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United States v. Blackson

United States District Court, District of Columbia

February 15, 2017



          ROSEMARY M. COLLYER United States District Court.

         Joseph Blackson filed a pro se motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. See Def.'s Mot. Under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence [Dkt. 1268]. For the reasons explained below, the Court will deny the motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The motion arises from a long and complicated set of criminal convictions after a joint investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) into a group of drug dealers in D.C. known as the “M Street Crew.” The investigation resulted in two indictments: United States v. Babson, 04-cr-127, charging persons in New York, California and elsewhere with supplying drugs to the D.C.-based M Street Crew, and United States v. Franklin, 04-cr-128, the instant case, charging alleged Crew members. In all, about forty (40) persons were charged and were convicted or pled guilty.

         As relevant here, Mr. Blackson was charged in a 159-count superseding indictment that also named 18 other defendants and alleged a host of federal crimes relating to a narcotics conspiracy. See Superseding Indictment [Dkt. 386]. Through testimony, pole camera footage, wiretaps of phone calls, and audio recordings, the evidence convinced the jury that Jonathan Franklin led the M Street Crew as a cohesive and hierarchical business and social unit.

         Mr. Blackson is the half-brother of Mr. Franklin, and the government argued he was a “lieutenant” to Mr. Franklin. After trial of five alleged M Street Crew members, the jury convicted all, including Mr. Blackson, of conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute phencyclidine, ecstasy and cocaine base, also known as crack cocaine; conspiracy to participate in a Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organization (RICO); multiple counts of drug distribution; violent crimes; and numerous gun offenses. See Verdict [Dkt. 552]. On August 31, 2006, this Court sentenced Mr. Blackson to 35 years in prison, followed by 10 years of supervised release. The sentence included an enhancement stemming from the Court's finding that Mr. Blackson served as a “lieutenant” in the M Street Crew.

         Mr. Blackson appealed his convictions to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which affirmed all but one conviction. See United States v. Wilson, 605 F.3d 985 (D.C. Cir. 2010). The Circuit reversed Mr. Blackson's conviction on Count 31; this Count had alleged an incident of drug distribution, but the government had presented no evidence on it and told the Circuit that the judgment was in error. Id. 605 F.3d at 1032. On remand, this Court found no reason to disturb Mr. Blackson's original sentence. See Tr. of Sentencing on Remand [Dkt. 1218] at 22:8-23:10.

         Mr. Blackson filed the instant motion on November 7, 2014, in which he alleges ineffective assistance of trial and appellate counsel, and asks the Court to vacate his convictions or, in the alternative, to hold an evidentiary hearing. See Def.'s Mot. at 10. In a letter accompanying his motion, Mr. Blackson stated that he intended to supplement the motion with supporting affidavits from potential defense witnesses who were not called by his trial counsel. See Def.'s Nov. 7, 2014 Letter [Dkt. 1269]. He later supplemented his § 2255 motion with three supporting affidavits, only one of which was signed. See § 2255 Supp. [Dkt. 1276]. The government opposed the motion on May 7, 2015. See Pl.'s Opp. [Dkt. 1299]. Mr. Blackson subsequently requested-and the Court granted-several extensions of time in which to file a reply. Although he filed an unrelated Motion to Reduce Sentence [Dkt. 1314] during one extension period, he did not submit any reply.


         Section 2255 allows a federal prisoner to ask the sentencing court to vacate, set aside or correct a sentence on the grounds that “the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States, or that the court was without jurisdiction to impose such sentence, or that the sentence was in excess of the maximum authorized by law, or is otherwise subject to collateral attack.” 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a). A claim of ineffective assistance of counsel is one such collateral attack. A defendant must prove his claim by a preponderance of the evidence. See United States v. Simpson, 475 F.2d 934, 935 (D.C. Cir. 1973); see also Parker v. United States, No. CR 12-59 (EGS), 2016 WL 4148174, at *2 (D.D.C. Aug. 4, 2016). Because “Section 2255 is not a substitute for a direct appeal, ” “in order to gain relief under any claim, [the movant] is obliged to show a good deal more than would be sufficient on a direct appeal from his sentence.” United States v. Pollard, 959 F.2d 1011, 1020 (D.C. Cir. 1992) (citing United States v. Frady, 456 U.S. 152, 165 (1982)); see also Parker, 2016 WL 4148174, at *2 (applying Pollard standard).

         A hearing need not be held on a § 2255 motion when “the motion and the files and records of the case conclusively show that the prisoner is entitled to no relief.” 28 U.S.C. § 2255(b); see also United States v. Morrison, 98 F.3d 619, 625 (D.C. Cir. 1996). To warrant a hearing, the petitioner's Section 2255 motion must “raise ‘detailed and specific' factual allegations whose resolution requires information outside the record or the judge's personal knowledge or recollection.” United States v. Pollard, 959 F.2d 1011, 1031 (D.C. Cir. 1992) (quoting Machibroda v. United States, 368 U.S. 487, 495 (1962)). “When a § 2255 motion involves ineffective assistance of counsel, a hearing is not required if the district court determines that the ‘alleged deficiencies of counsel did not prejudice the defendant.'” United States v. Weaver, 234 F.3d 42, 46 (D.C. Cir. 2000) (quoting United States v. Sayan, 968 F.2d 55, 66 (D.C. Cir. 1992)). Further, “a district judge's decision not to hold an evidentiary hearing before denying a § 2255 motion is generally respected as a sound exercise of discretion when the judge denying the § 2255 motion also presided over the trial in which the petitioner claims to have been prejudiced.” Morrison, 98 F.3d at 625.


         Mr. Blackson complains that his trial and appellate lawyers provided him with ineffective assistance. Def.'s Mot. at 5-13. To prevail, he must show that (1) “counsel made errors so serious that counsel was not functioning as the ‘counsel' guaranteed the defendant by the Sixth Amendment, ” and (2) this “deficient performance prejudiced the defense, ” meaning “counsel's errors were so serious as to deprive the defendant of a fair trial.” Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984). Strickland's framework “requires (1) showing ‘counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness' and (2) demonstrating ‘there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different.'” United States v. Hughes, 514 F.3d 15, 17 (D.C. Cir. 2008) (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687-88, 694).

         At the outset, the Court finds that no evidentiary hearing is required in this case. Having presided over Mr. Blackson's trial and sentencing (and all other proceedings involving the M Street Crew and its suppliers), this Court is familiar with the facts and issues of the case. Further, as discussed infra, the parties' briefs and record sufficiently demonstrate that Mr. ...

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