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United States v. Smith

United States District Court, D. Montana, Helena Division

August 27, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff /Respondent,
v.
TRENT SCENTAIL SMITH, Defendant/Movant.

          ORDER DENYING § 2255 MOTION AND DENYING CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY

          Dana L. Christensen, Chief Judge United States District Court

         This case comes before the Court on Defendant/Movant Trent Scentail Smith's motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Smith 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). But 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

         On February 4, 2016, a grand jury indicted Smith on one count of conspiring to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute a substance containing methamphetamine, a violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846 (Count 1); six counts of distributing methamphetamine, violations of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) (Counts 2-7); and one count of possessing methamphetamine with intent to distribute it, a violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) (Count 8).

         Counts 2 through 8 consisted of monitored transactions in which Smith sold or fronted escalating quantities of methamphetamine to two confidential informants and an undercover officer. Smith was arrested on July 22, 2015, with cocaine and about 1.3 kilograms of methamphetamine in his vehicle. He waived his Miranda rights and made self-incriminating statements to law enforcement officers, including an admission to transporting methamphetamine from California to Montana to sell it. See Offer of Proof (Doc. 79) at 3-7 ¶¶ 1-13.

         On July 26, 2016, Smith entered an open plea of guilty to all counts.

         At sentencing, Smith was found responsible for 1.717 kilograms of actual methamphetamine. The base offense level was 36. Smith received a two-point upward adjustment for possession of a firearm and a three-level downward adjustment for acceptance of responsibility for a total adjusted offense level of 35. See Presentence Report ¶¶ 31-40. With a criminal history category of II, see Id. ¶¶ 43-54, his advisory guideline range was 168 to 235 months. See Statement of Reasons (Doc. 114) § I(A), III. Smith was sentenced to serve 210 months in prison, to be followed by a three-year term of supervised release. See Judgment (Doc. 113) at 2-3.

         Smith appealed. New counsel was appointed to represent him. He challenged the firearm enhancement and asserted his sentence was enhanced due to sentencing entrapment and manipulation. On December 8, 2017, the Court of Appeals affirmed his sentence. See 9th Cir. Mem. (Doc. 139) at 1-3, United States v. Smith, No. 16-30277 (9th Cir. Dec. 8, 2017).

         Smith petitioned the United States Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari, but his petition was denied on February 20, 2018. See Clerk Letter (Doc. 142).

         Smith's conviction became final on February 20, 2018. See Gonzalez v. Thaler, 565 U.S. 134, 150 (2012). He timely filed his § 2255 motion on February 19, 2019. See 28 U.S.C. § 2255(f)(1).

         III. Claims and Analysis

         Smith claims his counsel were ineffective in various respects. These claims are governed by Strickland v. Washington,466 U.S. 668 (1984). At this stage of the proceedings, Smith must allege facts sufficient to 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 is a reasonable probability that, but ...


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