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Hart v. United States

United States District Court, W.D. Tennessee, Eastern Division

June 26, 2018

COREY HART, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent.

          ORDER DENYING § 2255 MOTION DENYING CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY, AND DENYING LEAVE TO APPEAL IN FORMA PAUPERIS

          J. DANIEL BREEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         In July 2015, Petitioner, Corey Hart, filed a pro se motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (“Petition”). (Docket Entry (“D.E.”) 1.)[1] For the reasons that follow, the Petition is DENIED.

         BACKGROUND

         Hart was indicted by a federal grand jury in July 2013 on two counts of distributing and attempting to distribute a mixture and substance containing a detectable amount of methamphetamine. (No. 13-cr-10071, D.E. 2 at PageID 3-4.) The Court appointed the Federal Public Defender's Office to represent him, (id., D.E. 11), and Assistant Federal Defender M. Dianne Smothers appeared on his behalf, (id., D.E. 13).

         The first count of the indictment was subsequently dismissed upon motion of the Government, (id., D.E. 20), and Petitioner entered an open plea of guilty to the second count, (id., D.E. 30). At sentencing, the Court determined that Hart was subject to an enhanced sentence as a career offender under U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1 of the United States Sentencing Guidelines (“U.S.S.G.” or “Guidelines”), based on four Tennessee convictions: attempted aggravated assault, sale of methamphetamine, possession of methamphetamine with intent to resale or deliver, and aggravated assault.[2] (Id., D.E. 47 at PageID 118-119; Presentence Report ¶¶ 18, 36-39.) He was sentenced to 151 months' imprisonment and three years of supervised release. (No. 13-cr-10071, D.E. 42.) Petitioner appealed his sentence but was unsuccessful. (Id., D.E. 52.)

         On July 10, 2015, Hart filed his federal Petition, asserting the following claims:

Claim 1: “Counsel was ineffective for failing to object to prior convictions that were used for purposes of the career offender [Guidelines] and letting Petitioner accept a plea ag[]reement that resulted in him receiving more time than he would have had he not been a career offender.” Claim 2: “Counsel failed to investigate Petitioner's prior Tennessee convictions which were unconstitutional” because “the state court did not have jurisdiction to impose [the] sentence.”

(D.E. 1 at PageID 4.)

         In June 2016, the Court appointed counsel to represent Petitioner for purposes of pursuing a claim under Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015). (D.E. 9.) Counsel filed a supplemental § 2255 motion setting forth the Johnson claim, (D.E. 8), which the Court denied on the merits, (D.E. 10). The Government was directed to respond to the inmate's remaining claims. (Id. at PageID 23.)

         DISCUSSION

         On May 16, 2018, Respondent filed its answer to the Petition (“Answer”). (D.E. 11.) In support of its argument that Petitioner's claims were meritless, the Government submitted an affidavit from defense attorney Smothers, a copy of the inmate's state court petition challenging his state convictions under Tenn. R. Crim. P. 36.1, and the state court's decision denying the petition. (D.E. 11-2; D.E. 11-1.) Petitioner did not file a reply to the Government's Answer, although allowed to do so. (See D.E. 10 at PageID 23.)

         1. Legal Standards

         A prisoner seeking to vacate his sentence under “§ 2255 must allege either: ‘(1) an error of constitutional magnitude; (2) a sentence imposed outside the statutory limits; or (3) an error of fact or law that was so fundamental as to render the entire proceeding invalid.'” Short v. United States, 471 F.3d 686, 691 (6th Cir. 2006) (quoting Mallet v. United States, 334 F.3d 491, 496-97 (6th Cir. 2003)).

         A § 2255 claim that an attorney's ineffective assistance has deprived a criminal defendant of his Sixth Amendment right to counsel is controlled by the standards stated in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984). To succeed on such a claim, a petitioner must demonstrate two elements: (1) “that counsel's performance was deficient”; and (2) “that the deficient performance prejudiced the defense.” Id. at 687. “The benchmark for judging any claim of ineffectiveness must be whether counsel's ...


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