Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

United States v. Carter

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

January 6, 2020

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
MICHAEL CARTER a/k/a “Blaze, ” Defendant.

          ORDER AND OPINION

         Defendant Michael Carter, also known as “Blaze, ” is a prisoner currently serving a sentence of two hundred forty (240) months in the Bureau of Prisons. (See ECF No. 45.)

         This matter is before the court on Carter's Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct a Sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. (ECF No. 63.) The United States of America (the “Government”) expressly opposes Carter's Motion to Vacate (ECF No. 93) and moves for summary judgment on the merits. (ECF No. 94.) For the reasons set forth below, the court DENIES Carter's Motion to Vacate and GRANTS the Government's Motion for Summary Judgment.[2]

         I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND TO PENDING MOTIONS

         After having been convicted of a state felony offense, Carter “was found with a firearm on December 22, 2012 . . . and again on June 11, 2013 . . . .” (ECF No. 1-1 at 4 ¶ 10.) Thereafter, on April 18, 2017, the Grand Jury named Carter in an Indictment containing the following two (2) counts:

(1) That on or about December 22, 2012, in the District of South Carolina, the defendant, MICHAEL KENNY CARTER, having been convicted of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year, knowingly did possess in and affecting commerce, a firearm, that is, a Bersa, .380 caliber semi-automatic pistol, which had been shipped and transported in interstate and foreign commerce; In violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 922(g)(1), 924(a)(2), and 924(e).
(2) That on or about June 11, 2013, in the District of South Carolina, the defendant, MICHAEL KENNY CARTER, having been convicted of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year, knowingly did possess in and affecting commerce, a firearm, that is, a Taurus semi-automatic pistol, which had been shipped and transported in interstate and foreign commerce; In violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 922(g)(1), 924(a)(2), and 924(e).

(ECF No. 4 at 1-2.)

         During the pendency of the aforementioned Indictment, the Government was conducting an ongoing investigation regarding Carter's alleged involvement in child sex trafficking. (ECF No. 1-1 at 2 ¶ 6.) The Government communicated to Carter's appointed counsel, Assistant Federal Public Defender Allen Burnside, that it would seek to indict Carter under 18 U.S.C. § 1591[3] if he was unwilling to cooperate in the child sex trafficking investigation. (ECF No. 93-1 at 2.) On May 22, 2017, Carter signed a written Plea Agreement agreeing to “plead guilty to an Information charging, enticement of a minor, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, § 2422.”[4] (ECF No. 29 at 1 ¶ 1.) In the Plea Agreement, Carter and the Government stipulated pursuant to Rule 11(c)(1)(C) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure “that the appropriate disposition of this case (irrespective of any fines and/or forfeitures) is a sentence of 240 months actual incarceration, . . . .” (ECF No. 29 at 10 ¶ 14.)

         Accordingly, on May 30, 2017, the United States Attorney filed an Information charging Carter with the following:

That on or about November 12, 2016, in the District of South Carolina, the defendant, MICH[]A[E]L CA[R]TER, a/k/a “Blaze, ” and others who are known, as principals, aiders and abettors, and co-participants in jointly undertaken criminal activity, using a facility and means of interstate communication, that is, a computer connected to the internet and a cellphone, knowingly attempted to persuade, induce, and entice individuals who had not attained the age of 18 years to engage in a sexual activity for which any person can be charged with a criminal offense; In violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 2422(b).

(ECF No. 27.) On May 31, 2017, the court accepted Carter's change of plea (ECF Nos. 33, 34) and sentenced him to the parties' stipulated sentence of two hundred forty (240) months imprisonment on March 8, 2018. (ECF Nos. 44, 45, 46.) At Carter's sentencing, the Government provided the court with the following overview as to why the case against Carter resolved itself in a stipulated sentence:

Ultimately Mr. Carter pled to a one-count information charging a crime that is still a sex crime but has a cap of 20 years. As the court is aware under 2G1.3 of the Sentencing Guidelines, had Mr. Carter been charged and convicted of a 159[1] [sic] charge with juveniles, most likely his sentence would have been well over 20 years. And if he had gone to trial, it most likely [would have] been a life sentence. So through the advice of Mr. Burnside and Mr. Shealy, Mr. Carter entered into [a] cooperation plea agreement with the Government. We agreed to [an] 11(c)(1)(C) for his timely cooperation. Again, he received the benefit on the front end.

(ECF No. 109 at 3:1-12.) The court entered the Judgment on March 8, 2018. (ECF No. 45.) Carter filed a Notice of Appeal on March 19, 2018 (ECF No. 49), but moved to voluntarily dismiss that appeal pursuant to Rule 42(b) of the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure on March 29, 2018. (See ECF Nos. 56, 93-2 at 1-2.)

         On October 4, 2018, Carter filed the instant Motion to Vacate pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. (ECF No. 63.) The premise for Carter's Motion is that Burnside advised him to plead guilty and agree to a sentence of two hundred forty (240) months when Carter's Pre-Sentence Investigation Report (“PSR”) stated a recommended guideline range of one hundred sixty-eight (168) months to two hundred ten (210) months imprisonment for the offense. (ECF No. 63-1 at 1-2 (referencing ECF No. 39-1 at 1).) In this regard, Carter complains that Burnside (1) negotiated with the Government without knowing Carter's guideline range, (2) coerced Carter into signing a plea agreement and stipulating to a sentence of two hundred forty (240) months, (3) informed Carter that he could not withdraw his plea or appeal it, (4) forced Carter to sign a document purporting to rescind his appeal, and (5) failed to challenge inaccuracies in the PSR. (Id. at 1-6.) Each of these complaints is construed as an attempt by Carter to demonstrate that he did not enter his plea agreement knowingly and voluntarily. Additionally, on May 28, 2019, Carter filed a Motion to Amend under Rule 15(a) in which he further argued that the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over his federal sex offense case because the same sex offense was already being prosecuted by the state at that time.[5] (ECF No. 92.) Subsequently, on June 3, 2019, the Government filed a Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 94.)

         The court considers below the merits of the parties' respective Motions.

         II. JURISDICTION

         The court has jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, which states that a federal district court has jurisdiction to entertain a § 2255 petition when the petitioner is in custody under the sentence of a federal court.

         III. LEGAL STANDARD

         A. Motions to Vacate Generally

         A prisoner in federal custody under sentence of a federal court may petition the court that imposed the sentence to vacate, set aside, or correct the sentence. See 28 U.S.C. § 2255. The prisoner may be entitled to relief upon a showing that: (1) “the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States”; (2) “the court was without jurisdiction to impose such 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). A petitioner collaterally attacking his sentence or conviction pursuant to § 2255 bears the burden of proving his grounds for collateral attack by a preponderance of the evidence. White v. United States, 352 F.Supp.2d 684, 686 (E.D. Va. 2004) (citing Miller v. United States, 261 F.2d 546 (4th Cir. 1958)). In ruling on a § 2255 motion, the court may dismiss the motion without a hearing where it conclusively shows from the motion, any attached exhibits, and the record of prior proceedings that the moving party is not entitled to relief. 28 U.S.C. § 2255(b) (noting that a hearing is not required on a § 2255 motion if the record of the case conclusively shows that petitioner is entitled to no relief).

         B. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

         Under the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution, a criminal defendant is guaranteed the assistance of counsel for his or her defense. U.S. Const. amend. VI. The purpose of the Sixth Amendment's guarantee of effective counsel is to ensure that a defendant has effective counsel at all critical stages of a criminal proceeding. See Montejo v. Louisiana, 566 U.S. 788, 786 (2009) (quoting United States v. Wade, 388 U.S. 218, 227-28 (1967)). “To prevail on an ineffective assistance of counsel claim under the Sixth Amendment, [][Carter] must show both that (1) his counsel was professionally unreasonable and (2) his counsel's deficient performance prejudiced [][Carter]'s defense.” United States v. Swaby, 855 F.3d 233, 239 (4th Cir. 2017) (citing Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 691-92 (1984)). “A court need not address both components of this inquiry if [a] defendant makes an insufficient showing on one.” Furnace v. United States, No. 4:11-cr-00014-RBH, 2011 WL 13177178, at *2 (D.S.C. Dec. 1, 2011) (citing Strickland, 466 U.S. at 697).

         In regard to the performance prong, a defendant must identify specific acts or omissions of counsel that are not the result of reasonable, professional judgment. Strickland, 466 U.S. at 690. In light of all circumstances, keeping in mind that counsel's function is to advance the adversarial process, the court must determine whether the identified acts or omissions were outside the range of professional, competent assistance. Id. As such, “a [defendant] must show that ‘counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness.'” Merzbacher v. Shearin, 706 F.3d 356, 363 (4th Cir. 2013) (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 688). “If a prisoner pleads guilty on the advice of counsel, he must demonstrate that the advice was not ‘within the range of competence demanded of attorneys in criminal cases, . . . .'” Tollett v. Henderson, 411 U.S. 258, 266 (1973) (citing McMann v. Richardson, 397 U.S. 759, 771 (1970)). A court reviews “the reasonableness of counsel's challenged conduct on the facts of the particular case, viewed as of the time of counsel's conduct.” Merzbacher, 706 F.3d at 363 (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 688).

         Concerning the prejudice prong, a defendant must show that “counsel's errors were so serious as to deprive [him or her] of a fair trial, a trial whose result is reliable.” Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687. “[T]he 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.” Id. at 694. “In order to satisfy the ‘prejudice' requirement [in the context of a guilty plea], the defendant must show that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's errors, he would not have pleaded guilty and would have insisted on going to trial.” Id. “Courts should not upset a plea solely because of post hoc assertions from a defendant about how he would have pleaded but for his attorney's deficiencies.” Lee v. United States, 137 S.Ct. 1958, 1967 (2017). “Judges should instead look to contemporaneous evidence to substantiate a defendant's expressed preferences.” Id.

         IV. ANALYSIS

         In this matter, Carter moves the court to vacate his sentence fundamentally complaining that his attorney, Burnside, violated Carter's constitutional rights by advising Carter to plead guilty and accept a stipulated sentence of two hundred forty (240) months when the recommended guideline range stated in the PSR was one hundred sixty-eight (168) months to two hundred ten (210) months imprisonment for the offense. (ECF No. 63-1.) At the outset, the court considered Carter's claims in the context of the performance prong of the Strickland v. Washington test. In this regard, the court observes that Carter's allegations of deficient performance by Burnside are expressly contradicted by Carter's statements made under oath to the court during the change of plea hearing:

Q. Okay. Now, have you had an opportunity to discuss this case with your attorney?
A. Yes.
Q. And by that, I mean you understand the Information that we just talked about that's been presented to you, as well as what the government's evidence would be against you if this case were to go to trial?
A. Yes.
Q. Did you also discuss your constitutional rights, including you right to plead ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.