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Stuckey v. United States

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Florence Division

June 14, 2016

David Stuckey, PETITIONER
United States of America, RESPONDENT C/A No. 4:14-cv-01536-TLW


          Terry L. Wooten Chief United States District Judge

         This matter comes before the Court for consideration of the pro se petition to vacate, set aside, or correct a sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 filed by Petitioner David Stuckey. For the reasons stated below, the Court dismisses the petition.

         I. Factual and Procedural History

         Petitioner was indicted in a twelve-defendant, nineteen-count Indictment filed on March 22, 2011. ECF No. 3. The indictment charged him with conspiring to possess with intent to distribute and to distribute 5 kilograms or more of cocaine and 280 grams or more of crack cocaine. Attorney Scott Joye was appointed to defend him. ECF No. 154.

         On September 9, 2011, Petitioner filed a pro se motion requesting new counsel, which was referred to a magistrate judge for resolution. ECF No. 388. After holding an in camera hearing, the magistrate judge terminated Mr. Joye’s representation and appointed Attorney Nathaniel Roberson. ECF Nos. 397, 401, 403.

         On November 2, 2011, Mr. Roberson filed a motion seeking a mental health evaluation of Petitioner. ECF No. 447. In the motion, Mr. Roberson asserted that Petitioner’s “memory, recall, attention and basic understanding is suspect and at times is unexplainable, ” and also noted that he “had an automobile accident in 1994 or 1995 and had head and face reconstruction surgery.” Id. at 1. The Court granted the motion. ECF No. 452. The evaluation report noted that he had “limited cognitive ability and minor memory deficits, ” but that these impairments “do not appear to interfere substantially with his ability to proceed with his defense.” ECF No. 577 at 11. The report concluded that “[i]t is the opinion of this evaluator, with a reasonable degree of psychological certainty, [Petitioner] has a rational and factual understanding of the proceedings against him, and he is capable of assisting counsel with his defense.” Id. at 12.

         After the completion of Petitioner’s mental health evaluation, the Court held a pretrial conference on March 22, 2012 and set the case for jury selection on May 14, 2012. ECF No. 590.

         On March 30, 2012, Mr. Roberson filed a motion to withdraw as counsel, asserting that “the relationship has reached an impasse, it is adversarial, it is counterproductive and the best avenue for the protection of the defendant's constitutional rights cannot be afforded him under these circumstances and conditions.” ECF No. 597. The Court held an extensive hearing on the motion and concluded that the circumstances did not require the appointment of new counsel for Petitioner, and the Court therefore denied the motion to withdraw. ECF No. 599.

         The Government then filed an Information pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 851, notifying Petitioner that it intended to rely on five prior felony drug convictions to enhance his statutory sentence to mandatory life imprisonment from the 10 years to life imprisonment range that would have applied absent the enhancement. ECF No. 600.

         The Court held jury selection on the morning of May 14, 2012. In the early evening that day, after the jury had been empaneled and pretrial motions argued, Petitioner notified the Court that he intended to plead guilty pursuant to a plea agreement. In exchange for a guilty plea to the drug conspiracy count, the Government agreed to withdraw all but one of the § 851 enhancements, resulting in a statutory sentencing range of 20 years to life imprisonment. After a thorough Rule 11 colloquy, the Court accepted his guilty plea. ECF No. 629.

         After Petitioner’s plea, the U.S. Probation Office prepared an initial Presentence Investigation Report (“Initial PSR”), ECF No. 685, in which Probation concluded that he should be held accountable for 1, 192.2 grams of crack cocaine and 1 ounce of cocaine, resulting in a base offense level of 34. Initial PSR ¶ 66. Probation also concluded that he should receive a two-level firearm enhancement and that he should not receive a two-level reduction for acceptance of responsibility as a result of his denial of the relevant conduct in the case. Id. ¶¶ 67, 73. Additionally, Probation concluded that he was a career offender based on several prior felony drug convictions. Id. ¶ 72. As a result, his total offense level was 37. Id. ¶ 75. His prior criminal record, through a standard calculation of criminal history points, resulted in a criminal history category of III, but because he was classified as a career offender, his criminal history category became VI. Id. ¶¶ 53-54. As a result, his advisory guideline range was 360 months to life imprisonment. Id. ¶ 104. Had he not been classified as a career offender, his guideline range would have been 235 to 295 months (TOL 36; CHC III). See Id. ¶¶ 53, 71.

         On July 9, 2012, two months after his guilty plea, Petitioner filed a pro se motion to withdraw his plea, asserting that he wanted a trial. ECF No. 683. The Court denied the motion after a hearing. ECF No. 715.

         Several days after the hearing, Petitioner filed another pro se motion, this time seeking to dismiss the Indictment based on asserted due process violations. ECF No. 724.

         Sentencing was originally scheduled for September 19, 2012. At the sentencing hearing, the Court first denied his motion to dismiss the Indictment, ECF No. 724. Then, during the Court’s discussion of the guideline calculations, an issue arose regarding his career offender predicate offenses. At that point, the Court continued the sentencing hearing to allow for that issue to be resolved and for a revised PSR to be prepared. ECF No. 733.

         The revised PSR, ECF No. 750, held him accountable for the same drug weight, applied the same firearm enhancement, again denied acceptance of responsibility, and again classified him as a career offender. Revised PSR ¶¶ 66-67, 72-73. Thus, his guideline range remained 360 months to life imprisonment. Id. ¶ 104.

         The Court reconvened the sentencing hearing on December 4, 2012. ECF No. 759. At the hearing, Petitioner objected to his 1994 drug convictions being counted as a career offender predicate. However, after taking testimony and hearing extensive arguments from counsel and Petitioner, the Court concluded that these convictions counted as a career offender predicate and that he was therefore properly classified as a career offender.[1] The Court ultimately sentenced him at the bottom of the advisory guideline range-360 months imprisonment. ECF No. 767.

         Petitioner filed a direct appeal. Before the Fourth Circuit, Mr. Roberson moved to withdraw as appellate counsel. The Fourth Circuit granted his motion and appointed Attorney Nicole Mace, who argued that this Court erred in refusing to allow him to withdraw his guilty plea and in denying Mr. Roberson’s prior motion to withdraw. The Fourth Circuit affirmed, finding no error on either ground. United States v. Stuckey, 540 F. App’x 198, 199-200 (4th Cir. 2013).

         After the Fourth Circuit affirmed Petitioner’s conviction and sentence, Ms. Mace filed a motion to withdraw as counsel on the grounds that a certiorari petition to the Supreme Court would be frivolous. The Fourth Circuit granted her motion to withdraw. He then filed a pro se petition for writ of certiorari, which the Supreme Court denied on January 27, 2014. Stuckey v. United States, 134 S.Ct. 1047 (2014).

         Petitioner timely filed this § 2255 petition on April 16, 2014, [2] asserting that Mr. Roberson and Ms. Mace provided ineffective assistance of counsel. ECF No. 882 at 3, 6. He also asserted that his sentence was imposed in ...

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