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United States v. Sampson

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

July 25, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
DONALD SAMPSON

         SECTION "B” (2)

          ORDER

         Before the Court is petitioner Donald Sampson's motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence (Rec. Doc. 206), the Government's response (Rec. Doc. 213), and petitioner's reply (Rec. Doc. 216). For the reasons discussed below, IT IS ORDERED that the motion for § 2255 relief is DENIED.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On August 21, 2014 petitioner was indicted by a federal grand jury on one count of conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine. Rec. Doc. 1. On September 18, 2014, the office of the Federal Public Defender was appointed as counsel for petitioner, and petitioner was arraigned on September 22, 2014, represented by assistant Federal Public Defender George Chaney, Jr. Rec. Docs. 14, 16. On January 27, 2016, assistant Federal Public Defender Samuel Scillitani, Jr. was substituted as petitioner's counsel. Rec. Doc. 97. After holding a telephone conference on April 11, 2016 regarding petitioner's pending motion to substitute counsel, and discussing the time needed by new counsel to prepare for trial, the Court granted petitioner's motion to substitute assistant Federal Public Defender Jerrod Thompson-Hicks as counsel for petitioner and continued the trial date. Rec. Doc. 102. On June 15, 2016, petitioner pled guilty to a Second Superseding Indictment, represented by Federal Public Defender Jerrod Thompson-Hicks, and sentencing was scheduled for October 5, 2016. Rec. Doc. 112. On September 20, 2016, assistant Federal Public Defender Thompson-Hicks filed a motion to continue the sentencing hearing, requesting additional time to investigate “defendant's prior history and other guideline matters” that were “likely [to] have an impact on the federal sentencing guidelines.” Rec. Doc. 132 at 1. The Court granted the continuance and reset sentencing for November 2, 2016. Rec. Doc. 135.

         Subsequently, petitioner withdrew assistant Federal Public Defender Thompson-Hicks as counsel of record and enrolled retained counsel Jason Williams, Nicole Burdett, and Gregory Sauzer. Rec. Docs. 142, 144. Petitioner's newly retained counsel requested a second continuance of sentencing in order to review “the defendant's prior history and other guideline matters” which would “likely have an impact on the federal sentencing guidelines.” Rec. Doc. 141 at 1. The Court granted the second request for a continuance and reset sentencing for December 21, 2016. Rec. Doc. 145. On December 21, 2016, petitioner was sentenced to 135 months of imprisonment. Rec. Doc. 162.

         Petitioner filed a timely notice of appeal on January 2, 2017, in which he argued that the Court erred by assessing him criminal-history points for: (1) four prior state misdemeanor convictions, which he alleged predated his involvement in the instant drug-trafficking conspiracy by more than ten years, and (2) a state aggravated assault conviction, which he alleged was similar to the excluded offense of disorderly conduct. Rec. Doc. 159, 198-1 at 2. After the filing of petitioner's notice of appeal, retained counsel withdrew from representing plaintiff. Rec. Docs. 161, 167.

         On April 25, 2018 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the sentence imposed by this District Court, finding that Sampson failed to show any error with respect to the inclusion of his four state misdemeanor convictions in the guideline calculation, or plain error with respect to the inclusion of his aggravated-assault conviction in the criminal-history computation. Rec. Doc. 198-1 at 2-3.

         On March 14, 2019, petitioner filed the instant motion for post-conviction relief under 28 U.S.C. 2255. Rec. Doc. 206.

         LAW AND FINDINGS

         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, a federal prisoner may move the sentencing court to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence when: (1) the sentence violated federal law or the United States Constitution, (2) the court lacked jurisdiction to impose the sentence, (3) the sentence exceeded the maximum allowed by law, or (4) the sentence is otherwise subject to collateral attack. 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a). “Unless the motion and the files and records of the case conclusively show that the prisoner is entitled to no relief, the court shall . . . grant a prompt hearing thereon, determine the issues and make findings of fact and conclusions of law with respect thereto.” Id. § 2255(b). “Conclusory allegations, unsubstantiated by evidence, do not support the request for an evidentiary hearing.” United States v. Reed, 719 F.3d 369, 373 (5th Cir. 2013). Instead, “[a] [petitioner] is entitled to an evidentiary hearing on his § 2255 motion only if he presents ‘independent indicia of the likely merit of his allegations.'” Id. (quoting United States v. Cavitt, 550 F.3d 430, 442 (5th Cir. 2008). The Court “may entertain and determine [a §2255] motion without requiring the production of the prisoner at the hearing.” 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Having considered the record, the motion, and the government's response, the Court finds that the record is adequate to address the petitioner's claims and to dispose of them as a matter of law. Accordingly, no evidentiary hearing is necessary. See United States v. Walker, 68 F.3d 931, 934 (5th Cir. 1995) (“if on th[e] record we can conclude as a matter of law that [the petitioner] cannot establish one or both of the elements necessary to establish his constitutional claim, then an evidentiary hearing is not necessary....”). See United States v. Hankton, 2018 WL 4144905, at *2 (E.D. La. Aug. 30, 2018), reconsideration denied, 2018 WL 5251754 (E.D. La. Oct. 22, 2018).

         Section 2255 motions represent a collateral attack on the federal sentence, and relief is reserved only for constitutional violations or errors that have caused “a complete miscarriage of justice.” United States v. Gaudet, 81 F.3d 585, 589 (5th Cir. 1996); see also Cox v. Warden, Fed. Det. Ctr., 911 F.2d 1111, 1113 (5th Cir. 1990). Generally, failing to raise a claim on direct appeal bars raising that claim on collateral review unless the petitioner can show cause and prejudice. See United States v. Frady, 456 U.S. 152, 166-68 (1982). However, claims of ineffective assistance of counsel may be brought in a collateral proceeding under Section 2255 regardless of whether the petitioner could have raised the claim on direct appeal. Massaro v. United States, 538 U.S. 500, 503-05 (2003).

         To succeed on an ineffective assistance of counsel claim, the petitioner must demonstrate that: (1) his attorney's performance was deficient, and (2) the deficient performance prejudiced him in some way. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687-88 (1984). Failure to prove either prong results in failure of the entire claim. Id. at 700.

         Under the first prong, the petitioner must show that his attorney's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness. Id. at 687-88. In reviewing an attorney's performance, there is a strong presumption that her conduct “falls within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance.” Id. at 689. Reasonableness is measured against prevailing professional norms. Id. at 688. To demonstrate prejudice under the second prong, the petitioner must show a ‚Äúreasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding ...


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