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Alexander v. United States

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Orlando Division

August 27, 2019




         This case is before the Court on Petitioner Dontreaun T. Alexander's Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence ("Motion to Vacate/' Doc. 1) filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. The Government filed a Response to the Motion to Vacate ("Response," Doc. 5). Petitioner filed a Reply to the Response ("Reply," Doc. 7).

         Petitioner asserts five grounds for relief. For the following reasons, the Motion to Vacate is denied.

         I. Procedural History

         Petitioner was charged by superseding indictment with aiding and abetting in Hobbs Act robbery (Count One) in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1951 and 18 U.S.C. § 2, aiding and abetting in the brandishing of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence (Count Two) in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A)(ii), and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon (Count Four) in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). (Criminal No. 6:15- cr-18-Orl-28GJK, Doc. 21.)[1] Pursuant to a plea agreement, Petitioner entered a plea of guilty to Counts One and Two. (Criminal Case, Doc. 39; Doc. 5-1.) The Court dismissed Count Four in accordance with the plea agreement. (Doc. 5-2 at 28.) The Court sentenced Petitioner to a 262-month term of imprisonment consisting of a 178-month term of imprisonment for Count One and a consecutive 84-month term of imprisonment for Count Two. (Doc. 5-2 at 24.) Petitioner appealed, and the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. (Doc. 5-3 at 1-3.)

         II. Legal Standard

         Section 2255 allows federal prisoners to obtain collateral relief under limited circumstances:

A prisoner in custody under sentence of a court established by Act of Congress claiming the right to be released upon the ground that the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States, or that the court was without jurisdiction to impose such sentence, or that the sentence was in excess of the maximum authorized by law, or is otherwise subject to attack, may move the court which imposed the sentence to vacate, set aside or correct the sentence.

28 U.S.C. § 2255(a). To obtain this relief, a petitioner must "clear a significantly higher hurdle than would exist on direct appeal/' United States v. Frady, 456 U.S. 152, 166 (1982) (rejecting the plain error standard as not sufficiently deferential to a final judgment). "[I]f the petitioner 'alleges facts that, if true, would entitle him to relief, then the district court should order an evidentiary hearing and rule on the merits of his claim/" Avon v. United States, 291 F.3d 708, 714-15 (11th Cir. 2002) (quoting Holmes v. United States, 876 F.2d 1545, 1552 (11th Cir.1989)). In the event a claim is meritorious, the court "shall vacate and set the judgment aside and shall discharge the prisoner or resentence him or grant a new trial or correct the sentence as may appear appropriate'' 28 U.S.C. § 2255(b).

         III. Analysis

         A. Ground One

         Petitioner asserts counsel rendered ineffective assistance by failing to object to the Government's breach of the plea agreement. (Doc. 1 at 4.) According to Petitioner, the Government breached the plea agreement by failing to object to the career offender enhancement and advocating that Petitioner "receive an offense level greater than that stipulated in the plea agreement, and thus failing to adhere to the stipulated base offense level of 20." (Doc. 1-1 at 3-4.)

         The Supreme Court of the United States in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984), established a two-part test for determining whether a convicted person is entitled to relief on the ground that his counsel rendered ineffective assistance: (1) whether counsel's performance was deficient and "fell below an objective standard of reasonableness"; and (2) whether the deficient performance prejudiced the defense. Id. at 687-88. The prejudice requirement of the Strickland inquiry is modified when the claim is a challenge to a guilty plea based on ineffective assistance. See Hill v. Lockhart, 474 U.S. 52, 58-59 (1985). To satisfy the prejudice requirement in such instances, "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. at 59.

         Petitioner has not established deficient performance or prejudice. Contrary to Petitioner's contention, the plea agreement did not provide that Petitioner would receive a base offense level of twenty or prohibit the Government from agreeing with the probation office's determination that Petitioner was a career offender, which resulted in a greater guideline range. See Criminal Case, Doc. 39 at 4. Instead, the plea agreement required the Government to recommend that Petitioner "receive a sentence at the low end of the applicable guideline range, as calculated by the Court/' (Id.) Nothing in the plea agreement prohibited the Government from agreeing with the determination that Petitioner qualified as a career offender or required the Government to object to the career offender ...

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