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Hammett v. United States

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

August 3, 2018

GAVIN HAMMETT, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES, Respondent.

          RULING AND ORDER

          ROBERT N. CHATIGNY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Petitioner Gavin Hammett, proceeding pro se, moves pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 for relief from his conviction and sentence. He claims that his trial and appellate counsel were constitutionally ineffective and raises various issues related to his plea agreement, guilty plea, and sentencing. The Government responds that his claims should be dismissed because they are procedurally defaulted and lack merit. I agree and therefore deny the petition.

         I. Background

         Hammett was the lead defendant in a large drug conspiracy case. See generally United States v. Hammett, 3:10-cr-128 (RNC). He pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 846, 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(B). Prior to his plea, the Government filed a second-offender information, pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 851, which increased the maximum statutory penalty to life imprisonment and the mandatory-minimum term of imprisonment to ten years. See § 851 Information, id. (ECF No. 307).

         The plea agreement addressed the parties' positions regarding the Sentencing Guidelines. See Plea Agreement, id. (ECF No. 310). As summarized in the agreement, the Government took the position that a range 168-210 months of imprisonment applied based on a total offense level of 31 (reflecting agreed upon drug quantities of 5 kilograms of cocaine and 2 kilograms of crack) in criminal history category (“CHC”) V. Hammett took the position that a range of 121-151 months applied based on a total offense level of 29 (derived from using a 1:1 crack-to-powder-cocaine ratio) in CHC IV. The parties reserved their rights to argue whether the defendant qualified as a career offender pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1. The Government's position was that, if the career offender enhancement was found to apply, Hammett would be in CHC VI, with a total offense level of 34, yielding a range of 262-327 months. Hammett's position was that “the Career Offender Guidelines are not deserving of judicial deference in general and should not be followed in this particular case.”

         Prior to Hammett's sentencing, the Probation Office prepared a Presentence Investigation Report (“PSR”). An addendum to the PSR stated that Hammett qualified as a career offender, increasing the CHC from V to VI. See PSR Add., id. (ECF No. 622). The addendum also stated that he was subject to a four-level adjustment as the leader or organizer of the conspiracy, making his total offense level 35. Based on these findings, the range was 292-365 months.

         Hammett's sentencing took place over two days. See Sentencing Tr. Vol. I-II, id. (ECF Nos. 823, 824). On the first day, I adopted a range of 292 to 365 months, as calculated in the addendum to the PSR. Neither party objected to this calculation. However, Hammett requested a substantially lesser sentence of 180 months, arguing that the Court should apply a 1:1 crack-to-powder -cocaine ratio, decline to sentence him as a career offender, and depart from CHC VI to CHC IV. The Government argued that the career offender guideline should be applied. However, it sought a sentence within the range of 262-327 months, the career-offender range it contemplated at the time of the plea agreement. The sentencing hearing was continued to give the parties an opportunity to obtain additional information about two of Hammett's prior convictions.[1]

         When the sentencing hearing resumed, I stated that the career offender guideline would not be used because Hammett's offense conduct was partly attributable to his own drug use and he had no significant history of violence. I explained that a range of 210 to 262 months would be used, reflecting a 1:1 crack-to-powder-cocaine ratio, a CHC of V, and a four-level adjustment for Hammett's role in the offense. I then sentenced Hammett to 240 months' imprisonment, finding that sentence sufficient but not harsher than necessary considering all the factors in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a).

         Hammett appealed his sentence, arguing that it was substantively unreasonable.[2] United States v. Hammett, 555 Fed.Appx. 108 (Feb. 20, 2014). The Court of Appeals affirmed. Id. at 110. The Court stated that although “240 months of incarceration is a harsh sentence, ” it is not “unsupportable as a matter of law” in light of the serious offense conduct and Hammett's history and characteristics. The Supreme Court denied Hammett's petition for certiorari. Hammett v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 121 (2014).

         II. Legal Standard

         To obtain relief under § 2255, a petitioner must show that his “sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 2255. A claim is cognizable under § 2255 if it involves a “fundamental defect which inherently results in a complete miscarriage of justice.” Davis v. Hill, 417 U.S. 333, 346 (1974) (quoting Hill v. United States, 368 U.S. 424, 428 (1962)). Pursuant to the “mandate rule, ” a § 2255 motion generally does not provide an opportunity to relitigate issues that were raised and considered on direct appeal. Yick Man Mui v. United States, 614 F.3d 50, 53 (2d Cir. 2010). In addition, if a petitioner failed to raise a claim that was ripe for review on direct appeal, the claim is procedurally barred unless he “establishes (1) cause for the procedural default and ensuing prejudice or (2) actual innocence.” United States v. Thorn, 659 F.3d 227, 231 (2d Cir. 2011).

         III. Discussion

         Hammett argues that his guilty plea is invalid because his plea agreement was based on a mutual mistake regarding the applicable guideline range. He also argues that his trial counsel provided ineffective assistance in connection with his plea agreement, guilty plea, and sentencing. None of these claims was presented on direct appeal. Hammett argues that he can show cause and prejudice to excuse his procedural default because his trial and appellate counsel were constitutionally ineffective. He is correct that ineffective assistance of appellate counsel may excuse a procedural default. See United States v. Perez, 129 F.3d 255, 261 (2d Cir. 1997). In addition, claims of ineffective assistance of trial counsel may be brought in a § 2255 proceeding “whether or not the petitioner could have raised the claim on direct appeal.” Massaro v. United States, 538 U.S. 500, 504 (2003). However, Hammett's claims fail because he has not shown that his trial or appellate counsel provided ineffective assistance.

         To obtain relief based on a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, Hammett must demonstrate that (1) his counsel's performance fell below an objective standard of reasonableness and (2) he suffered prejudice as a result. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 694 (1984). This is a “highly demanding” and “rigorous” standard. Bennett v. United States, 663 F.3d 71, 84-85 (2d Cir. 2011). To show that his counsel's performance was constitutionally deficient, Hammett must overcome the “strong presumption” that his counsel's conduct was “within the wide range of professionally competent assistance.” Id. at 689. To show prejudice, he ...


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