (No. 3:14-CV-266) IS DISMISSED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On September 21, 2005, the Grand Jury returned a multi-count Indictment against Seaton, charging him with, among other offenses, a conspiracy to distribute 1, 000 kilograms or more of marijuana in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 846, 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(A), and possessing a firearm by a convicted felon in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g) [Doc. 3, Indictment]. On January 20, 2006, the Government filed a Notice of Enhancement pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 851, subjecting Seaton to enhanced punishment based upon his two prior felony drug convictions[1] [Doc. 58].

         On July 28, 2006, Seaton entered into a Plea Agreement [Doc. 109] in which he agreed to plead guilty to a lesser included offense of conspiracy to distribute 100 kilograms or more of marijuana and possessing a firearm as a convicted felon [Doc. 109, pg. 1]. Because Seaton agreed to plea to the lesser included offense under 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(B), Seaton avoided a mandatory life sentence based on his prior two felony drug convictions. As part of the Plea Agreement, Seaton waived filing any direct appeal of his conviction or sentence and waived filing a § 2255 motion to collaterally attack the plea except as to ineffective assistance of counsel or prosecutorial misconduct [Doc. 109, pg. 8-9]. The United States and Seaton also entered into an Agreed Factual Basis in which he stipulated that he had two prior felony offenses: (1) “January 26, 1999 - Case No. 6963, Circuit Court for Sevier County, Tennessee, Possession of Marijuana for Resale” and (2) “January 26, 1999 - Case No. 6962, Circuit Court for Sevier County, Tennessee, Sale Marijuana.” [Doc. 110, pg. 2].

         Based on Seaton's stipulation in the Agreed Factual Basis that he was responsible for at least 700 but less than 1, 000 kilograms of marijuana, the Presentence Report (“PSR”) calculated his base offense level to be 30. The PSR then detailed Seaton's criminal history, determining that Seaton was a career offender under U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1. In support of that classification, it noted that Seaton had a prior conviction for possession with the intent to sell marijuana on October 16, 1996 for which he received a two-year sentence of imprisonment. PSR ¶ 45. It also noted that on January 26, 1999, Seaton was convicted of Delivery of Marijuana, with an offense date of March 5, 1997, for which he was sentenced to four years imprisonment. PSR ¶ 48. Also on that date, it noted that Seaton was convicted of another Delivery of Marijuana offense, with an offense date of March 17, 1997, for which he was sentenced to four years imprisonment. PSR ¶ 49. Because Seaton had at least two prior felony drug convictions, the PSR treated Seaton as a career offender under U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1, resulting in an offense level of 37 and a criminal history category of VI. After reducing his offense level to 34 for acceptance of responsibility, the PSR calculated his advisory sentencing guideline range to be 262-327 months. On August 2, 2006, the District Court sentenced Seaton to 262 months on the marijuana conspiracy count and 120 months on the possession of a firearm by a conviction felon count concurrent with each other [Doc. 115, Judgment]. Eight years later, on June 16, 2014, Seaton filed this motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2255.

         II. Standard of Review

         This Court must vacate and set aside petitioner's 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) (citation omitted) (§ 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, petitioner must show 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).

         III. ANALYSIS

         In his § 2255 motion, Seaton claims that he received ineffective assistance of counsel and that the District Court erred in finding that his prior felony drug convictions for possession with the intent to sell marijuana and sale of marijuana were “controlled-substance offenses” within the meaning of the career offender provision of the Sentencing Guidelines, citing U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1 and § 4B1.2 [Doc. 164, pg. 5-6]. He argues that the designation of these prior felony drug convictions violate Descamps v. United States, 133 S.Ct. 2276 (2013) and United States v. Ryan, 407 F.App'x 30 (6th Cir. 2011), because Tennessee Code Annotated § 37-17-417 is a divisible statute that ultimately falls outside the scope of what constitutes a controlled substance offense under the Sentencing Guidelines. Seaton acknowledges that his § 2255 motion is outside the normal one year statute of limitations but contends his motion is timely because Descamps constitutes a “change in the law, ” thus permitting him to file this motion beyond the one year limitation period [Doc. 164, pg. 13].

         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, federal prisoners may “petition their sentencing court to correct or invalidate sentences imposed upon them provided that they are ‘in custody under a sentence of a court established by Act of Congress' and provided that they make their petitions prior to the expiration of a one-year statute of limitations.” Ospina v. United States, 386 F.3d 750, 752 (6th Cir. 2004) (quoting § 2255). Section 2255 provides for a one-year limitations period, which shall run from the latest of:

(1) the date on which the judgment of conviction becomes final;
(2) the date on which the impediment to making a motion created by governmental action in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States is removed, if the movant was prevented from ...

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