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United States v. Lawrence

United States District Court, D. Montana, Great Falls Division

June 6, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff/Respondent,
v.
DALLAS LAWRENCE, Defendant/Movant.

          ORDER DENYING § 2255 MOTION AND DENYING CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY

          Brian Morris, United States District Court Judge

         This case comes before the Court on Defendant/Movant Dallas Lawrence's motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Lawrence is a federal prisoner proceeding pro se.

         I. Preliminary Review

         Before the United States is required to respond, the Court must determine whether “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); see also Rule 4(b), Rules Governing Section 2255 Proceedings for the United States District Courts. A petitioner “who is able to state facts showing a real possibility of constitutional error should survive Rule 4 review.” Calderon v. United States Dist. Court, 98 F.3d 1102, 1109 (9th Cir. 1996) (“Nicolas”) (Schroeder, C.J., concurring) (referring to Rules Governing § 2254 Cases). The Court should “eliminate the burden that would be placed on the respondent by ordering an unnecessary answer.” Advisory Committee Note (1976), Rule 4, Rules Governing § 2254 Cases, cited in Advisory Committee Note (1976), Rule 4, Rules Governing § 2255 Proceedings.

         II. Background

         A grand jury indicted Lawrence on September 4, 2014, charging him with one count of strangulation, a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 113(a)(8) (Count 1), and one count of assault with intent to commit murder, a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 113(a)(1) (Count 2), both committed “on or about May 2014.” The grand jury handed down a superseding indictment on October 20, 2014. Counts 1 and 2 remained the same. The grand jury charged another count of strangulation and another count of assault with intent to commit murder, this time “on or about March 2014, ” Superseding Indictment (Doc. 23) at 3 (Counts 3 and 4). The grand jury added a count of assault with a dangerous weapon and with intent to do bodily harm in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 113(a)(3) (Count 5). Id. at 4. The grand jury also added two counts of aggravated sexual abuse in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2241(a)(1) (Counts 6 and 7), both committed “on or about early summer 2014.” Id. The Major Crimes Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1153(a), provided jurisdiction for all counts. See Id. at 1-2 (caption).

         Jury trial commenced on January 26, 2015. After deliberating for about two and a half hours on January 28, 2015, the jury returned guilty verdicts on each count. See Minutes (Docs. 73, 76, 77); Verdict (Doc. 84).

         The U.S. Probation Office prepared a presentence report. Under the rules pertinent to grouping of counts, see U.S.S.G. § 3D1.1(a), the total offense level was 40. Lawrence previously had been convicted of two crimes of violence and qualified as a career offender. Even without career offender designation, however, the advisory guideline range would have remained 360 months to life in prison. See Presentence Report ¶¶ 68, 77-78, 138; U.S.S.G. ch. 5 Part A (Sentencing Table). The United States sought a sentence of life in prison. See U.S. Sent. Mem. (Doc. 93) at 2, 7. Counsel for Lawrence disputed the career offender designation and also sought a downward variance to 240 months. See Def. Resp. (Doc. 98) at 11.

         The Court determined that Lawrence qualified as a career offender under the guidelines, see Sentencing Tr. (Doc. 120) at 7:9-14. The Court also determined, however, that the career offender designation overstated Lawrence's criminal history. The Court varied downward from the advisory guideline range to achieve the objectives of 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a). The Court sentenced Lawrence to a total term of 240 months in prison to be followed by a five-year term of supervised release. See Minutes (Doc. 100); Judgment (Doc. 102) at 2-3; Statement of Reasons (Doc. 103) at 3.

         Lawrence appealed. He challenged the sufficiency of the evidence to support conviction on each count. He also challenged the sufficiency of the superseding indictment. The Ninth Circuit affirmed on May 11, 2016. See Mem. (Doc. 115) at 1-4, United States v. Lawrence, No. 15-30122 (9th Cir. May 11, 2016).

         Lawrence filed a petition for writ of certiorari in the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court denied the petition on October 3, 2016. See Clerk Letter (Doc. 118) at 1.

         Lawrence's conviction became final on October 3, 2016. See Gonzalez v. Thaler, 565 U.S. 134, 150 (2012). He timely filed his § 2255 motion on September 18, 2017. See 28 U.S.C. § 2255(f)(1); Houston v. Lack, 487 U.S. 266, 276 (1988); Br. in Supp. (Doc. 122) at 42.

         III. Claims and Analysis

         Lawrence claims that counsel provided ineffective assistance in various respects at trial and on appeal. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984), governs claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. See also Smith v. Robbins, 528 U.S. 259, 285 (2000).

         Lawrence mistakenly states that he is “required to make an offer of proof and facts to support” his allegations. See, e.g., Mot. for Discovery (Doc. 121-2) at 3 ¶ 5, 4 ¶ 13 (Lawrence Decl.). At this stage of the proceedings, the Court assumes as true the facts that Lawrence alleges. His allegations simply must support an inference (1) that counsel's performance fell outside the wide range of reasonable professional assistance, id. at 687-88, and (2) that there exists a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional performance, the result of the proceeding would have been different. Id. at 694.

         Lawrence also moved for leave to exceed the word limit imposed on motions. Word limits do not apply to § 2255 motions. See D. Mont. L.R. 7.1(a) (Mar. 1, 2016). The Court has reviewed everything Lawrence filed.

         A. ...


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