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United States v. Vongdeuane

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

September 8, 2017

United States of America
Rathdaphone Vongdeuane, Movant.

          OPINION & ORDER

          Henry M. Herlong, Jr. Senior United States District Judge.

         This matter is before the court on Rathdaphone Vongdeuane's (“Vongdeuane”) motion to vacate, set aside, or correct her sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. For the reasons set forth below, the court dismisses Vongdeuane's § 2255 motion.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         On November 4, 2014, Vongdeuane pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute and distribute heroin and methamphetamine. Vongdeuane was sentenced on May 5, 2015, to sixty months' imprisonment. Vongdeuane did not appeal her conviction. Vongdeuane filed a § 2255 motion on April 25, 2016, [1] alleging among other things, that her counsel failed to file a notice of appeal as requested. The court dismissed Vongdeuane's § 2255 motion with leave to refile, vacated her sentence and judgment of conviction, and immediately reimposed and reinstated it. Vongdeuane appealed her conviction and sentence on May 16, 2016. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the court's judgment on November 29, 2016. United States v. Vongdeuane, No. 16-4292, 2016 WL 6958571, at *1 (4th Cir. Nov. 29, 2016) (unpublished). Vongdeuane filed the instant § 2255 motion on August 3, 2017, alleging ineffective assistance of counsel claims.[2] The court ordered Vongdeune to submit her motion in proper form on August 15, 2017. Vongdeuane submitted the motion in proper from on September 5, 2017.

         II. Discussion of the Law

         In order to successfully challenge a conviction or sentence on the basis of ineffective assistance of counsel, Vongdeuane must demonstrate that her counsel's performance fell below an objective standard of reasonableness, and that she was prejudiced by her counsel's deficient performance. See Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984). With respect to the first prong, there is “a strong presumption that counsel's conduct falls within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance.” Id. at 689. With respect to the second prong, Vongdeuane must demonstrate a “reasonable probability that, but for counsel's errors, [s]he would not have pleaded guilty and would have insisted on going to trial.” Hill v. Lockhart, 474 U.S. 52, 59 (1985).

         Vongdeaune alleges that her counsel was ineffective (1) because her plea was the “product of coercion, ” and (2) in failing “to present evidence contesting the gun enhancement under [the] U.S. Sentencing Guidelines.” (§ 2255 Mot., generally, ECF No. 61-1.)

         Vongdeaune alleges that her counsel was ineffective in using “inappropriate tactics to coerce [her] plea, ” failed to explain the “mandatory minimum” and to explain the impact the gun enhancement would have on “many [Bureau of Prisons, (“BOP”), ] decisions and U.S. probation decisions.” (Id., ECF No. 61.)

         To the extent that Vongdeune is arguing that her guilty plea was not knowing and voluntary due to ineffective assistance of counsel, this argument lacks merit. A defendant can challenge the voluntary and intelligent character of the guilty plea by demonstrating that the advice she received from counsel was not within the range of competence demanded of attorneys in criminal cases. Tollett v. Henderson, 411 U.S. 258, 266-67 (1973). “[C]ounsel may . . . advise h[er] client to plead guilty if that advice falls within the range of reasonable competence under the circumstances.” United States v. Cronic, 466 U.S. 648, 656 n.19 (1984).

         As an initial matter, Vongdeuane has not alleged any facts to support her conclusion that she would not have pleaded guilty but for counsel's errors. Vongdeuane “must identify the acts or omissions of counsel that are alleged not to have been the result of reasonable professional judgment.” Strickland, 466 U.S. at 690.

         Further, the Rule 11 colloquy reflects that Vongdeuane knowingly and voluntarily pled guilty. At her plea hearing, Vongdeaune stated under oath that she understood the charge against her, the potential penalties, the elements, and the rights that she was waiving by pleading guilty. (Guilty Plea Tr. 12-14, 17, ECF No. 507.) Further, she stated that no one had forced or coerced her into pleading guilty, and she was pleading guilty because she was guilty. (Id., ECF No. 507.) In addition, Vongdeuane answered, “no, ” when asked if “anyone, including [her] attorney, promised [her] what [her] actual sentence will be.” (Id. 18, ECF No. 507.) Further, the court stated as follows:

As to . . . Rathdaphone Vongdeuane, with less than one kilogram but 100-grams or more of heroin, the statute provides for 40 years -- a maximum sentence of 40 years imprisonment, a mandatory minimum of five years, maximum fine of $2 million, supervised release of at least four years, and not more than six years, special assessment of $100. Do you understand that?

(Id. 13-14, ECF No. 507.) Vongdeuane responded, “Yes, sir.” (Id. 13-14, ECF No. 507.) In addition, when asked whether she had “thoroughly reviewed the plea agreement with your attorney, ” Vongdeuane answered, “Yes.” (Id. 19, ECF No. 507.)

[I]n the absence of extraordinary circumstances, the truth of sworn statements made during a Rule 11 colloquy is conclusively established, and a district court should, without holding an evidentiary hearing, dismiss any ยง 2255 motion that necessarily relies on allegations that contradict the sworn statements. Otherwise, a primary virtue of Rule 11 ...

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