Merritt v. United States

Citation499 F.Supp.3d 249
Decision Date09 November 2020
Docket NumberCriminal Action No. 4:10-cr-54
Parties William Andrew MERRITT, Petitioner, v. UNITED STATES of America, Respondent.
CourtUnited States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Virginia)

David M. Coleman, Dee Mullarkey Sterling, Kristine Elizabeth Wolfe, United States Attorney's Office, Newport News, VA, Megan M. Montoya, United States Attorney Office, Norfolk, VA, for Respondent.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Raymond A. Jackson, United States District Judge Before the Court is William Andrew Merritt's ("Petitioner") motion, through counsel, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence. ECF No. 65. The Government opposed the motion and Petitioner replied. ECF Nos. 69, 73. Therefore, the matter is now ripe for judicial determination. Having reviewed the motion and filings, the Court finds that a hearing is not necessary to address Petitioner's motion. See 28 U.S.C. § 2255(c). For the reasons set forth below, Petitioner's § 2255 Motion is DENIED.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On April 14, 2010, a federal grand jury returned a one-count Indictment charging Petitioner with Felon in Possession of a Firearm and Ammunition, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1) and 924(a)(2) (Count One). ECF No. 1. On March 16, 2010, Petitioner pleaded guilty to Count One of the Indictment. ECF Nos. 12, 13. According to Petitioner's Presentence Investigation Report ("PSR"), the parties stipulated to no written plea agreement. ECF No. 20 at ¶ 2-3. In Petitioner's Statement of Facts ("SOF"), Petitioner agreed that, on March 11, 2010, a woman called the police to report that a man at the Traveler's Inn in Newport News, Virginia had threatened her with a gun. ECF No. 13 at ¶ 1. When the police arrived, Petitioner walked out of the front entrance of the Traveler's Inn and, when police asked for his name, Petitioner stated, "the guy you just got called about." Id. at ¶ 2. When the police attempted to pat Petitioner down for weapons, Petitioner ran into his room. Id. at ¶ 3. The police chased Petitioner into the room and when Petitioner exited the bathroom the officer entered the bathroom and found a semi-automatic handgun in plain view in a green storage container. Id. at ¶ 3-4. When asked, Petitioner stated that the gun belonged to him. Id. at ¶ 6. In his SOF, Petitioner also agreed that he had been "convicted in 1998 for Possession of Stolen Goods, in 2002 for Robbery in the Second Degree, and in 2008 for Eluding Police, which are felony crimes punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year." Id. at ¶ 8.

On November 29, 2010, the Court held a sentencing hearing where the Court accepted the Petitioner's guilty plea and SOF. ECF No. 22. The Court then imposed a 66-month sentence on Count One followed by three years of supervised release. ECF No. 23. Petitioner appealed his sentence, arguing that the Court erred in finding that he assaulted a law enforcement officer in the course of the offense. ECF Nos. 24, 26. However, on August 10, 2011, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ("Fourth Circuit") affirmed the district court's decision. See United States v. Merritt , 442 F. App'x 790, 791 (4th Cir. 2011) ; ECF No. 39.

On August 4, 2015, Petitioner started his period of supervised release. On December 8, 2015, the Probation Officer filed a Petition of Supervised Release alleging that the Petitioner violated mandatory conditions. ECF No. 41. On January 28, 2016, Petitioner was sentenced to eighteen (18) months incarceration for violating the terms of his supervised release. ECF Nos. 51, 52. On May 26, 2017, Petitioner started his second period of supervised release.

On April 30, 2018, Petitioner pleaded guilty in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia/Newport News Division to Felon in Possession of Firearm (offense date August 31, 2017). See United States v. William A. Merritt , No. 4:18cr16-1, Dkt. 35, 36 (E.D. Va. October 1, 2020) ("No. 4:18cr16"). On September 27, 2018, the Court sentenced Petitioner to seventy-eight (78) months imprisonment to be served consecutively to No. 4:10cr54. See Id. at ECF No. 55.

On June 5, 2018, a Petition on Supervised Release was filed alleging that Petitioner violated the conditions of his release which included possessing a firearm while a convicted felon. ECF No. 53. On July 16, 2018, the Court revoked Petitioner's second period of supervised release and sentenced Petitioner to 18-months incarceration to run consecutive to his sentence for the 2018 conviction for being a felon in possession. ECF Nos. 63, 64; see No. 4:18cr16. Petitioner is incarcerated at the United States Penitentiary Big Sandy, a high-security federal prison in Kentucky. Petitioner is scheduled to be released on September 3, 2024.

On June 19, 2020, Petitioner filed the instant Motion to Vacate Sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 for his 2010 offense. ECF Nos. 65. The United States opposed the motion on August 24, 2020. ECF No. 69. On September 30, 2020, Petitioner filed a reply to the United States' opposition. ECF No. 73. Therefore, the matter is now ripe for judicial determination.

II. LEGAL STANDARD
A. Section 2255

Section 2255 allows a federal prisoner "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 ... [to] move the court which imposed the sentence to vacate, set aside, or correct the sentence." 28 U.S.C. § 2255. In a § 2255 motion, the petitioner bears the burden of proving his or her claim by a preponderance of the evidence. See Miller v. United States , 261 F.2d 546, 547 (4th Cir. 1958). Additionally, pro se filers are entitled to more liberal construction of their pleadings. Erickson v. Pardus , 551 U.S. 89, 94, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 167 L.Ed.2d 1081 (2007).

When deciding a § 2255 motion, the Court must promptly grant a hearing "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). Motions under § 2255 generally "will not be allowed to do service for an appeal." Sunal v. Large , 332 U.S. 174, 178–79, 67 S.Ct. 1588, 91 L.Ed. 1982 (1947). For this reason, issues already fully litigated on direct appeal may not be raised again under the guise of a collateral attack. United States v. Dyess , 730 F.3d 354, 360 (4th Cir. 2013). Issues that should have been raised on direct appeal are deemed waived, procedurally defaulted, and cannot be raised on a § 2255 Motion. United States v. Mikalajunas , 186 F.3d 490, 492 (4th Cir. 1999).

However, an individual may raise a procedurally defaulted claim if he or she can show (1) "cause and actual prejudice resulting from the errors of which he complains" or (2) that "a miscarriage of justice would result from the refusal of the court to entertain the collateral attack ... [meaning] the movant must show actual innocence by clear and convincing evidence." Id. at 492–93. To demonstrate cause and prejudice, a petitioner must show the errors "worked to [his or her] actual and substantial disadvantage, infecting [his or her] entire trial with error of constitutional dimensions." United States v. Frady , 456 U.S. 152, 170, 102 S.Ct. 1584, 71 L.Ed.2d 816 (1982). Ineffective assistance of counsel claims should generally be raised in a collateral motion instead of on direct appeal and constitute sufficient cause to review a procedurally defaulted claim. See United States v. Benton , 523 F.3d 424, 435 (4th Cir. 2008) ; Mikalajunas , 186 F.3d at 493.

B. Guilty Pleas' Effect on 2255 Motions

Guilty pleas are " ‘grave and solemn act[s] to be accepted only with care and discernment.’ " United States v. Moussaoui , 591 F.3d 263, 278 (4th Cir. 2010) (quoting Brady v. United States , 397 U.S. 742, 748, 90 S.Ct. 1463, 25 L.Ed.2d 747 (1970) ). As such, when a defendant makes a knowing and voluntary guilty plea, that person " ‘waives all nonjurisdictional defects in the proceedings conducted prior to entry of the plea.’ " Id. at 279 (quoting United States v. Bundy , 392 F.3d 641, 644 (4th Cir. 2004) ).

Moreover, a guilty plea generally limits collateral attacks to "whether the plea was counseled or voluntary." Fields v. Attorney Gen. of Md. , 956 F.2d 1290, 1295 (4th Cir. 1992) (citing United States v. Broce , 488 U.S. 563, 569, 109 S.Ct. 757, 102 L.Ed.2d 927 (1989) ). As such, a claim of ineffective assistance prior to the guilty plea may undermine that plea. Id. However, claims of ineffective assistance when there is a guilty plea on the record must meet a higher burden beyond the normal Strickland requirements. See Strickland v. Washington , 466 U.S. 668, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed.2d 674 (1984). When there is a guilty plea, in order to satisfy the prejudice prong, a defendant must show that but for counsel's ineffective assistance, he would not have pled guilty and would have gone to trial. Meyer v. Branker , 506 F.3d 358, 369 (4th Cir. 2007) (quoting Hill v. Lockhart , 474 U.S. 52, 59, 106 S.Ct. 366, 88 L.Ed.2d 203 (1985) ). Furthermore, any statements made under oath are binding on the defendant, including any statements that confirm satisfaction of counsel. Fields , 956 F.2d at 1299 (citing Blackledge v. Allison , 431 U.S. 63, 74–75, 97 S.Ct. 1621, 52 L.Ed.2d 136 (1977) ).

C. Evaluating § 922 (g) Claims Pursuant to Rehaif

Pursuant to 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1), it is unlawful for a person "convicted in any court, of crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding for a year" to possess a firearm. In Rehaif , the Supreme Court held that in "a prosecution under § 922(g) and § 924(a)(2), the Government must prove both that the defendant knew he possessed a firearm and that he knew he belonged to the relevant category of persons barred from possessing a firearm." Rehaif v. United States , ––– U.S. ––––, 139 S. Ct. 2191, 204 L. Ed. 2d 594 (2019) (emphasis added ).

The Fourth Circuit held that, on direct appeal, "a standalone Rehaif error [is...

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  • Jones v. United States
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    • U.S. District Court — Middle District of North Carolina
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    ... ... from courts in five other Circuits, in holding “that ... Rehaif did not create a ... novel rule that would ... support a finding of cause”), appeal ... dismissed , No. 20-36061 (9th Cir. July 2, 2021); but ... see Merritt v. United States , 499 F.Supp.3d 249, 257-62 ... (E.D. Va. 2020) (finding cause for default of Rehaif ... claim, but denying relief for want of proof of actual ... prejudice or actual innocence). [ 9 ] ... Nor ... could Petitioner carry his burden of ... ...
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    • November 18, 2021
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