United States District Court, D. Minnesota
Allen A. Slaughter, Jr., Assistant U.S. Attorney, 316 North Robert Street, Suite 404, St. Paul, MN 55101, counsel for plaintiff.
Lawrence Lalonde Colton, #16069-041, FCI Milan, Milan, P.O. Box 1000, Milan MI, 48160, pro se.
DAVID S. DOTY, District Judge.
This matter is before the court upon the pro se motion by defendant Lawrence Lalonde Colton to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Based on a review of the file, record, and proceedings herein, and for the following reasons, the court denies the motion and denies a certificate of appealability.
In February 2012, Colton was indicted on six counts relating to the distribution of oxycodone, oxymorphone, hydromorphone, and heroin. United States v. Colton, 742 F.3d 345, 346-47 (8th Cir. 2014). The charges arose out of Colton's leadership of a drug trafficking conspiracy in the Twin Ports area of Duluth, Minnesota and Superior, Wisconsin. Id. at 347. On July 16, 2012, the government filed an information under 28 U.S.C. § 851, notifying Colton that it intended to rely on two prior felony drug convictions to enhance his statutory maximum sentence in the event of a conviction. ECF No. 838. The government also notified Colton that it would use the convictions for impeachment at trial. ECF No. 837. Before trial, the government dismissed counts two and three of the superseding indictment, which charged Colton with conspiracy to distribute oxycodone, oxymorphone, and heroin, and distribution of controlled substances to a person under 21 years of age. ECF No. 958. The matter proceeded to a four-day jury trial in August 2012. Colton, 742 F.3d at 347.
Multiple co-conspirators testified at trial that Colton coordinated with others to purchase, transport, and distribute prescription drugs between his hometown of Detroit and the Twin Ports. Colton, 742 F.3d at 347. A special agent testified that law enforcement seized Colton's cell phone, which had been used to communicate with co-conspirators. Id . The special agent also stated that, between January 2010 and August 2011, Colton sent and received a total of $62, 810 in wire transfers in connection with the conspiracy. Id . In addition to witness testimony, the government introduced recordings of controlled buys between Colton and a confidential informant, as well as exhibits showing that the pills from those buys tested positive for oxymorphone. Id.
The government rested its case on August 15, 2012. ECF No. 967. Colton moved for judgment of acquittal, and the court took the motion under advisement. Id . Colton did not testify at trial. Trial Tr. 770:1-6. On August 16, 2014, Colton was convicted on all counts, and the court denied the motion for judgment of acquittal the next day. Colton, 742 F.3d at 348. Colton then filed a pro se motion for judgment of acquittal on September 26, 2012, which the court also denied. ECF Nos. 1075, 1078.
At the sentencing hearing, Colton objected to the drug quantity calculation set forth in the presentence investigation report (PSR). Colton, 742 F.3d at 348-49. He also objected to the PSR's application of a four-level enhancement for his leadership role and a two-level enhancement for obstruction of justice. Sent. Tr. at 2:18-23. The court held an evidentiary hearing and overruled Colton's objections as to drug quantity and leadership role, but sustained his objection to the obstruction of justice enhancement. Id. at 39:4-42:16 The court then sentenced Colton to a 300-month term of imprisonment, varying downward from an advisory guideline range of 360 months to life. Id. at 42:19-43:16. Colton appealed, arguing that the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction and that the drug quantity was improperly calculated. Colton, 742 F.3d at 348-49. The Eighth Circuit affirmed. Id. at 349. On March 9, 2015, Colton filed a motion to vacate his sentence under § 2255, alleging ineffective assistance of counsel.
Section 2255 provides a federal inmate with a limited opportunity to challenge the constitutionality, legality, or jurisdictional basis of a sentence imposed by the court. This collateral relief is an extraordinary remedy, reserved for violations of constitutional rights that could not have been raised on direct appeal. United States v. Apfel, 97 F.3d 1074, 1076 (8th Cir. 1996). When considering a § 2255 motion, a court may hold an evidentiary hearing. See 28 U.S.C. § 2255(b). A hearing is not required, however, when "(1) the petitioner's allegations, accepted as true, would not entitle the petitioner to relief, or (2) the allegations cannot be accepted as true because they are contradicted by the record, inherently incredible, or conclusions rather than statements of fact." Sanders v. United States, 341 F.3d 720, 722 (8th Cir. 2003) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Here, no evidentiary hearing is required.
I. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel
Colton raises five arguments in support of his ineffective assistance of counsel claim. To prevail on a § 2255 motion based on ineffective assistance of counsel, Colton must meet both prongs of the test set forth in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984). First, Colton must show that his counsel's performance was so deficient that it was objectively unreasonable. Id. at 687-88. Because "[t]here are countless ways to provide effective assistance in any given case" and different attorneys "would not defend a particular client in the same way, " the court reviews the performance of defense counsel with significant deference. Id. at 689. There is a "strong presumption that counsel's conduct falls within the range of reasonable professional assistance." Id . ...