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Rackley v. United States

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

November 21, 2019

BRANDON DEVON RACKLEY, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent.

          ORDER

          BRIAN J. DAVIS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This case is before the Court on Petitioner Brandon Devon Rackley's Motion Under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence (Civ. Doc. 1, § 2255 Motion) and Supporting Memorandum (Civ. Doc. 2, Memorandum).[1] Rackley raises two claims of ineffective assistance of counsel, but the thrust of both claims is the same. Rackley argues that counsel gave ineffective assistance by failing to object to a two-level sentencing guidelines enhancement under U.S.S.G. § 2D1.1(b)(1) for the possession of a weapon. The United States has responded in opposition (Civ. Doc. 5, Response), and Rackley has replied (Civ. Doc. 7, Reply). The § 2255 Motion is ripe for a decision.

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 and Rule 8(a) of the Rules Governing Section 2255 Proceedings, the Court has determined that a hearing is not necessary to resolve the merits of this action. See Rosin v. United States, 786 F.3d 873, 877 (11th Cir. 2015) (an evidentiary hearing on a § 2255 motion is not required when the petitioner asserts allegations that are affirmatively contradicted by the record or patently frivolous, or if in assuming the facts that he alleges are true, he still would not be entitled to any relief). For the reasons set forth below, Rackley's § 2255 Motion is due to be denied.

         I. Background

         On August 27, 2015, a federal grand jury returned a four-count indictment against Rackley and two codefendants, Corey Mango and Demetrice Webb. (Crim. Doc. 1, Indictment). Count One charged Rackley and the codefendants with conspiracy to import ethylone and methylone, commonly referred to as “Molly, ” in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 960(b)(3) and 963. Count Two charged Rackley and the codefendants with conspiracy to distribute ethylone and methylone, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(b)(1)(C) and 846. Count Three charged Rackley with distribution of ethylone, in violation of §§ 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(C). Finally, Count Four charged codefendant Corey Mango with possession of ethylone with intent to distribute, in violation of §§ 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(C).

         The day after the grand jury returned the indictment, police executed a search warrant at 7726 Arancio Drive, Jacksonville, Florida, where Rackley had received a shipment of 1, 014 grams of ethylone 25 days earlier. (Crim. Doc. 64, Plea Agreement at 21, 22). Rackley was present at the address, along with an AR-15 style carbine rifle, a Keltec .40 caliber rifle, three magazines, and 52 rounds of ammunition. Id. at 22. The police arrested Rackley pursuant to a federal arrest warrant. Id.

         On February 1, 2016, Rackley pled guilty pursuant to a written plea agreement to Count Two of the Indictment, i.e., conspiracy to distribute ethylone and methylone. See generally Plea Agreement; (Crim. Doc. 62, Minute Entry for Change of Plea Hearing). Rackley admitted that he agreed with his codefendants, Webb and Mango, to order ethylone and methylone from China, to have the drugs shipped to various locations in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania, and to distribute the drugs once received. Plea Agreement at 20-21. Rackley admitted that between 2013 and 2015, he and his coconspirators received shipments of ethylone or methylone totaling about 17 kilograms, including 2.5 kilograms at 7726 Arancio Drive. Id. at 21. Specifically, Rackley admitted that on August 3, 2015, he received a shipment of about one kilogram of ethylone at 7726 Arancio Drive. Id. Rackley also admitted that the conspiracy continued “through on or about” the date the grand jury indicted him, August 27, 2015. Id. at 19. Finally, Rackley acknowledged that when he was arrested, he was in possession of two firearms: an AR-15-style Just Right Carbines rifle and a Keltec .40 caliber rifle, as well as three magazines and 52 rounds of ammunition. Id. at 22. The Magistrate Judge who presided over the plea colloquy recommended “that the guilty plea was knowledgeable and voluntary, and that the offense charged is supported by an independent basis in fact containing each of the essential elements of the offense.” (Crim. Doc. 65, Report and Recommendation Concerning Guilty Plea). The Court agreed with the Magistrate Judge's recommendation, accepted Rackley's plea of guilty, and adjudicated him accordingly. (Crim. Doc. 74, Acceptance of Guilty Plea).

         According to the Presentence Investigation Report (PSR), Rackley's total offense level was 31, consisting of a base offense level of 32, a two-level enhancement under U.S.S.G. § 2D1.1(b)(1) for the possession of a weapon, and a three-level reduction for acceptance of responsibility under §§ 3E1.1(a) and (b). PSR at ¶¶ 32-42. The PSR gave Rackley a Criminal History Category of III, yielding an advisory sentencing range of 135 to 168 months in prison. Id. at ¶ 100. However, the United States moved for a two-level downward departure under U.S.S.G. § 5K1.1 to recognize that Rackley had provided substantial assistance. (Crim. Doc. 94, § 5K1.1 Motion).

         The sentencing hearing for Rackley and his co-defendants occurred over the course of May 24 and August 4, 2016. (See Crim. Doc. 124, Sentencing Tr. Vol. I; Crim. Doc. 122, Sentencing Tr. Vol. II). Neither Rackley nor his attorney objected to the sentencing guidelines as calculated in the PSR. Sentencing Tr. Vol. I at 5-6; Sentencing Tr. Vol. II at 5-6. The Court granted the government's § 5K1.1 motion, thereby reducing Rackley's advisory sentencing range to between 108 and 135 months in prison. Sentencing Tr. Vol. II at 19. The Court further varied below the reduced Guidelines range and sentenced Rackley to a term of 86 months in prison. Id. at 22; (Crim. Doc. 101, Judgment).

         Rackley did not object to the sentence imposed, Sentencing Tr. Vol. II at 28, and he did not file a notice of appeal. Less than one year later, he timely filed the instant § 2255 Motion.

         II. Discussion

         Under Title 28, United States Code, Section 2255, a person in federal custody may move to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence. Section 2255 permits such collateral challenges on four specific grounds: (1) the imposed sentence was in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States; (2) the court did not have jurisdiction to impose the sentence; (3) the imposed sentence exceeded the maximum authorized by law; or (4) the imposed sentence is otherwise subject to collateral attack. 28 U.S.C §2255(a) (2008). Only jurisdictional claims, constitutional claims, and claims of error that are so fundamentally defective as to cause a complete miscarriage of justice will warrant relief through collateral attack. United States v. Addonizio, 442 U.S. 178, 184-86 (1979). A petitioner's challenge to his sentence based on a Sixth Amendment claim of ineffective assistance of counsel is normally considered on collateral review. United States v. Teague, 953 F.2d 1525, 1534 n. 11 (11th Cir. 1992).

         To succeed on a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, a petitioner must show both (1) that counsel's performance was deficient, and (2) that as a result of counsel's deficient performance, the petitioner suffered prejudice. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984). In determining whether counsel performed deficiently, the Court adheres to the standard of reasonably effective assistance. Weeks v. Jones, 26 F.3d 1030, 1036 (11th Cir. 1994). The petitioner must show, in light of all the circumstances, that counsel's performance fell outside the “wide range of professionally competent assistance.” Id. To show that counsel's deficient performance prejudiced the defendant, the petitioner must show that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's error, the result of the proceeding would have been different. Id. at 1036-37 (citing Strickland, 466 U.S. at 694). A “reasonable probability” is a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome. Strickland, 466 U.S. at 694. In determining whether a petitioner has met the two prongs of deficient performance and prejudice, the Court considers the totality of the evidence. Id. at 695. However, because both prongs are necessary, “there is no reason for a court… to approach the inquiry in the same order or even to address both components of the inquiry if the defendant makes an insufficient showing on one.” Id. at 697; see also Wellington v. Moore, 314 F.3d 1256, 1261 n. 1 (11th Cir. 2002) (“We need not discuss the performance deficiency component of [petitioner's] ineffective assistance claim because failure to satisfy the prejudice component is dispositive.”).

         In Grounds One and Two, Rackley contends that counsel gave ineffective assistance by failing to object to the two-level sentencing enhancement under U.S.S.G. § 2D1.1(b)(1). That provision instructs courts to apply a two-level increase to the offense level when “a dangerous ...


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