United States District Court, W.D. Washington
C. COUGHENOUR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter comes before the Court on Petitioner Huy Van
Tran's motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his
sentence under 28 U.S.C. section 2255 (Dkt. No. 1). Having
thoroughly considered the parties' briefing and the
relevant record, the Court finds oral argument unnecessary
and hereby DENIES the motion for the reasons explained
pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute
controlled substances in violation of 12 U.S.C. section
841(a)(1), 841(b)(1)(B), and 846. United States v. Huy
Van Tran, No. CR15-0120-JCC, Dkt. No. 603 (W.D. Wash.
Mar. 25, 2016). The Court sentenced him to 96 months of
imprisonment. Id. at Dkt. Nos. 1003, 1004.
Petitioner appealed his conviction, but voluntarily dismissed
the appeal on the advice of counsel. Id. at Dkt. No.
1042; (Dkt. No. 1 at 21). He now moves to correct his
sentence under section 2255.
state a cognizable section 2255 claim, a petitioner must
assert that he or she is in custody in violation of the
Constitution or laws of the United States, that the district
court lacked jurisdiction, that the sentence exceeded the
maximum allowed by law, or that the sentence is otherwise
subject to collateral attack. 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a). A
habeas petitioner bears the burden of showing by a
preponderance of the evidence that an error occurred. See
Johnson v. Zerbst, 304 U.S. 458, 468-69 (1938);
Simmons v. Blodgett, 110 F.3d 39, 41-42 (9th Cir.
1997); United States v. Doriety, Case No.
C16-0924-JCC, Dkt. No. 12 at 5-6 (W.D. Wash. 2016).
Petitioner's section 2255 petition collaterally attacks
his sentence. He seeks a sentence reduction based on the
following allegations: (1) the Government breached the plea
agreement by requesting an obstruction enhancement at
sentencing, and (2) defense counsel provided ineffective
assistance by failing to recognize and challenge this breach.
(Dkt. No. 1 at 19-23.)
Breach of Plea Agreement
determine whether a breach of a plea agreement has occurred,
the Court looks to what the defendant “reasonably
understood” when he entered the plea agreement.
U.S. v. Arnett, 628 F.2d 1162, 1164 (9th Cir. 1979).
Petitioner asserts that the plea agreement was, at best,
ambiguous and prohibited the Government from arguing for a
sentencing enhancement for obstruction of justice based on
evidence it knew about at the time of the plea. (Dkt. No. 1
plea agreement is not ambiguous. On its face it allows the
Government to present arguments at sentencing regarding the
applicability of the Sentencing Guidelines, specifically
“including an enhancement for obstruction.” (Dkt.
No. 1 at 41); see United States v. Ajugwo, 82 F.3d
925, 928 (9th Cir. 1996) (if a plea agreement is clear on its
face, a court will not look to extrinsic evidence). The
Government agreed not to prosecute Petitioner for
additional conduct known at the time of the plea or arising
out of the investigation. (Id.) Defendant's
argument that this provision bars a sentencing
enhancement is patently unreasonable when the
enhancement was clearly contemplated in plea negotiations and
explicitly included in the agreement. Therefore, no breach
occurred, and Petitioner is entitled to no relief on this
Ineffective Assistance of Counsel
establish ineffective assistance of counsel, Petitioner must
show both that counsel's performance was objectively
unreasonable and that the deficient performance prejudiced
the petitioner's defense. Strickland v.
Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 686 (1984). Petitioner argues
that his counsel acted unreasonably by failing to raise a
breach of the plea agreement or object to the enhancement at
sentencing. (Dkt. No. 23.) Counsel's failure to
investigate or argue a meritless issue does not constitute
ineffective assistance of counsel. Baumann v. United
States, 692 F.2d 565, 571 (9th Cir. 1982). Given the
unambiguous language of the plea agreement, Petitioner's
breach of plea theory was clearly meritless. Supra
section II.A. Therefore, Petitioner's attorneys acted
reasonably in deciding not to object to the obstruction
enhancement at sentencing or on appeal, and Petitioner is
entitled to no relief on this ground.
record before the Court conclusively shows that Petitioner is
entitled to no relief. Therefore, holding an evidentiary
hearing or seeking additional briefing would serve no
purpose, and Petitioner's request for collateral relief
should be denied without conducting an evidentiary hearing.
United States v. Quan, 789 F.2d 711, 715 (9th Cir.
1986); United States v. Moore, 921 F.2d 207, 211
(9th Cir. 1990).