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United States v. Roberts

United States District Court, District of Columbia

August 2, 2017



          AMY BERMAN JACKSON United States District Judge

         On November 18, 2016, defendant Lamont Delrico Roberts was sentenced to seventy-two months of incarceration after his plea of guilty to unlawful distribution of twenty-eight grams or more of cocaine base, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(B)(iii). See J. in a Criminal Case [Dkt. # 49] (“J & C”). He now seeks to vacate that sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Mot. Under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence [Dkt. # 52] (“Def.'s Mot.”). Roberts argues that the Court's calculation of the sentencing guidelines was incorrect, and that his counsel was ineffective because: he “failed to fight and argue the reasonableness of [the] sentence;” he failed to advise Roberts of his right to a direct appeal; and he failed to argue that the Court's sentence would cause an unwarranted disparity as to his co-defendant. Id. at 4. Because defendant's argument about the sentencing guidelines is foreclosed by his plea agreement and incorrect in any event, and because he has not demonstrated that his representation was constitutionally deficient, the Court will deny the motion without a hearing.


         Beginning in the summer of 2014, defendant sold cocaine base on multiple occasions to an undercover Metropolitan Police Department officer. Statement of Offense [Dkt. # 37] at 1. On May 5, 2015, he was charged with ten counts of unlawful distribution of cocaine base in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(B)(iii). Superseding Indictment [Dkt. # 4] (“Indictment”).

         Defendant ultimately agreed to plead guilty to Count Nine of the Indictment, which charged him and his co-defendant Randy Jarell Johnson with one count of unlawful distribution of cocaine base.[1] Indictment at 4. As part of his plea agreement, defendant acknowledged that he was pleading guilty to an offense that carried a mandatory minimum sentence of five years of incarceration. Plea Agreement [Dkt. # 36] at 1. At the time of his plea, he agreed that his estimated sentencing guidelines range would be between 87 to 108 months, and that a sentence within that range would be reasonable. Id. ¶¶ 3-4.

         The Court accepted defendant's guilty plea on August 8, 2016. See Tr. of Plea Hr'g [Dkt. # 61] (“Plea Hr'g”) at 24:3-9. On November 18, 2016, the Court sentenced defendant to seventy-two months of incarceration, followed by forty-eight months of supervised release. See J & C at 2-3. Defendant did not file a direct appeal.

         On March 7, 2017, defendant filed this motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, challenging his sentence and claiming that he received ineffective assistance of counsel. Def.'s Mot. Mr. Roberts also sent a letter to the Court that was docketed as part of these proceedings on April 13, 2017. Letter to the Court [Dkt. # 56]. The government then opposed the motion. Opp. to Def.'s Mot. [Dkt. # 58]. Defendant did not file a reply, but he did send two more letters to the Court, which were docketed on June 8 and July 18, 2017. Letter [Dkt. # 65]; Letter [Dkt. # 67].


         To prevail on a motion to vacate a sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, a defendant must show that his “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). The defendant bears the burden of proving his claims by a preponderance of the evidence. See United States v. Simpson, 475 F.2d 934, 935 (D.C. Cir. 1973). “Relief under § 2255 is an extraordinary remedy in light of society's legitimate interest in the finality of judgments.” United States v. Zakas, 793 F.Supp.2d 77, 80 (D.D.C. 2011). So in a section 2255 proceeding, the defendant “must clear a significantly higher hurdle than would exist on direct appeal.” United States v. Frady, 456 U.S. 152, 166 (1982). And “[t]o have a plea set aside on a section 2255 petition, the petitioner ‘must show that the plea proceeding was tainted by a fundamental defect which inherently results in a complete miscarriage of justice or an omission inconsistent with the rudimentary demands of fair procedure.'” United States v. Weaver, 265 F.3d 1074, 1077 (D.C. Cir. 2001), quoting United States v. Farley, 72 F.3d 158, 162 (D.C. Cir. 1995); see also Hill v. United States, 368 U.S. 424, 471 (1962).

         In considering a section 2255 motion, a district court shall grant a hearing “[u]nless 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). The rules governing section 2255 proceedings add that “[i]f it plainly appears from the motion, any attached exhibits, and the record of prior proceedings that the moving party is not entitled to relief, the judge must dismiss the motion.” Rules Governing § 2255 Proceedings, Rule 4(b), 28 U.S.C. foll. § 2255. The decision to grant a hearing “is committed to the district court's discretion.” United States v. Pollard, 959 F.2d 1011, 1030-31 (D.C. Cir. 1992). And 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 defendant's original proceeding. United States v. Morrison, 98 F.3d 619, 625-26 (D.C. Cir. 1996); see also United States v. Toms, 396 F.3d 427, 437 (D.C. Cir. 2005), quoting Morrison, 98 F.3d 619 at 625; United States v. Sayan, 968 F.2d 55, 66 (D.C. Cir. 1992). Ultimately, the “summary denial of a § 2255 motion is appropriate . . . when the [claims do] not necessitate the consideration of any information not within the record or within the memory of the judge ruling on the motion.” Morrison, 98 F.3d at 626.


         Defendant has attacked his conviction on two grounds. First, he contends that the Court incorrectly calculated his sentencing guidelines range, and that it consequently imposed an erroneous sentence. Def.'s Mot. at 6-7. Second, he argues that he received ineffective assistance of counsel. See Id. at 5. Specifically, defendant claims that his lawyer failed to argue that the sentence to be imposed was unreasonable, failed to argue that his sentence would cause an unwarranted sentencing disparity between defendant and his co-defendant, and failed to advise him of his right to appeal. Id.

         Defendant is barred from challenging the Court's calculation of his sentencing guidelines range because he waived his right to make such an attack in his plea agreement. He has also failed to allege any prejudice arising out of his allegations of ineffective assistance of counsel. Because 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), defendant's motion will be denied without an evidentiary hearing.

         I. Defendant's claim that the Court erred in calculating his sentencing guidelines range is barred by his plea agreement, and it is incorrect in any event.

         Defendant argues that his “sentence of 72 months was unreasonable” because the Court “raised my level 2 points for a crime I was later found not guilty of, ” and he submits that his base offense level “should have been level 24 with a guideline range of 51 to 63 months.” Def.'s Mot. at 5.

         Defendant's challenge to the sentence imposed by the Court is foreclosed by his plea agreement. Defendant agreed in his plea that he was waiving the right to file a motion under section 2255 except under limited circumstances:

Your client also waives any right to challenge the conviction entered or sentence imposed under this Agreement or otherwise attempt to modify or change the sentence or the manner in which it was determined in any collateral attack, including, but not limited to, a motion brought under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 or Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b), except to the extent such a motion is based on newly discovered evidence or on a claim that your client received ineffective assistance of counsel in entering this Agreement or in connection with sentencing.

         Plea Agreement at 6. And defendant confirmed during the plea hearing that he understood that he was waiving those rights:

THE COURT: [D]o you also understand that sometimes after people have been convicted of an offense they attack their conviction in a separate legal proceeding under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b) or a section of the U.S. Code called 28 U.S.C. ยง 2255. Basically they come back in and they say my conviction was illegal for various reasons. Do you understand that you're giving up the right to do that, too, unless there's newly discovered evidence or ...

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