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Jones v. United States

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

January 30, 2019

JAMAL JONES, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent.

          OPINION

          ANNE E. THOMPSON United States District Judge.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Jamal Jones ("Petitioner") moves to vacate, correct, or set aside his federal sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. (ECF Nos. 1, 16.) Respondent, the United States of America, opposes the motion. (ECF Nos. 9, 21.) For the reasons stated herein, Petitioner's motion is denied, and no certificate of appealability will issue.

         II. BACKGROUND

         On October 16, 2014, Petitioner pled guilty to two counts of possession with intent to distribute heroin, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(C). United States v. Jones, Crim. No. 14-516, ECF No. 17. Those charges arose from two separate drugs transactions made by Petitioner to a confidential source for the Drug Enforcement Administration in November 2013.

         Petitioner appeared for sentencing before this Court on June 16, 2015. Crim. No. 14-516, ECF No. 25. The Probation Office had determined that Petitioner qualified as a career offender and, pursuant to that designation, calculated his Guidelines offense level to be 29. Presentence Report ("PSR"), ¶¶ 30-31. The career offender designation was based on a 2002 sentence for possession of a controlled dangerous substance with intent to distribute in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Middlesex County and a 2013 sentence for possession with intent to distribute in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Essex County. PSR ¶| 49, 57. Based on an extensive criminal record, Petitioner was assessed 18 criminal history points, placing him in criminal history category VI. PSR¶¶ 60-63. These calculations resulted in a Guidelines range of 151 to 188 months. PSR ¶ 113. Nevertheless, this Court sentenced Petitioner to a term of 96 months on both counts to run concurrent with credit for time served. Crim. No. 14-516, ECF No. 26. Petitioner did not file a direct appeal.

         On February 26, 2016, Petitioner filed the instant motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence. (ECF No. 1.) In his § 2255 motion, Petitioner challenges the calculation of his criminal history and alleges his counsel was ineffective in not objecting to that calculation. (Id.) In February 2017, Petitioner filed a motion to stay this action to enable him to file a supplemental brief based on the Third Circuit's decision in Chang-Cruz v. Attorney General United States of America, 659 Fed.Appx. 114 (3d Cir. 2016). (ECF No. 11.) Shortly thereafter, on April 18, 2017, Petitioner filed a supplemental brief in which he alleged that his counsel was ineffective for not challenging his designation as a career offender. (ECF No. 12.) This Court denied the motion to stay as moot and directed Petitioner to file a motion to amend his § 2255 motion to add the new claim. (ECF No. 15.) Petitioner did so on June 23, 2017, (ECF No. 16), and this Court granted the motion, (ECF No. 18.)

         III. DISCUSSION

         Section 2255 provides in relevant part that:

[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 . . . may move the court which imposed the sentence to vacate, set aside or correct the sentence.

28 U.S.C § 2255(a). A district court must hold an evidentiary hearing on a § 2255 motion unless the "motion and the files and records of the case conclusively show" that the movant is not entitled to relief. 28 U.S.C. § 2255(b); see also United States v. Booth, 432 F.3d 542, 545-46 (3d Cir. 2005). Here, the record conclusively demonstrates Petitioner is not entitled to relief.

         a. Calculation of Criminal History

         Petitioner claims that his sentence is in violation of the Sentencing Guidelines based on three alleged errors in the calculation of his criminal history. Specifically, Petitioner argues that (1) certain offenses should have been counted as a single sentence pursuant to § 4A1.2(a)(2)(B); (2) certain offenses should not have been counted because they constitute "relevant conduct"; and (3) a sentence from 2006 should not have been counted because Petitioner was a juvenile when he committed the offense.[1]

         Before reaching the merits of Petitioner's claims, the Court must determine if Petitioner's challenges to his sentence are cognizable on a § 2255 motion. The Third Circuit has cautioned that "[s]ection 2255 petitions are not substitutes for direct appeals and serve only to protect a defendant from a violation of the [C]onstitution or from a statutory defect so fundamental that a complete miscarriage of justice has occurred." United States v. Cepero,224 F.3d 256, 267 (3d Cir. 2000), abrogated on other grounds, Gonzalez v. Thaler,565 U.S. 134 (2012). In that connection, "the misapplication of the Sentencing Guidelines does not automatically give rise to a constitutional claim." Galling v. United States,188 F.Supp.3d 426, 429 (M.D. Pa. 2015) (citing United States v. Manigault,395 Fed.Appx. 831, 834 (3d Cir. 2014)); see also United States v. Ruddock,82 Fed.Appx. 752, 758 (3d Cir. 2003). While the Third Circuit has never addressed this issue in a precedential opinion, [2] other circuits have held that "[b]arring extraordinary circumstances ... an error in the application of the Sentencing Guidelines cannot be raised in a § 2255 proceeding." United States v. Pregent, 190 F.3d 279, 283-84 (4th Cir. 1999); see alsoNarvaez v. United States,674 F.3d 621, 627 (7th Cir. 2011) ("We have recognized that sentencing errors are ...


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