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Jones v. United States

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

August 6, 2019

WILLIAM JONES, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent.

          Christopher H. Steger, Magistrate Judge.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          TRAVIS R. McDONOUGH, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court is Petitioner William Jones's pro se motion to amend or supplement his motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (Doc. 10 in 1:18-cv-257).[1] For the following reasons, the Court will GRANT Jones's motion to the extent he seeks to amend or supplement his § 2255 motion but DENY Petitioner's motion to the extent it seeks relief under § 2255.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On April 25, 2017, Petitioner was charged in a one-count indictment with possession with intent to distribute a mixture and substance containing a detectable amount of cocaine, a Schedule II controlled substance, in violation of Title 21, United States Code, Sections 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(C). (Doc. 11 in No. 1:17-cr-71.) On October 10, 2017, Petitioner pleaded guilty pursuant to a written plea agreement. (Doc. 30 in No. 1:17-cr-71; see also Doc. 19 in No. 1:17-cr-71.) Based on Petitioner's offense level and criminal history, the Court calculated his advisory guidelines range as forty-six to fifty-seven months' imprisonment. (See Docs. 35, 42 in No. 1:17-cr-71.) On January 26, 2018, the undersigned accepted the plea agreement and sentenced Petitioner to 48 months' imprisonment. (Doc. 41 in No. 1:17-cr-71.) Petitioner filed a direct appeal but later moved to voluntarily dismiss the appeal pursuant to Rule 42 of the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure. (Doc. 49 in No. 1:17-cr-71.) On February 25, 2019, Petitioner filed the instant motion for leave to amend his motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (Doc. 10 in 1:18-cv-257). This motion is now ripe for the Court's review.

         II. STANDARD OF 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).

         In ruling on a motion made pursuant to § 2255, the Court must also determine whether an evidentiary hearing is necessary. “An evidentiary hearing is required unless the record conclusively shows that the petitioner is entitled to no relief.” Martin v. United States, 889 F.3d 827, 832 (6th Cir. 2018) (quoting Campbell v. United States, 686 F.3d 353, 357 (6th Cir. 2012)); see also 28 U.S.C. § 2255(b). “The burden for establishing entitlement to an evidentiary hearing is relatively light, and where there is a factual dispute, the habeas court must hold an evidentiary hearing to determine the truth of the petitioner's claims.” Id. (internal quotations omitted). While a petitioner's “mere assertion of innocence” does not entitle him to an evidentiary hearing, the district court cannot forego an evidentiary hearing unless “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.” Id. When petitioner's factual narrative of the events is not contradicted by the record and not inherently incredible and the government offers nothing more than contrary representations, the petitioner is entitled to an evidentiary hearing. Id.

         III. ANALYSIS[2]

         A. Leave to Amend

         The decision to grant or deny a motion to amend a § 2255 motion is within the sound discretion of the district court. United States v. Clark, 637 Fed.Appx. 206, 208 (6th Cir. 2016). Moreover, “[t]he court should freely give leave when justice so requires.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). Because Petitioner is proceeding pro se, he is entitled to some indulgences, and the Court will, therefore, permit him to amend his § 2255 motion. See Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972). Accordingly, to the extent Jones's motion seeks to amend or supplement his § 2255 motion, the Court will GRANT this motion.

         B. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

         Petitioner asserts that he is entitled to relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 because he received ineffective assistance of counsel. (See Doc. 10 in 1:18-cv-257.) Specifically, he argues that his counsel was ineffective for failing to: (1) move to suppress evidence obtained pursuant to the search warrant of Petitioner's vehicle because the affidavit in support of the warrant did not establish the reliability of the confidential informant relied on by officers; (2) request certain discovery, including the identity of the confidential informant and his involvement with the case; (3) object to the drug quantity attributed to him at sentencing; and (4) inform Petitioner of his “right to have the charged drug quantity determined by a jury.” (Doc. 10, at 6-12.)

         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. “A reasonable probability is a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome.” See Rodriguez-Penton v. United States, 905 F.3d 481, 487 (6th Cir. 2018) (quoting Strickland, 466 ...


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