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Pritchett v. United States

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee

September 29, 2017


          Magistrate Judge Christopher H. Steger



         Harry A. Pritchett (“Petitioner”), a federal prisoner, timely filed a pro se motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (the “2255 Motion”) [Doc. 1515]. In his 2255 Motion, he asserts for a multitude of reasons that he was denied effective assistance of counsel at the trial and appellate levels. Petitioner also moves to amend his original 2255 Motion to add an additional claim of ineffective assistance of counsel [Doc. 1605]. For the reasons stated herein, both motions will be DENIED because Petitioner's 2255 Motion [Doc. 1515] lacks substantive merit, and his proposed amendment [Doc. 1605] is barred by the applicable statute of limitations.


         A. Threshold Standard

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a), a federal prisoner may make a motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his judgment of conviction and sentence if he claims that: (1) the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States; (2) the court lacked jurisdiction to impose the sentence; or (3) the sentence imposed is in excess of the maximum authorized by law, or is otherwise subject to collateral attack. As a threshold standard, to obtain post-conviction relief under Section 2255, a motion must allege: (1) an error of constitutional magnitude; (2) a sentence imposed outside the federal statutory limits; or (3) an error of fact or law so fundamental as to render the entire criminal proceeding invalid. Mallett v. United States, 334 F.3d 491, 496-97 (6th Cir. 2003); Moss v. United States, 323 F.3d 445, 454 (6th Cir. 2003).

         A petitioner bears the burden of demonstrating an error of constitutional magnitude which had a substantial and injurious effect or influence on the criminal proceedings. Reed v. Farley, 512 U.S. 339, 353 (1994); Brecht v. Abrahamson, 507 U.S. 619, 637-38 (1993). 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).

         Rule 4(b) of the Rules Governing Section 2255 Proceedings in the United States District Courts requires a district court to summarily dismiss a Section 2255 motion if “it plainly appears from the face of the motion, the attached exhibits, and the record of the prior proceedings that the movant is not entitled to relief.” See also Pettigrew v. United States, 480 F.2d 681, 684 (6th Cir. 1973) (“A motion to vacate sentence under § 2255 can be denied for the reason that it states “only bald legal conclusions with no supporting factual allegations.”) (quoting Sanders v. United States, 373 U.S. 1, 19 (1963)). If the motion is not summarily dismissed under Rule 4(b), Rule 8 requires the court to determine, after a review of the answer and the records of the case, whether an evidentiary hearing is required. If a petitioner presents a factual dispute, then “the habeas court must hold an evidentiary hearing to determine the truth of the petitioner's claims.” Huff v. United States, 734 F.3d 600, 607 (6th Cir. 2013) (quoting Valentine v. United States, 488 F.3d 325, 333 (6th Cir. 2007)). An evidentiary hearing is not required “if the petitioner's allegations cannot be accepted as true because they are contradicted by the record, inherently incredible, or conclusions rather than statements of fact.” Valentine, 488 F.3d at 333 (quoting Arredondo v. United States, 178 F.3d 778, 782 (6th Cir. 1999)).

         B. Procedural Default

         Generally, a federal prisoner is procedurally barred from raising on collateral review a claim that he did not raise on direct appeal unless that claim is ineffective assistance of counsel under the Sixth Amendment. Bousley v. United States, 523 U.S. 614, 621 (1998); Peveler v. United States, 269 F.3d 693, 698 (6th Cir. 2001). A procedurally defaulted claim may be considered on collateral review if the petitioner can show: (1) cause for failure to raise the claim on direct appeal; and (2) actual prejudice resulting from the alleged violation. Bousely, 523 U.S. at 622; Peveler, 269 F.3d at 698-700. If the petitioner fails to show cause, then it is not necessary to consider whether petitioner suffered prejudice. Bousely, 523 U.S. at 623. Ineffective assistance of counsel is considered “cause” for failure to raise an issue on direct appeal. See Roe v. Flores-Ortega, 528 U.S. 470, 477 (200); Ratcliff v. United States, 999 F.2d 1023, 1026 (6th Cir. 1993).

         If the petitioner is unable to show cause and prejudice, he may still be able to obtain review of his claims if his case fits within a narrow class of cases permitting review to prevent a fundamental miscarriage of justice, such as when he submits new evidence showing that a constitutional violation has probably resulted in a conviction of one who is actually innocent. Bousley, 523 U.S. at 622-23 (citing Murray v. Carrier, 477 U.S. 478, 495-96 (1986)); see also Peveler, 269 F.3d at 698.

         C. Standard for Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

         Ineffective assistance of counsel is a recognized constitutional violation that, when adequately shown, warrants relief under § 2255. The two-prong test set forth in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984), governs claims of ineffective assistance of counsel raised pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Huff v. United States, 734 F.3d 600, 606 (6th Cir. 2013). Under this test, to demonstrate a violation of the Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel, “a defendant must establish that his attorney's performance was deficient and that the deficient performance prejudiced the defense.” Id. (citing Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687).

         The first prong of the Strickland test requires a petitioner to show his attorney's performance was deficient by demonstrating that counsel's “representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness.” Strickland, 466 U.S. at 688. Stated another way, the petitioner must show “that counsel made errors so serious that counsel was not functioning as the ‘counsel' guaranteed the defendant by the Sixth Amendment.” Id. at 687. The Supreme Court “has declined to articulate specific guidelines for appropriate attorney conduct and instead [has]

         emphasized that the proper measure of attorney performance remains simply reasonableness under prevailing professional norms.” Huff, 734 F.3d at 606 (alterations in original) (quoting Wiggins v. Smith, 539 U.S. 510, 521 (2003)). A reviewing court must be “highly deferential” to counsel's performance, because:

[a] fair assessment of attorney performance requires that every effort be made to eliminate the distorting effects of hindsight, to reconstruct the circumstances of counsel's challenged conduct, and to evaluate the conduct from counsel's perspective at the time. Because of the difficulties inherent in making the evaluation, a court must indulge a strong presumption that counsel's conduct falls within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance; that is, the defendant must overcome the presumption that, under the circumstances, the challenged action “might be considered sound . . . strategy.”

Strickland, 466 U.S. at 689 (quoting Michel v. Louisiana, 350 U.S. 91, 101 (1955)).

         Even if a petitioner is successful in overcoming that presumption, he must still satisfy the second prong of the Strickland test-prejudice. Thus, a petitioner must show not only that his counsel's representation was objectively unreasonable, but also that he was prejudiced by counsel's deficiency because there exists “a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different.” McPhearson v. United States, 675 F.3d 553, 563 (6th Cir. 2012) (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 694).

         Although the Strickland Court emphasized that both prongs must be established in order for the petitioner to meet his burden, it held there is no reason for a court deciding an ineffective assistance claim to approach the inquiry in the same order or even to address both components of the inquiry. Strickland, 466 U.S. at 697. “If it is easier to dispose of an ineffectiveness claim on the ground of lack of sufficient prejudice . . . that course should be followed.” Id.


         A. Facts Regarding the Investigation and Indictment of Petitioner

         In 2007, several traffic stops in and around Marion County, Tennessee, resulted in the discovery and seizure of “ice” methamphetamine [Doc. 1476, 8/31/2011 Trial Tr. at Page ID ## 5661-62]. Based upon information gleaned from the traffic stops, law enforcement agents identified several prominent local sources of ice, including Petitioner, and developed confidential informants to conduct controlled buys from Petitioner at his residence on March 27 and 28, 2008 [Id. at 5663, 5667]. Agents thereafter obtained and executed a search warrant at Petitioner's residence on March 28, 2008, finding several firearms, numerous rounds of ammunition, marijuana, three sets of electronic scales, and various drug paraphernalia [Id. at 5664-93]. A second confidential informant participated in controlled buys of ice methamphetamine from Petitioner on March 9 and 16, 2009 [Id. at 5694-98].

         A federal grand jury charged Petitioner and numerous coconspirators with conspiracy to manufacture and distribute at least fifty grams of methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 846 and 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(A) (Count One); and conspiracy to possess listed chemicals, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 846 and 841(c)(2) (Count Two). Petitioner was additionally charged with manufacturing methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(C) (Counts Three, Four, Six, Seven); possessing firearms as a felon, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) (Count Five); possessing methamphetamine laboratory equipment and chemicals, in violation of ...

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