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Butler v. United States

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

November 4, 2019

Mikle Anthony Butler, Petitioner,
United States of America, Respondent.


          R. Bryan Harwell Chief United States District Judge

         This matter is before the Court on Petitioner Mikle Anthony Butler's (“Petitioner”) pro se [ECF No. 91] motion to vacate, set aside, or correct sentence (“motion to vacate”) pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Also pending is the government's [ECF No. 108] motion for summary judgment. For the reasons stated below, the Court grants Respondent's motion for summary judgment, dismisses Petitioner's motion to vacate, and dismisses this case with prejudice

         Procedural History and Factual Background

         Petitioner was indicted on May 23, 2017, in a one count indictment for violations of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1), 924(a)(2), and 924(e). [ECF No. 2].

         On February 14, 2018, Petitioner entered a guilty plea to count one of the indictment without a written plea agreement.

         A presentence investigation report (“PSR”) dated March 28, 2018, was prepared by the U.S. Probation Office. The PSR found that Petitioner's advisory guideline range was 92 to 115 months, based on a total offense level of 23 and criminal history category of VI.

         On May 17, 2018, Petitioner was sentenced to 92 months in prison. Petitioner appealed his conviction and sentence to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals on May 21, 2018. The conviction and sentence were affirmed in an opinion dated January 23, 2019. The mandate and judgment were entered on March 20, 2019.

         Petitioner filed the instant pro se motion to vacate pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 on March 20, 2019. [ECF No. 91]. The government filed a response to Petitioner's motion to vacate and a motion for summary judgment on June 6, 2019. [ECF No. 108]. Petitioner filed a response to the government's motion for summary judgment on July 8, 2019.

         Applicable Law

         Prisoners in federal custody may attack the validity of their sentences pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. In order to move the court to vacate, set aside, or correct a sentence under § 2255, a petitioner must prove that one of the following occurred: (1) a sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States; (2) the court was without jurisdiction to impose such a sentence; (3) the sentence was in excess of the maximum authorized by law; or (4) the sentence is otherwise subject to collateral attack. 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a). Nonconstitutional claims may be brought pursuant to § 2255, but will not provide a basis for collateral attack unless the error involves a “fundamental defect which inherently results in a complete miscarriage of justice.” United States v. Addonizio, 442 U.S. 178, 185, 99 S.Ct., 2235, 2240 (1979); United States v. Morrow, 914 F.2d 608, 613 (4th Cir. 1990).

         A petitioner cannot ordinarily bring a collateral attack on the basis of issues litigated on direct appeal. United States v. Dyess, 730 F.3d 354, 360 (4th Cir. 2013) (stating petitioner “cannot ‘circumvent a proper ruling . . . on direct appeal by re-raising the same challenge in a § 2255 motion'”); United States v. Linder, 552 F.3d 391, 396 (4th Cir. 2009); Boeckenhaupt v. United States, 537 F.2d 1182, 1183 (4th Cir.), cert denied, 429 U.S. 863, 97 S.Ct. 169 (1976). An exception occurs where there has been an intervening change in the law. Davis v. United States, 417 U.S. 333, 342, 94 S.Ct. 2298, 2302 (1974). Additionally, where a defendant could have raised a claim on direct appeal but fails to do so, the claim may only be raised in a federal habeas proceeding if the defendant can show both cause for and actual prejudice from the default, see Murray v. Carrier, 477 U.S. 478, 485, 106 S.Ct. 2639, 91 L.Ed.2d 397 (1986), or that she is actually innocent, see Smith v. Murray, 477 U.S. 527, 537, 106 S.Ct. 2661, 91 L.Ed.2d 434 (1986).

         In deciding a motion to vacate, the court may summarily dismiss the motion “[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.” Rules Governing Section 2255 Proceedings 4(b); see 28 U.S.C. § 2255(b) (a hearing is not required on a § 2255 motion if the record of the case conclusively shows that petitioner is entitled to no relief). An evidentiary hearing “is required when a movant presents a colorable [ ] claim showing disputed material facts and a credibility determination is necessary to resolve the issue.” United States v. Coon, 205 Fed.Appx. 972, 973 (4th Cir. 2006) (citing United States v. Witherspoon, 231 F.3d 923, 925-27 (4th Cir. 2000)). However, a hearing is not required unless the claim shows “disputed facts involving inconsistencies beyond the record.” United States v. Robinson, 238 Fed.Appx. 954, 955 (4th Cir. 2007). Conclusory allegations contained within affidavits do not require a hearing. Strong v. Johnson, 495 F.3d 134, 139-40 (4th Cir. 2007). “Thus, no hearing is required if the petitioner's allegations ‘cannot be accepted as true because they are contradicted by the record, inherently incredible, or conclusions rather than statement of fact.' ” Arredondo v. United States, 178 F.3d 778, 782 (6th Cir. 1999) (quoting Engelen v. United States, 68 F.3d 238, 240 (8th Cir. 1995)).

         Petitioner's motion to vacate alleges ineffective assistance of counsel. Claims of ineffective assistance of counsel are constitutional in nature and therefore are properly asserted under § 2255. The Sixth Amendment provides: “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right . . . to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.” U.S. Constitution. amend VI. The United States Supreme Court has interpreted the Sixth Amendment to require that counsel be effective. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 686, (1984) (quoting McMann v. Richardson, 397 U.S. 759, 771, n.14 (1970)). In order to prevail on an ineffective assistance claim, petitioner must satisfy the two-prong test of Strickland that (1) his “counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness, ” id. at 688; and (2) that “there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different.” Id. at 694. A reasonable probability is a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome. Id. In the context of a guilty plea, Petitioner must show "that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's errors, she would not have pleaded guilty and would have insisted on going to trial. Hill v. Lockhart, 474 U.S. 52, 59 (1985).

         A court applying the Strickland test may apply either prong first and does not need to analyze both prongs of the test if petitioner makes “an insufficient showing on one.” Id. at 697.

         In examining the performance of counsel, there is “a strong presumption that counsel's conduct falls within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance . . . .” Id. at 689. A reviewing court must be highly deferential in scrutinizing counsel's performance and must filter from its analysis the “distorting effects of hindsight.” Id.

         Regarding “deficient performance, ” a court must defer to counsel's tactical decisions and give counsel the benefit of a strong presumption of reasonableness. See Id. at 689. While an attorney has a duty to investigate reasonable claims and defenses, an attorney's performance cannot be deemed ineffective or deficient if he fails to raise a defense which is “very weak”. Smith v. State ofSouth Carolina, 882 F.2d 895, 898 (4th Cir. 1989); Sistrunk v. Vaughn, 96 F.3d 666, 671 (3rd Cir. 1996). A habeas petitioner alleging prejudice must show “that counsel's errors were so serious as to deprive the defendant of a fair trial, a trial whose result is reliable.” Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687. That the outcome may have been different but for counsel's error is not dispositive of the “prejudice” inquiry. Rather, a court must determine whether the result of the proceeding was ...

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