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Bookwalter v. United States

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

May 25, 2018

JUSTIN LEVON BOOKWALTER, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          J. RONNIE GREER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on the “Motion Under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 To Vacate, Set Aside, Or Correct A Sentence By A Person In Federal Custody, ” [Doc. 221], [1] filed by Justin Levon Bookwalter (“Bookwalter” or “petitioner”). The United States has responded in opposition, [Doc. 223], to which Bookwalter replied. [Doc. 226]. The matter is now ripe for disposition. The Court has determined that the files and records in 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 § 2255 motion lacks merit, and the motion will be DENIED.

         I. Procedural and Factual Background

         On August 12, 2014, a sealed indictment was filed charging Bookwalter and five co-defendants with conspiracy to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute 280 grams or more of a mixture and substance containing a detectable amount of cocaine base (“crack”) in violation of Title 21 United States Code §§ 846, 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(A). [Doc. 3]. On August 14, 2015, a plea agreement was filed, [Doc. 121]. Bookwalter agreed to plead guilty to the lesser included offense of Count One, conspiracy to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute 28 grams of “crack” cocaine. [Id.]. Bookwalter's change of plea hearing was held on August 27, 2015. [Doc. 130]. A Presentence Investigation Report (“PSR”) was filed as to Bookwalter on November 3, 2015. [Doc. 146]. A sentencing hearing took place on March 30, 2016, during which Bookwalter was sentenced to 96 months of imprisonment followed by a five (5) year term of supervised release. [Doc. 192]. Bookwalter did not file a direct appeal, but timely submitted this motion to vacate on April 3, 2017. [Doc. 221].

         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. 1978), 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. 1996), 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).

         Claims other than those of ineffective assistance of counsel are procedurally defaulted if not raised on direct appeal. Bousley v. United States, 523 U.S. 614, 621 (1998); Peveler v. United States, 269 F.3d 693, 698 (6th Cir. 2001). “In the case where the defendant has failed to assert his claims on direct appeal and thus has procedurally defaulted, in order to raise them in a § 2255 motion he also must show either that (1) he had good cause for his failure to raise such arguments and he would suffer prejudice if unable to proceed, or (2) he is actually innocent.” Regalado v. United States, 334 F.3d 520, 528 (6th Cir. 2003). See also Bousley, 523 U.S. at 622-23. This hurdle a petitioner faces to excuse procedural default is “intentionally high[, ]… for respect for the finality of judgments demands that collateral attack generally not be allowed to do service for an appeal.” Elzy v. United States, 205 F.3d 882, 884 (6th Cir. 2000).

         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 (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.

Strickland 466 U.S. at 687. 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. 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. 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 (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. 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. The Strickland Court emphasized both prongs must be established in order to meet the claimant's burden, and if either prong is not satisfied the claim must be rejected, stating:

Although we have discussed the performance component of an ineffectiveness claim prior to the prejudice component, 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 if the defendant makes an insufficient showing on one . . . . If it is easier to dispose of an ineffectiveness claim on the ground of lack of sufficient prejudice, which we expect will often be so, that course should be followed. Courts should strive to ensure ...

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