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Stanley v. United States

United States District Court, N.D. Ohio, Eastern Division

June 13, 2019

CHRISTOPHER D. STANLEY, Pro Se, Petitioner
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent

          ORDER ON § 2255 PETITION

          SOLOMON OLIVER, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Currently pending before the court in the above-captioned case is Pro Se Petitioner Christopher D. Stanley's (“Petitioner” or “Stanley”) Motion to Vacate under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (“§ 2255 Petition”) (ECF No. 1 in No. 5:19 CV 609; ECF No. 27 in No. 5:17 CR 368).[1]For the following reasons, the court denies Stanley's § 2255 Petition.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On September 13, 2017, a federal grand jury returned an Indictment against Petitioner, charging him with the following nine counts: (1) distribution of 4-Methyl-N-Ethylcathinone (“4-MEC”), a controlled substance analogue, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(C); (2) distribution of 4-MEC, a controlled substance analogue, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§841(a)(1), (b)(1)(C); (3) distribution of N-Benzylpiperazine (“BZP”), in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(C); (4) distribution of 4-MEC, a controlled substance analogue, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(C); (5) distribution of BZP, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(C); (6) distribution of 3, 4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (“MDMA”), in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(C); (7) distribution of 4-MEC, a controlled substance analogue, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(C); (8) distribution of heroin, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(C); and (9) distribution of heroin, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(C) and 18 U.S.C. § 2. (ECF No. 1.)

         On January 4, 2018, Stanley pled guilty, pursuant to a plea agreement, to Count 8 of the Indictment, and the Government agreed to dismiss the remaining counts. The plea agreement contained the following language with respect to issues reserved for appeal and post-conviction attack:

Defendant acknowledges having been advised by counsel of Defendant's rights, in limited circumstances, to appeal the conviction or sentence in this case, including the appeal right conferred by 18 U.S.C. § 3742, and to challenge the conviction or sentence collaterally through a post-conviction proceeding, including a proceeding under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Defendant expressly and voluntarily waives those rights, except as specifically reserved below. Defendant reserves the right to appeal: (a) any punishment in excess of the statutory maximum; or (b) the Court's determination of Defendant's Criminal History Category. Nothing in this paragraph shall act as a bar to Defendant perfecting any legal remedies Defendant may otherwise have on appeal or collateral attack with respect to claims of ineffective assistance of counsel or prosecutorial misconduct.

(ECF No. 21, at PageID #129.)

         On April 17, 2018, the court sentenced Stanley to 84 months of imprisonment. (ECF No. 22.) Stanley did not appeal his conviction or sentence. On March 19, 2019, Petitioner timely filed the instant § 2255 Petition, claiming an unconstitutional conviction in violation of the Ninth Amendment as well as ineffective assistance of counsel. (ECF No. 27.) The Government submitted a response in opposition on May 1, 2019 (ECF No. 33) and Petitioner submitted a reply to the Government's response on May 16, 2019 (ECF No. 34).

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Section 2255, Title 28 of the United States Code, allows a district court to vacate, set aside, or correct a federal sentence that was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States or was imposed by a court without jurisdiction, exceeds the maximum sentence authorized by law, or is otherwise subject to collateral attack. 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Collateral relief, however, is limited, and “[o]nce [a] defendant's chance to appeal has been waived or exhausted, . . . we are entitled to presume he stands fairly and finally convicted” and “a collateral challenge may not do service for an appeal.” United States v. Frady, 456 U.S. 152, 164-65 (1982). Generally, to prevail on a § 2255 motion alleging a constitutional error, the petitioner must show an error of constitutional magnitude, which had a substantial and injurious effect or influence on the proceedings. Brecht v. Abrahamson, 507 U.S. 619, 637-38 (1993); see also Murr v. United States, 200 F.3d 895, 906 (6th Cir. 2000) (confirming that Brecht standard applies in § 2255 actions, as well as § 2254 actions). On collateral review, it is the movant's burden to establish his right to relief. See McQueen v. United States, 58 Fed.Appx. 73, 76 (6th Cir. 2003).

         III. LAW AND ANALYSIS

         Stanley raises two claims in his § 2255 Petition. First, he argues that the drug that he pled guilty to distributing is not on the controlled substance analogue list. (Pet. at PageID #212, ECF No. 27.) Thus, he contends that he did not commit the crime for which he was charged, which violates the Ninth Amendment. (Id. at PageID #214-15.) Second, Petitioner claims that his counsel was ineffective because he failed to explain to Stanley the elements of the crime to which he pled guilty, including that he was pleading guilty to distributing a substance not listed in the statute. (Id. at PageID #235-37.)

         The court notes that under the terms of the plea agreement, Stanley waived his right to challenge his conviction or sentence on appeal, as well as through a post-conviction proceeding under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 on most grounds. (Plea Agreement, Page ID #129, ECF No. 21.) Therefore, Petitioner waived his right to challenge his conviction on the basis that his actions did not meet the elements of the crime. See Short v. United States, 471 F.3d 686, 698 (6th Cir. 2006) (“[P]lea-agreement waivers of § 2255 rights are generally enforceable.”) (quoting Davila v. United States, 258 F.3d 448, 450 (6th Cir. 2001)). To the extent that Petitioner styles his Ninth Amendment claim as a challenge to “punishment in excess of the statutory maximum, ” as reserved in his plea agreement, this argument is also barred by waiver because Petitioner failed to raise it on direct appeal. Similarly, Petitioner's claim of ineffective assistance of counsel is procedurally defaulted because he did not first raise on direct appeal the issue that his plea was not knowing, intelligent, and voluntary. Bousley v. United States, 523 U.S. 614, 621 (1998) (“[T]he voluntariness and intelligence of a guilty plea can be attacked on a collateral review only if first challenged on direct review.”).

         But even if Petitioner's claims were not barred by waiver, the premise of his wrongful conviction arguments are incorrect. Although Petitioner argues that his conviction was improper because the substances he pled to distributing were not on a controlled analogue list, and thus, did not meet the elements of the crime for which he was convicted, Petitioner pled to Count 8 of the Indictment, which charges him with distribution of heroin, a Schedule I controlled substance. (Plea Agreement at PageID #124.) The Government ...


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