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United States v. Singleton

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

December 3, 2019


         SECTION: “J” (4)

          ORDER & REASONS


         Before the Court is a Motion to Vacate Sentence Under U.S.C. 28 § 2255 (Rec. Doc. 632), filed by Defendant, Clarence Singleton (“Singleton”) and an opposition thereto (Rec. Doc. 637) by the United States of America. Having considered the motion and legal memoranda, the record, and the applicable law, the Court finds that the motion should be DENIED.


         Singleton's conviction and sentencing stem from his involvement with a criminal gang known as the Mid-City Killers. The Mid-City Killers engaged in various criminal activity, such as home invasions, robbing drug dealers, attempted murder and conspiring to distribute controlled substances. In April 2016, Singleton was charged in a three-count Fifth Superseding Bill of Information with 1) conspiring to use firearms in relation to drug trafficking crimes, 2) conspiring to commit Hobbs Act Robbery, and 3) actual discharge of firearms during a drug trafficking crime and a crime of violence. (Rec. Doc. 225).

         Later that month, Singleton pled guilty, sans plea agreement, to a two-count sixth superseding Bill of Information that contained the two conspiracy counts but omitted the Count 3 firearms charge. (Rec. Doc. 226). The Court found that the calculated guidelines range in the PSR of 235-290 months was accurate and further agreed that the statutory maximum capped the guidelines at 235-240 months. On September 17, 2016, the Court sentenced Singleton to concurrent sentences of 240 months on both conspiracy counts.

         On November 28, 2016 Singleton timely filed a notice of appeal from his final judgment and sentence. Singleton presented two issues on appeal. First, he argued the language of the factual basis was insufficient as a matter of law to constitute a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(o), the conspiracy to use firearms in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime statute. United States v. Singleton, 707 F.Appx. 298, 299 (5th Cir. 2017). Second, Singleton argued that this Court adopted an incorrect guidelines calculation by applying the 2K2.1 cross-reference in order to use the 2A2.1 attempted murder guideline to establish his base guideline. Id.[1] Finding that Singleton failed to properly raise either argument before this Court, the Fifth Circuit analyzed both arguments under a plain error standard and ultimately affirmed Singleton's conviction and sentencing. Id.

         On August 13, 2019 Singleton filed his present motion. No. doubt based in large part on the Fifth Circuit's use of plain error review, Singleton now urges the Court to vacate his sentence for ineffective assistance of counsel. Singleton essentially reargues the same two issues he raised on appeal, the only difference being Singleton's present basis for relief is that his counsel's assistance was ineffective during the initial proceedings before the Court by not objecting to the factual basis or guidelines calculation.


         Section 2255 provides that a federal prisoner serving a court-imposed sentence may move the court that imposed the sentence to vacate, set aside or correct the sentence. 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a). Only a narrow set of claims are cognizable on a section 2255 motion. The statute identifies four bases on which a motion may be made: (1) the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States; (2) the court was without jurisdiction to impose the sentence; (3) the sentence exceeds the statutory maximum sentence; or (4) the sentence is “otherwise subject to collateral attack.” Id. A claim of error that is neither constitutional nor jurisdictional is not cognizable in a section 2255 proceeding unless the error constitutes “a fundamental defect which inherently results in a complete miscarriage of justice.” United States v. Addonizio, 442 U.S. 178, 185 (1979) (quoting Hill v. United States, 368 U.S. 424, 428 (1962)).

         When a section 2255 motion is filed, the district court must first conduct a preliminary review. “If it plainly appears from the motion, any attached exhibits, and the record of prior proceedings that the moving party is not entitled to relief, the judge must dismiss the motion.” Rules Governing Section 2255 Proceedings, Rule 4(b). If the motion raises a non-frivolous claim to relief, the court must order the government to file a response or to take other appropriate action. Id. After reviewing the government's answer, any transcripts and records of prior proceedings, and any supplementary materials submitted by the parties, the court must determine whether an evidentiary hearing is warranted. Rules Governing Section 2255 Proceedings, Rule 8. An evidentiary hearing must be held unless “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). No. evidentiary hearing is required, however, if the prisoner fails to produce any “independent indicia of the likely merit of [his] allegations.” United States v. Edwards, 442 F.3d 258, 264 (5th Cir. 2006) (quoting United States v. Cervantes, 132 F.3d 1106, 1110 (5th Cir. 1998)).

         Additionally, the Court recognizes that Petitioner's pro se complaint must be construed liberally. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972); see also Hernandez v. Thaler, 630 F.3d 420, 426 (5th Cir. 2011) (“The filings of a federal habeas petitioner who is proceeding pro se are entitled to the benefit of liberal construction.”).


         I. Whether Singleton's Section 2255 Motion Is Timely

         The Court must first address the timeliness of Singleton's Section 2255 motion. Section 2255 motions are subject to a 1-year period of limitations. In general, that period begins to run from the date the “judgment of conviction becomes final.” 28 U.S.C. § 2255.[2] Where a defendant has sought appellate review, as is the case here, “a judgment of conviction becomes final when the time expires for filing a petition for certiorari contesting the appellate court's affirmation of the conviction.” Clay v. United States, 537 U.S. 522, 525 (2003).

         A petition for writ of certiorari must be filed within 90 days after entry of appellate court judgment, not mandate. Sup. Ct. R. 13. An exception is made if the petitioner timely files for rehearing in the appellate court. In that case, the 90-day window runs from “date of the denial of rehearing or, if rehearing is granted, the subsequent entry of judgment.” Id. Here, the Fifth Circuit denied Singleton's petition for en banc rehearing on February 7, 2018. (App. Rec. Doc. 106). This means that Singleton's Section 2225 motion was due on May 8, 2019, one year and ninety days from the denial of his rehearing request. An inspection of Singleton's original motion to ...

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