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Smotherman v. United States

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Southern Division

August 25, 2016

RAYMOND DOYLE SMOTHERMAN, Movant,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent. Crim No. 12-03111-01-CR-S-DGK

          ORDER DENYING MOTION TO VACATE, SET ASIDE, OR CORRECT SENTENCE

          GREG KAYS, CHIEF JUDGE

         This case arises out of Movant Raymond Doyle Smotherman's (“Movant” or “Smotherman”) conviction and 300-month prison sentence for possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense and possession of methamphetamine with the intent to distribute. Pending before the Court is Movant's Motion Under § 2255 to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct a Sentence by a Person in Federal Custody (Civ. Doc. 1).[1] For the reasons set forth below, the motion is DENIED without an evidentiary hearing and the Court shall not issue a certificate of appealability.

         Background[2]

         On January 22, 2013, Smotherman was charged by way of superseding indictment with: possession of firearms by a felon (Count I), possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine (Count II), possession of firearms in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense (Count III), possession of a stolen firearm (Count IV), possession with intent to distribute 50 or more grams of methamphetamine (Count V), and two allegations of criminal forfeiture (Crim. Doc. 17).

         On February 12, 2013, the Government filed a notice outlining two previous felony narcotics convictions pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 851(a) (“the Section 851 information”) (Crim. Doc. 21). The felonies at issue were an April 10, 2000, conviction for conspiracy to manufacture and distribute methamphetamine and an August 4, 1994, conviction for sale of a controlled substance. These convictions, in conjunction with his charge for possession with intent to distribute 50 or more grams of methamphetamine, subjected Movant to the possibility of a mandatory term of life imprisonment. 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(A).

         On July 3, 2013, Smotherman appeared before United States Magistrate Judge James C. England and pled guilty to Counts III and V, and Forfeiture Allegations I and II, pursuant to a written, binding plea agreement. Plea Agrmnt. (Crim. Doc. 54). Paragraph 2 of the plea agreement is titled “Factual Basis for Guilty Plea” and states in relevant part:

SA Kathleen Aug also determined that the defendant had four prior felony convictions for the following: . . .
2. Sale of a Controlled Substance from the 37th Circuit Court of Shannon County, State of Missouri, Case Number CR893-197F, and a conviction date on or about August 4, 1994; . . .
4. Conspiracy to Manufacture and Distribute Methamphetamine from the United State[s] District Court, Western District of Missouri, Case Number 00-03008-02-CR-S-1, and a conviction date on or about April 10, 2000.

Plea Agrmnt. ¶ 2. During the plea colloquy, Smotherman conceded that the facts contained in Paragraph 2 of the plea agreement were true. Plea Tr. at 8 (Crim. Doc. 55). The agreement indicates that the Government ultimately sought a sentencing enhancement for only one of the prior felony drug convictions for which the Government filed a Section 851(a) notice. Plea Agrmnt. ¶ 4. This had the effect of reducing Smotherman's statutory minimum sentence from life imprisonment to 20 years for Count V under 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(A).

         On July 25, 2013, United States District Judge Catherine D. Perry, sitting by designation, accepted Smotherman's guilty plea. This Court subsequently sentenced Smotherman to a total of 300 months' imprisonment and a total of 10 years' supervised release (Crim. Doc. 66).

         Now before the Court is Smotherman's Motion Under § 2255 to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct a Sentence by a Person in Federal Custody (Civ. Doc. 1). In each of his two arguments in support of this motion, Smotherman contends his counsel was ineffective.

         Standard

         To succeed on a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, a movant must show that “(1) trial counsel's performance was so deficient as to fall below an objective standard of the customary skill and diligence displayed by a reasonably competent attorney, and (2) trial counsel's deficient performance prejudiced the defense.” Armstrong v. Kemna, 534 F.3d 857, 863 (8th Cir. 2008) (citing Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687-94 (1984)). Judicial review of trial counsel's performance is highly deferential, “indulging a strong presumption that counsel's conduct falls within the wide range of reasonable professional judgment.” Middleton v. Roper, 455 F.3d 838, 846 (8th Cir. 2006). Counsel's failure to advance a meritless argument cannot constitute ineffective assistance of counsel. Rodriguez v. United States, 17 F.3d 225, 226 (8th Cir. 1994). In the context of guilty pleas, the second “prejudice” requirement of the test for ineffective ...


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