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United States v. Boyd

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

November 8, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
BENJAMIN T. BOYD, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER DISMISSING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO VACATE UNDER 28 U.S.C. § 2255

          TERRENCE G. BERG UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court is Defendant Benjamin Boyd's motion to vacate his conviction under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Boyd pled guilty to one count of Possession of a Firearm in Furtherance of a Drug Trafficking Crime pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) on June 2, 2016. ECF No. 23. Defendant timely moved to vacate his sentence on February 27, 2017. ECF No. 20. For the reasons stated herein, the Court will DENY Defendant's motion to vacate his conviction under 28 U.S.C. § 2255.

         I. Background

         On March 17, 2016, Michigan state police and the Drug Enforcement Administration executed a search warrant at a home in Flint, Michigan. Plea Agreement, ECF 16, PageID.45-46. Police seized Defendant Boyd as he was walking away from that residence. Id. Inside the home, police recovered a Colt 9mm rifle under a loveseat in the living room, a Sig Sauer AR 15 .223 caliber rifle under a couch in the living room, and a .410 caliber shotgun in the basement. Id. All of the weapons were loaded. Id. In a bedroom located on the second floor of the home, police also recovered 13 grams of heroin and $924. Id. Both were found in a safe in the bedroom. Id. Also found in the bedroom were items bearing Boyd's name. Id. Defendant was thereafter indicted on one count of Possession with Intent to Distribute Heroin, pursuant to 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(C) (“Count 1”), and one count of Possession of a Firearm in Furtherance of a Drug Trafficking Crime pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A) (“Count 2”). ECF No. 9. As part of the Indictment, the Government alleged that Boyd “knowingly possessed a firearm, that is: a Sig Sauer .223 semi-automatic rifle, in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, for which he may be prosecuted in a court of the United States, that is, possession with intent to distribute heroin.” Id. at PageID.21 (emphasis added).

         On June 2, 2016, Defendant entered a plea of guilty as to Count 2 only. See Plea Agreement, ECF No. 16. In the Rule 11 plea agreement, Defendant admitted that on March 17, 2016 he knowingly possessed 13 grams of heroin stored in a safe in a second-floor bedroom of a home in Flint, Michigan. Id. at PageID.45. He also admitted to intending to distribute this heroin to others in exchange for money. Id. Further, Plaintiff admitted that he possessed a firearm, a Sig Sauer AR 15 .223 caliber rifle, which he stored underneath a couch in the living room of the home. Id. He admitted to loading the firearm “with a large capacity magazine, so that it could be easily accessed and available if needed, ” and that he “used this firearm to protect his supply of heroin.” Id. Boyd also admitted as much verbally at the June 2, 2016 plea hearing. For example, Boyd admitted that he possessed the firearm “[t]o protect the drugs and [himself].” Plea Hearing Transcript, ECF No. 23, PageID.117. He further admitted that “the fact that [he] had this firearm, was . . . related to possessing heroin in order to distribute the heroin.” Id.

         In Defendant's §2255 motion to vacate, Boyd alleges he is entitled to relief due to ineffective assistance of counsel. See ECF No. 20.

         II. Standard of Review

         The United States Supreme Court uses the two-prong Strickland test to analyze ineffective assistance of counsel claims. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 688 (1984). To meet this test, Boyd must show (1) that “counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness, ” and (2) that “counsel's performance [was] prejudicial to the defense.” Id. When critiquing counsel's performance, courts are required to be “highly deferential” and “must indulge a strong presumption that counsel's conduct falls within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance. . . .” Id. at 689. In the Sixth Circuit, courts also “must take care to avoid ‘second-guessing' strategic decisions that failed to bear fruit.” Lundgren v. Mitchell, 440 F.3d 754, 769-70 (6th Cir. 2006) (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 689).

         III. Analysis

         Defendant brings two claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. First, he alleges that his counsel was ineffective in failing to move to dismiss Defendant's indictment because his conduct did not fall within the “use or carry” element of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) “in direct violation of” Bailey v. United States, 516 U.S. 137 (1995). ECF No. 20, PageID.94. Second, Defendant alleges counsel was ineffective in failing to provide him accurate legal advice, thereby rendering his plea neither voluntary nor intelligent. The Court will consider Boyd's ineffective assistance claims together, as they both involve his allegations that trial counsel misled him as to the elements of § 924(c).

         While Boyd asserts that his counsel was ineffective for misleading him as to the elements of § 924(c), a review of the statute and the caselaw reveals that Boyd is incorrect.

         18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A) in relevant party provides that:

any person who, during and in relation to any crime of violence or drug trafficking crime . . . for which the person may be prosecuted in a court of the United States, uses or carries a firearm, or who, in furtherance of any such crime, possesses a firearm, shall . . . be sentenced to a term of imprisonment of not less than 5 years.

(Emphasis added). The statute “criminalizes two separate and distinct offenses.” United States v. Combs, 369 F.3d 925, 933 (6th Cir. 2004). A defendant can either (1) use or carry a firearm during and in relation to a drug trafficking crime or (2) possess a firearm i ...


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