The District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana recently granted a federal prisoner’s section 2255 motion because he was unlawfully sentenced by being charged twice for the same dangerous weapon possession–once under 18 USC §924(c) as a statutory violation, and once under United States Sentencing Guidelines §2D1-l(b)(l) as a two-level enhancement.
Londons’ Double-Jeopardy Dangerous Weapon Possession Charge
In August of 2015, Charles London found himself among some 35 individuals arrested and charged with a drug trafficking conspiracy. London himself was implicated on 19 counts in the 86-count superseding indictment, and eventually, plead guilty to eight of them. Seven of the counts related to the distribution of a variety of illegal drugs. One of the counts was for possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime.
The court ultimately sentenced London to concurrent sentences of 240 months and 262 months on the drug charges. Additionally, London would serve an additional 60 months for the dangerous weapon possession charges. In all, London’s total sentence consisted of over 300 months or approximately 27 years.
London’s first attempt to appeal his sentence was ultimately rejected by the Fifth Circuit. Following this, London filled a timely motion under 28 USC §2255 because of ineffective counsel. The defendant claimed that he had suffered from a double-jeopardy sentence. He argued that his attorney did not object to the double-charge for his dangerous weapon possession and that ultimately cost him a shorter sentence.
Section 2255 Rulings
When rulings like London’s arise, the ruling from Strickland v Washington is used as a litmus test to establish a claim. To succeed on a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, London had to establish:
1) deficient performance by counsel; and
2) that the deficient performance prejudiced his defense.
Deficient performance requires that a “counsel’s representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness.” (Strickland). Courts grant significant deference to counsel. They also indulge a strong presumption that tactical decisions made after adequate investigation are objectively reasonable (Moore v Johnson, 1999). In other words, counsel’s must represent their client to the best of their ability, and employ all the tactics at their disposal to secure the best possible outcome.
Secondly, prejudice requires demonstrating that “there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel’s unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different.” Strickland, 466 US at 694. The defendant must essentially establish that “the result of the proceeding was fundamentally unfair or unreliable.” (Lockhart v Fretwell, 1993). Essentially, if the counsel does not proceed in the most professional manner possible and that causes a client to lose their case, the defendant can file for
Dealing with Londons’ Double Dangerous Weapon Charges
Finding evidence ineffective assistance of counsel in this case was not difficult for the court. The Fifth Circuit ruled on an identical situation faced by London in a 2008 case. In United States v Molina, the court said that a prosecutor may charge dangerous weapon possession as a substantive violation under §924(c) £E as an enhancement under USSG §2D1.l(b)(l), but not both. London’s attorney should have known about this point of law and lodged an objection at sentencing.
This error also demonstrate clear prejudice as well. Without the §2D1.l(b)(l) enhancement, London’s Guidelines range would have been 210-262 months. The double dangerous weapon possession enhancement added almost six years to his sentencing. Because “[a]ny amount of additional jail time is significant for purposes of showing prejudice,” United States v Rivas-Lopez, 678 F.3d 353, 357 (5th Cir. 2012). Because counsel’s deficient performance resulted in a higher sentencing range, it was clear to the court that the error was, in fact, prejudicial.
Ultimately, the court found that London’s counsel was ineffective at sentencing. It also helped that the government agreed with London’s argument. Following this, London’s section 2255 motion was granted. This victory led to his sentence vacated. But even more importantly, this motion allowed London to have his case retried.
This error made by London’s counsel was fundamental and prejudicial. While not every mistake made by counsel is so glaring, it is possible to win ineffective assistance of counsel claims. If you feel that your attorney made a mistake that cost you, contact the Law Offices of Brandon Sample. Our experienced habeas corpus litigators will consult with you about how you might pursue a section 2255 claim.
Src: United States v London, 2019 US Dist. LEXIS 41559 (W.D. IA. March 14, 2019)