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Waters v. United States

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

August 1, 2019




         This matter is before the Court upon Movant Thomas Braford Waters' (“Waters”) motion to vacate, set aside, or correct a sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (ECF No. 193), motion to proceed in forma pauperis (ECF No. 194), motion for relief under the First Step Act (ECF No. 202), motion to reduce sentence (ECF No. 207), motion to substitute attorney (ECF No. 220), motion for discovery (ECF No. 222), motion for evidentiary hearing (ECF No. 223), and motion to appoint counsel (ECF No. 228), as well as Respondent United States of America's (“Government”) motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 212). For the reasons set forth below, all of Waters' motions are denied and the Government's motion for summary judgment is granted.


         On March 25, 2015, Waters was charged in a single-count indictment with being a felon in possession of a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). (ECF No. 12.) Prior to trial, Petitioner sought to suppress various evidence, challenging police reliance on an anonymous 911 call that led the police to his location-where they observed him in possession of a firearm-as the basis for reasonable suspicion or probable cause. (See ECF Nos. 63, 80, 96.) The undersigned denied Waters' motions to suppress. (ECF No. 80.) Thereafter, on September 14, 2015, a jury found Waters guilty of being a felon in possession of a firearm. (ECF No. 112.)

         On April 13, 2016, Waters was sentenced to a term of 120 months' incarceration (ECF Nos. 161, 162), which represented the middle of his guideline range and a statutory maximum sentence (see ECF No. 165 at 16). The judgment was entered on April 15, 2016. (ECF No. 162.) Waters appealed his conviction and sentence, which were affirmed by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. (ECF No. 168.) The mandate was issued July 31, 2017. (ECF No. 183.) The U.S. Supreme Court denied Waters' petition for a writ of certiorari on January 8, 2018. (ECF No. 189.) Waters timely filed the instant motion to vacate, set aside, or correct a sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 on January 2, 2019. (ECF No. 193.)


         Motions to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct a Sentence Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255

         A prisoner in federal custody may attack the validity of his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 by filing a motion in the court that imposed the sentence. To succeed on such a motion, the prisoner must prove one of the following: (1) the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States; (2) the court lacked jurisdiction to impose the sentence; (3) the sentence exceeded the maximum authorized by law; or (4) the sentence is otherwise subject to collateral attack. 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a).

         The district court need not hold an evidentiary hearing on a § 2255 motion if “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 determination of whether to hold an evidentiary hearing ordinarily is best left to the common sense and sound discretion of the district court. Raines v. United States, 423 F.2d 526, 530 (4th Cir. 1970). “When the district court denies § 2255 relief without an evidentiary hearing, the nature of the court's ruling is akin to a ruling on a motion for summary judgment.” United States v. Poindexter, 492 F.3d 263, 267 (4th Cir. 2007).

         “The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see Rule 12, Rules Governing Section 2255 Proceedings (“The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure . . ., to the extent that they are not inconsistent with any statutory provisions or these rules, may be applied to a proceeding under these rules.”) “A party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support the assertion by: (A) citing to particular parts of materials in the record . . .; or (B) showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). “The evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, with all reasonable inferences drawn in that party's favor. The court therefore cannot weigh the evidence or make credibility determinations.” Reyazuddin v. Montgomery Cty., 789 F.3d 407, 413 (4th Cir. 2015) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted).

         Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

         The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that “[i]n all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right . . . to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.” U.S. Const. amend. VI. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that this right is violated when counsel retained by, or appointed to, a criminal defendant fails to provide adequate or effective legal assistance. See Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 686 (1984). Strickland established a two-prong test for a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel in violation of the Sixth Amendment, under which the criminal defendant must show deficient performance and resulting prejudice. Id. at 687. “The performance prong of Strickland requires a defendant to show ‘that counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness.'” Lafler v. Cooper, 566 U.S. 156, 163 (2012) (quoting Hill v. Lockhart, 474 U.S. 52, 57 (1985)). “[C]ounsel should be ‘strongly presumed to have rendered adequate assistance and made all significant decisions in the exercise of reasonable professional judgment, '” and courts should indulge in a “‘strong presumption that counsel's conduct fell within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance.'” Burt v. Titlow, 134 S.Ct. 10, 17 (2013) (modifications omitted) (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 689-90). “To establish Strickland prejudice a defendant must ‘show that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different.'” Lafler, 566 U.S. at 163 (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 694).


         28 U.S.C. ยง 2255 ...

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