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Humphrey v. United States

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

March 26, 2018


          Christopher H. Steger Magistrate Judge



         Before the Court is Petitioner Thaddius L. Humphrey's pro se motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (Doc. 59). For the reasons stated hereafter, Petitioner's motion will be DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On December 17, 2014, Petitioner pleaded guilty, pursuant to a plea agreement, to one count of conspiracy to distribute twenty-eight grams or more of a mixture and substance containing a detectable amount of cocaine base (“crack cocaine”), a Schedule II controlled substance, in violation of Title 21, United States Code, Sections 846, 841(a)(1), and (b)(1)(B). (See Doc. 29.) The Court subsequently sentenced Petitioner to 151 months' imprisonment followed by a four-year term of supervised release. (Doc. 44.) Petitioner appealed, and the Sixth Circuit affirmed his conviction and sentence. United States v. Humphrey, 656 F. App'x 91 (6th Cir. 2016). Petitioner then filed a petition for a writ of certiorari in the United States Supreme Court, which was denied on October 11, 2016. United States v. Humphrey, 137 S.Ct. 318 (2016). On April 10, 2017, Petitioner filed this motion seeking an order vacating and correcting his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255.[1] (Doc. 59.) This motion is now ripe for the Court's review.


         To obtain relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, a petitioner must demonstrate “(1) an error of constitutional magnitude; (2) a sentence imposed outside the statutory limits; or (3) an error of fact or law . . . so fundamental as to render the entire proceeding invalid.” Short v. United States, 471 F.3d 686, 691 (6th Cir. 2006) (quoting Mallett v. United States, 334 F.3d 491, 496-97 (6th Cir. 2003)). He “must clear a significantly higher hurdle than would exist on direct appeal” and establish a “fundamental defect in the proceedings which necessarily results in a complete miscarriage of justice or an egregious error violative of due process.” Fair v. United States, 157 F.3d 427, 430 (6th Cir. 1998).

         III. ANALYSIS

         Petitioner asserts that he is entitled to relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 due to ineffective assistance of counsel for two reasons: (1) his attorney failed to explain the elements of the conspiracy charge to which Petitioner pled guilty; and (2) his attorney failed to object at sentencing to a variance in conspiracy evidence, [2] or, in other words, his attorney failed to object when the government presented evidence of multiple conspiracies, but the indictment charged only one conspiracy. (See Docs. 59, 59-1.)

         To collaterally attack his conviction based on ineffective assistance of counsel, Petitioner must establish “that [his] lawyers performed well below the norm of competence in the profession and that this failing prejudiced [his] case.” Caudill v. Conover, 881 F.3d 454, 460 (6th Cir. 2018) (citing Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984)). The performance inquiry requires the defendant to “show that counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness.” Strickland, 466 U.S. at 688. The prejudice inquiry requires the defendant to “show that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different.” Id. at 694.

         There is a “strong presumption that counsel's conduct falls within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance.” Id. at 689. Therefore, the court should resist “the temptation to rely on hindsight . . . in the context of ineffective assistance claims.” Carson v. United States, 3 F. App'x 321, 324 (6th Cir. 2001); see also Strickland, 466 U.S. at 689 (“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.”).

         A. Failure to Explain the Elements of the Conspiracy Charge

         Petitioner appears to argue that he did not enter his guilty plea knowingly and voluntarily because “he, along with his lawyer was mistaken about the legal significance of ‘agreement' to conspire in a conspiracy.” (Doc. 59-1, at 8.) Specifically, he argues that his defense counsel did not inform him that it is not a crime to conspire only with a government agent. According to Petitioner:

That Petitioner knew generally that a conspiracy required an “agreement” sheds little light on whether he meaningfully understood the governing law. In sum, this is a classic case of a defendant's “misunderstanding of the law” as it stood at the time of the plea. Thus, the record does not show that Petitioner's plea was made with ...

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