United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana
M. AFRICK, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
the Court is pro se petitioner Lance Singleton's
(“Singleton”) motion to vacate, set aside, or
correct his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. R.
Doc. No. 798. For the following reasons, the motion is
January 2010 through October 2012, Singleton conspired with
several others to distribute and to possess with the intent
to distribute heroin and cocaine. R. Doc. No. 401. Singleton
typically carried guns in furtherance of the conspiracy's
drug trafficking activity. Id. In September 2015,
Singleton pleaded guilty to four counts of a sixteen-count
superseding indictment charging various drug and firearm
violations. R. Doc. No. 400. As part of his guilty plea,
Singleton tendered a plea agreement with an appellate and
collateral challenge waiver, which stated that he
“knowingly and voluntarily . . . [waived] and [gave up]
any right to challenge his sentence collaterally.”
Id. at 3. This Court sentenced Singleton to a term
of imprisonment of 228 months. R. Doc. No. 536.
pursued a direct appeal of his sentence on the grounds that
his guideline range was improperly calculated. See
R. Doc. No. 783. Specifically, he argued that the United
States Sentencing Guidelines precluded this Court from
applying a two-level dangerous weapon enhancement in
calculating his offense level. Id. The Fifth Circuit
dismissed the appeal, finding that Singleton waived his right
to appeal his sentence. Id.
now seeks collateral review of his sentence. R. Doc. No. 798.
He also raises several ineffective assistance of counsel
claims and argues that the sentencing enhancement applied in
his case is unconstitutionally vague in light of recent
Supreme Court precedent. Id. The Court considers
each of these arguments in turn.
has, for the most part, waived his right to collateral review
of his sentence. His plea agreement provides:
[T]he defendant, in exchange for the promise(s) and
agreement(s) made by the United States in this plea
agreement, knowingly and voluntarily . . . [w]aives and gives
up any right to challenge his sentence collaterally,
including but not limited to any and all rights which arise
under Title 28, United States Code, Sections 2255 and 2241,
Rule 60 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 36 of
the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, writs of coram nobis
and audita querela, and any other collateral challenges to
his sentence of any kind . . . The defendant  retains the
right to raise a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel
in an appropriate proceeding.
R. Doc. No. 400, at 3. Singleton, his attorney, and the
assistant United States attorney signed the agreement on
September 21, 2015. Id. at 5. Singleton now argues
that his counsel's “failure to inform [him] of the
significance of the plea waiver rendered the plea agreement
unkowing [sic] and involuntary.” R. Doc. No. 798, at 4.
The Court disagrees.
waiver is knowing and voluntary where the defendant indicates
at the plea hearing that he has read and understands the plea
agreement containing the waiver.” United States v.
Donahue, 333 Fed. App'x 897, 898 (5th Cir. 2009)
(citing United States v. McKinney, 406 F.3d 744, 746
(5th Cir. 2005)). The defendant must understand that he has a
right to collateral review and that he is giving up that
right. United States v. Jacobs, 635 F.3d 778, 781
(5th Cir. 2011) (citation and quotation omitted).
“[W]hen the record . . . clearly indicates that a
defendant has read and understands his plea agreement, and
that he raised no question regarding a waiver-of-appeal
provision, the defendant will be held to the bargain to which
he agreed.” United States v. Portillo, 18 F.3d
290, 293 (5th Cir. 1994).
September 21, 2015, Singleton appeared before the Court for
rearraignment. See R. Doc. No. 650. At that time, he
indicated under oath that he fully understood both the
charges against him and the maximum possible sentence he
would face if he pleaded guilty. Id. at 16-19. He
further attested that he read his plea agreement, that he
understood it, that he did not disagree with anything in it,
that nothing was left out of it, and that he did not wish to
have any of the plea provisions explained to him.
Id. at 35. He also stated that he understood he was
waiving his right to direct appeal as well as his right to
contest his conviction and sentence in any collateral
proceeding under § 2255. Id. at 28.
Fifth Circuit observed in dismissing Singleton's direct
appeal of his sentence, “Singleton knowingly and
voluntarily waived his right to appeal his sentence, as
evidenced by the plain language of the plea agreement and the
assurances provided by the lengthy plea colloquy with the
district court. Singleton does not dispute this.” R.
Doc. No. 783, at 3. The plea agreement was abundantly clear,
and Singleton accepted it in open court. The Court now holds
him to his bargain. Accordingly, Singleton's challenge to
his sentence will be dismissed.
the terms of his written plea agreement, Singleton retained
the right to raise ineffective assistance of counsel claims.
R. Doc. No. 400, at 3. Despite indicating at his
rearraignment that he was entirely satisfied with the advice
and services of counsel, R. Doc. No. 650, at 23, Singleton
now argues that his lawyer's performance was ineffective
in three separate respects: (1) “for allowing [him] to
sign a plea agreement that contained a waiver of
appeal”; (2) “for not doing adequate pre-trial
investigation”; and (3) “for not filing a
pre-trial motion to dismiss.” R. Doc. No. 798, at 4-5.
Each of these arguments is meritless.
assistance of counsel claims are governed by the standard
established in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S.
668 (1984). Strickland's two-part test requires
a petitioner to prove both deficient performance and
resulting prejudice. Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687.
performance is established by “show[ing] that
counsel's representation fell below an objective standard
of reasonableness.” Id. at 688. In applying
this standard, a “court must indulge a ‘strong
presumption' that counsel's conduct falls within the
wide range of reasonable professional assistance because it
is all too easy to conclude that a particular act or omission
of counsel was unreasonable in the harsh light of
hindsight.” Bell v. Cone, 535 U.S. 685, 702
(2002) (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 689). In
other words, “judicial scrutiny of counsel's
performance must be highly deferential.”
Strickland, 466 U.S. at 689.
showing of prejudice requires “a reasonable probability
that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result
of the proceeding would have been different.”
Id. at 694. With respect to guilty pleas, the
prejudice requirement “focuses on whether counsel's
constitutionally ineffective performance affected the outcome
of the plea process.” Hill v. Lockhart, 474
U.S. 52, 59 (1985). Thus, in challenging a guilty plea on
grounds of ineffective assistance, a petitioner 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.
petitioner must satisfy both prongs of the
Strickland test in order to be successful on an
ineffective assistance claim. See Strickland, 466
U.S. at 687. A court is not required to address these prongs
in any particular order. Id. at 697. If it is
possible to dispose of an ineffective assistance of counsel
claim without addressing both prongs, “that course
should be followed.” Id.
first argues that his counsel was ineffective for permitting
him to enter a plea that included a waiver of appeal with
regard to his sentence. R. Doc. No. 798, at 4. He claims his
lawyer's advice was erroneous because the Court applied a
two-level enhancement to his sentence based on the fact that
a firearm was possessed in connection with the offense.
Id. However, Singleton can show no error on the part
of counsel “that affected [his] understanding of the
consequences of pleading guilty.” Cf. Lee v. United
States, 137 S.Ct. 1958, 1965 (2017) (holding that a
defendant demonstrated a reasonable probability that he would
not have pleaded guilty had he ...