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United States v. Causey

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Rock Hill Division

December 20, 2018

United States of America,
Tommie Lee Causey, Jr., Defendant.



         This matter is before the court on Defendant's motion for relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. ECF No. 68. Defendant argues (1) the district court erred by failing to grant him a three-level reduction for acceptance of responsibility, (2) counsel was ineffective for failing to object to this error by the court, (3) the district court erred in sentencing petitioner above his guideline range and did not fully explain the sentence, and (4) his counsel was ineffective failing to object to the court's sentence. Id. The Government filed a response in opposition and motion for summary judgment, arguing grounds 1 and 3 are barred by the appellate waiver, and all grounds are not supported by the record. ECF Nos. 72, 73. Pursuant to Roseboro v. Garrison, 528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975), the court advised Defendant of the summary judgment procedure and the consequences if he failed to respond. ECF No. 74. Defendant filed his reply, contending he “pleaded guilty based on counsel's incorrect advice.” and “was tricked into pleading guilty and giving up his rights to appeal the entire plea agreement.” ECF No. 76. He also asserts counsel “failed to appeal conviction or help with the appeal.” Id. at 4. For the reasons below, the Government's motion for summary judgment is granted and Defendant's § 2255 motion is dismissed with prejudice.[1]


         On March 14, 2017, an Information was filed, charging Defendant with possessing a stolen firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(j). ECF No. 41. Defendant entered into a plea agreement to plead guilty to the Information. ECF No. 43. The Government and Defendant agreed in the plea agreement the appropriate disposition of this case was a sentence of not less than 100 months, and that the stipulation was not binding on the Probation Officer or the court. Id. at ¶ 5. The agreement also notes Defendant and his attorney had discussed his rights fully, including those related to going to trial, and Defendant “entered this Agreement as a matter of the Defendant's free and voluntary choice, and not as a result of pressure or intimidation by any person.” Id. at ¶ 9. Further, Defendant waived his right to file an appeal or post-conviction action, including a motion under § 2255 (except for claims of ineffective assistance of counsel, prosecutorial misconduct, or future changes in the law affecting Defendant's sentence), in exchange for concessions made by the Government in the plea agreement. Id. at ¶ 10. The court explained these provisions to Defendant at the Change of Plea hearing, and Defendant agreed with each one under oath. ECF No. 56. The court then accepted Defendant's guilty plea. ECF No. 53.

         The Presentence Report (“PSR”) determined Defendant's base offense level to be 24, based on committing the offense after sustaining at least two felony offenses of a crime of violence or controlled substance offense, with 6 points added for special offense characteristics (stolen firearm and possessing firearm in connection with another felony offense) for a total of 30. ECF No. 52 at ¶¶ 57-59. After three levels off for acceptance of responsibility, Defendant's total offense level was 27, criminal history category V, with a guideline range of 120 months (the statutory maximum: absent the maximum penalty authorized by statute, the guideline range would have been 120-150 months). Id. at ¶¶ 66-28, 85. Defendant raised an objection to the base offense level, which was sustained by the court at sentencing. ECF No. 61. His new base offense level was found to be 20, the total offense level 23, and Criminal History category IV, for an advisory guideline range of 70-87 months. Id. The Government filed a motion for an upward variance to 120 months, the statutory maximum, arguing Defendant would have qualified as an Armed Career Criminal subjecting him to a sentence of at least 180 months absent the plea to § 922(j). ECF No. 58. It further noted Defendant was told the Government could argue for a 120 month sentence based on the plea agreement, and Defendant's history and characteristics and nature and circumstances of the offense warrant a 120 month sentence. Id.

         At sentencing, the court granted the Government's motion in part and sentenced Defendant to 110 months imprisonment and a three-year term of supervised release. ECF No. 60. Defendant did not appeal his conviction or sentence.


         The standard for ineffective assistance of counsel is found in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984). In order to succeed on such a claim, Defendant must first show that her counsel's performance was “deficient, ” Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687-88, and that such deficiency resulted in actual prejudice to Defendant. Id. As to the first prong of the Strickland test, a defense attorney's conduct is deficient if it fails to meet a standard of “reasonably effective assistance.” Id. at 687. A reviewing court must “judge the reasonableness of counsel's challenged conduct on the facts of the particular case, viewed as of the time of counsel's conduct.” Id. at 690; see also Lockhart v. Fretwell, 506 U.S. 364, 371-72 (1993).

         Under the second prong of the Strickland test, Defendant must establish that he experienced prejudice as a result of counsel's ineffectiveness, meaning that there exists “a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different.” United States v. Fugit, 703 F.3d 248, 259 (4th Cir. 2012) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). A defendant must affirmatively prove prejudice that is “so serious as to deprive the defendant of a fair trial.” Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687. Because “[t]he defendant bears the burden of proving Strickland prejudice, ” if a defendant fails to meet this burden, “a reviewing court need not consider the performance prong.” Fields v. Attorney Gen. of Md., 956 F.2d 1290, 1297 (4th Cir. 1992) (citing Strickland, 466 U.S. at 697).


         Defendant advances four grounds for relief in his motion: two for ineffective assistance of counsel and two alleged errors of the court. ECF No. 68. As Defendant's allegations of ineffectiveness depend on the alleged errors of the court, the grounds contending the court made errors will be addressed first.

         1. Alleged Errors of the Court

         Defendant alleges the court erred by failing to grant a three level reduction for acceptance of responsibility and in sentencing Defendant above the advisory guidelines range without sufficiently explaining the sentence of 110 months.[2]Id. at 4, 6. The Government argues these issues are (1) barred by Defendant's written plea agreement, ...

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