Frazier v. USA-2255
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge Richard D. Bennett on 8/1/2022. (kb3s, Deputy Clerk)
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IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF MARYLAND
JAMES MARTEL FRAZIER,
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
Civil Action No. RDB-21-2235
Criminal Action No. RDB-19-0209
Petitioner James Martel Frazier (“Frazier” or “Petitioner”) was arrested in April 2019
for his involvement in a multi-defendant drug conspiracy responsible for trafficking large
amounts of narcotics in Maryland and Delaware. (Plea Ag’t 11, ECF No. 69.) On November
12, 2019, Frazier pled guilty to (1) conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute
heroin (100 grams or more), fentanyl (40 grams or more), cocaine (500 grams or more), and
crack cocaine (28 grams or more); (2) possession with intent to distribute heroin (100 grams
or more), cocaine (500 grams or more), and crack cocaine (28 grams or more); and (3)
possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. (Id. at 2–3.) On February
10, 2020, he was sentenced to 135 months’ imprisonment. (J. 1-2, ECF No. 87.)
On July 12, 2021, Frazier filed a Motion to Vacate Sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
2255. In support of this motion, Frazier claims he received ineffective assistance of counsel
from his former attorney, Mr. Christopher Nieto, throughout his defense. (Mot. Vacate 4,
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ECF 134.) The parties’ submissions have been reviewed and no hearing is necessary. See Local
Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2021). For the reasons set forth below, Petitioner’s motion is DENIED.
Throughout 2018, law enforcement with the Dorchester County Narcotics Task Force
(DCNTF) and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) conducted an investigation into the
trafficking of significant amounts of narcotics. (Plea Ag’t 11.) During the investigation, law
enforcement officials employed a range of investigative techniques, “including physical and
electronic surveillance, search warrants, and court-authorized wiretaps.” (Id.) The investigation
revealed that Frazier had significant involvement in the organization. (Id.) Accordingly,
investigators obtained judicial authorization to conduct wiretaps of his communications. (Id.)
“Intercepted communications, as well as physical and electronic surveillance of [Frazier] and
his co-conspirators, showed that [he] personally distributed significant quantities of drugs and
that he worked with others, including his co-defendants, to distribute drugs on the conspiracy's
On February 23, 2019, investigators executed a series of search warrants at locations
including an apartment in Federalsburg, Maryland, and two residences in Seaford, Delaware,
in an attempt to recover drugs and drug-trafficking proceeds. (Id.) The searches collectively
resulted in the seizure of over 250 grams of controlled substances containing a mixture of
fentanyl and heroin; over 250 grams of cocaine base ("crack" cocaine); over 400 grams of
methamphetamine; and over a kilogram of cocaine. (Id.) Additionally, four firearms were
recovered from the Delaware residences. (Id.) Frazier was indicted and arrested in April 2019.
(Initial Appearance, ECF 10.)
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On November 12, 2019, Frazier pled guilty to all charges in the indictment, including
(1) conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute heroin (100 grams or more),
fentanyl (40 grams or more), cocaine (500 grams or more), and crack cocaine (28 grams or
more); (2) possession with intent to distribute heroin (100 grams or more), cocaine (500 grams
or more), and crack cocaine (28 grams or more); and (3) possession of a firearm in furtherance
of a drug trafficking crime. (ECF No. 69 at 1.) In his Plea Agreement, Frazier admitted that
he was a “significant trafficker of the aforementioned drugs,” that he “personally distributed
significant quantities of drugs,” and that he “worked with others . . . to distribute drugs on the
conspiracy’s behalf.” Frazier further admitted that he possessed two of the firearms discovered
in the searches in furtherance of the conspiracy’s drug trafficking activities. (Id. at 11.)
The advisory United States Sentencing Guidelines recommended a sentence of 12.5 to
15.5 years’ imprisonment on the conspiracy and possession charges, with an additional 5 years’
imprisonment for the violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c), to be served consecutively. (Id. at 3) In
Frazier’s Plea Agreement, the Government agreed to a sentence of 135 months, or 11.25 years,
just below the advisory Guidelines range. (Id. at 6–7.) Frazier accepted the plea agreement
pursuant to Rule 11(c)(1)(C) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. Fed. R. Crim. P.
11(c)(1)(C). This Court imposed the agreed-upon sentence on February 10, 2020. (J. 1-2, ECF
On February 10, 2021, Petitioner filed a Motion For Enlargement of Time to File Writ
of Habeas Corpus, on the basis that his newly-retained attorney, Mr. Harry Rifkin, required
addition time to review his case. (ECF No. 124.) This Court approved the requested 30-day
extension by marginal order that same day. (ECF No. 125.) On July 12, 2021, four months
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after the extended deadline passed, Petitioner filed the instant Motion to Vacate pursuant to
28 U.S.C. § 2255 (ECF No. 134), asserting that he had received ineffective assistance from his
former counsel, Mr. Christopher Nieto, throughout his defense.
Petitioner’s motion is now ripe for review.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, a prisoner in custody may move to vacate, set aside, or correct
his sentence on four grounds: (1) “the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution
or laws of the United States,” (2) “the court was without jurisdiction to impose the sentence,”
(3) “the sentence was in excess of the maximum authorized by law,” or (4) “the sentence ‘is
otherwise subjected to collateral attack.’” Hill v. United States, 368 U.S. 424, 426–27 (1962)
(quoting 28 U.S.C. § 2255). “[A]n error of law does not provide a basis for collateral attack
unless the claimed error constituted a ‘fundamental defect which inherently results in a
complete miscarriage of justice.’” United States v. Addonizio, 442 U.S. 178, 185 (1979) (quoting
Hill, 368 U.S. at 428). The scope of a § 2255 collateral attack is far narrower than an appeal,
and “a collateral challenge may not do service for an appeal.” United States v. Frady, 456 U.S.
152, 165 (1982). Thus, procedural default will bar consideration under § 2255 of any matters
that “could have been but were not pursued on direct appeal, [unless] the movant show[s]
cause and actual prejudice resulting from the errors of which he complains.” United States v.
Mikalajunas, 186 F.3d 490, 492–93 (4th Cir. 2010).
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Petitioner brings the instant § 2255 motion on the basis of Constitutionally deficient
ineffective assistance of counsel. Frazier’s motion is untimely, and he presents no argument
for an equitable tolling of the deadline. Even if this motion were timely filed, the Petitioner’s
claim of ineffective assistance is meritless. Petitioner presents neither evidence nor substantive
argument that sufficiently demonstrates objectively poor performance by his attorney. Further,
Petitioner fails to demonstrate any prejudice that he allegedly experienced as a result of
counsel’s allegedly deficient performance. In light of these findings, Petitioner’s motion to
vacate under § 2255 must be denied.
Petitioner’s Motion is Untimely
As an initial matter, Frazier’s Motion to Vacate was filed on July 12, 2021, well after
the one-year limitations period imposed by law and the 30-day extension granted by this Court.
(ECF No. 134.) Motions to Vacate, Set Aside or Correct under 28 U.S.C. § 2255(f) must
generally be filed within one year of “the date the judgment of conviction becomes final.” 28
U.S.C. §§ 2255(f)(1); see also 28 U.S.C. 2244(d); Rouse v. Lee, 339 F.3d 238, 253 (4th Cir. 2003)
(“[S]ection 2244(d) . . . provides a 1-year limitation period and explicitly specifies conditions
under which that period should be tolled.”). “A criminal conviction becomes final at the end
of the appellate process—i.e., when the time for a direct appeal expires and the defendant has
not noticed an appeal.” United States v. Oliver, 878 F.3d 120, 125 (4th Cir. 2017). Judgment was
entered against Frazier on February 10, 2020, and he did not timely appeal.1 (ECF No. 87.)
Frazier filed an untimely Notice of Appeal on August 10, 2020, well after judgment became final in
this case. (ECF No. 107.) This Court granted a motion to voluntarily dismiss the appeal on January 6,
2021. (ECF No. 116.)
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Accordingly, Frazier’s judgment of conviction became final two weeks later, on February 24,
2020, Fed. R. App. P. 4(b)(1)(A), placing his deadline to file a 28 U.S.C. § 2255 motion on
February 24, 2021.
On February 10, 2021, Frazier requested, and this Court granted, a 30-day extension to
file his writ of habeas corpus on the basis that his newly-retained attorney required additional
time to review the merits of his case. (Mot. Enlargement Time, ECF No. 124; Ord., ECF No.
125.) Petitioner’s motion attested that his attorney “estimates that he will be able to complete
this process in 30 days,” and requested an extension until March 12, 2021 on this basis. (Mot
Enlargement Time 3.) Despite this, Petitioner’s Motion to Vacate was not filed until July 12,
2021, precisely four months after this extended deadline. Petitioner did not request any further
extensions, and neither the Frazier nor his attorney have provided any excuse for this delay.
Accordingly, Petitioner’s motion is untimely.
Since the motion is untimely filed, Petitioner must show that the principles of equitable
tolling apply to avoid dismissal. The Supreme Court established in Holland v. Florida, 560 U.S.
631 (2010), that “a ‘petitioner’ is ‘entitled to equitable tolling’ only if he shows ‘(1) that he has
been pursuing his rights diligently, and (2) that some extraordinary circumstance stood in his
way’ and prevented timely filing.” 560 U.S. at 649 (quoting Pace v. DiGuglielmo, 544 U.S. 408,
418 (2005)). In the Fourth Circuit, “extraordinary circumstances” are limited to “those rare
instances where—due to circumstances external to the party’s own conduct—it would be
unconscionable to enforce the limitation period against the party and gross injustice would
result.” Rouse v. Lee, 339 F.3d 238, 246 (4th Cir. 2003) (en banc). Accordingly, “an otherwise
time-barred petitioner must present ‘(1) extraordinary circumstances, (2) beyond his control
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or external to his own conduct, (3) that prevented him from filing on time.’” United States v.
Sosa, 364 F.3d 507, 512 (4th Cir. 2004) (citing Rouse, 339 F.3d at 246).
Generally, “attorney error, miscalculation, inadequate research, or other mistakes have
not been found to rise to the ‘extraordinary’ circumstances required for equitable
tolling.” Rouse, 339 F.3d at 248; accord Harris v. Hutchinson, 209 F.3d 325, 331 (4th Cir. 2000)
(“[A] mistake by a party’s counsel in interpreting a statute of limitations does not present [an]
extraordinary circumstance beyond the party’s control.”). In Rouse v. Lee, 339 F.3d 238 (4th
Cir. 2003), a North Carolina jury convicted the defendant of first-degree murder, for which he
was sentenced to death following a capital sentencing proceeding. 339 F.3d at 241.2 Rouse
filed a habeas petition in the United States District Court for the Middle District of North
Carolina, which dismissed the petition as untimely. Id. On appeal, petitioner argued that
equitable tolling applied, arguing that the “‘gross negligence and unprofessional conduct’ of
his former habeas corpus counsel . . . constitute[d] an extraordinary circumstance beyond his
control that prevented him from filing on time.” Id. at 248. The Fourth Circuit rejected this
argument, holding that counsel’s errors were not “external” to the defendant, “not because he
participated in, ratified, or condoned their decisions, but because they were his agents, and
their actions were attributable to him under standard principles of agency.” Id. at 249 (citing
Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 753–54 (1991); Murray v. Carrier, 477 U.S. 478, 488 (1986);
Irwin v. Dep’t of Veterans Affairs, 498 U.S. 89, 92 (1990)).3
The defendant in Rouse was also convicted of armed robbery and attempted rape. Id. at 241.
The defendant further argued that the nature of his sentence and the strength of his underlying claim
from the original case should impact the equitable tolling analysis. Id. at 250. However, the Fourth
Circuit emphasized that the merits of the claim have no bearing on the equitable tolling analysis:
“Allowing consideration of the merits of time-barred claims to creep into the equitable tolling analysis
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Petitioner makes no mention at all of equitable tolling in the Instant Motion. (ECF No.
134.) In his Reply to the Government, Petitioner references equitable tolling, but provides no
substantive argument as to what the “extraordinary circumstances” were that prevented him
from filing on time. (ECF No. 140 at 3-4.) Rather, Petitioner simply recapitulates his argument
for ineffective assistance of counsel, arguing that he “did not know” or “was unaware” of the
putative incompetence of Mr. Nieto. (Id.) As in Rouse, the substance of Petitioner’s underlying
claim has no bearing here. Cf. 399 F.3d at 250.
Moreover, even if Petitioner discovered his claims six months after his sentencing, he
could have submitted his motion on time. In his sworn affidavit, Petitioner contends that he
was not aware of the incompetence until he “was incarcerated and had an opportunity to do
legal research… he did not discover these claims for at least six months after he was in prison.”
(Pet’rs’ Aff. at ¶ 9, ECF No. 134-1.) The record further reflects that the Petitioner was aware
of his claim before the one-year deadline, as he retained Mr. Rifkin to file the instant motion,
and requested a thirty-day extension. (ECF No. 124 at 1-2.) Petitioner should have informed
Mr. Rifkin immediately as to his concerns about ineffective assistance; there is clear evidence
Petitioner failed to do so, as the initial motion for extension to file a habeas corpus petition
makes no mention of ineffective counsel, referencing only the issue of search warrants. (ECF
No. 124 at ¶3.) This evidence suggests that Petitioner did not “pursu[e] his rights diligently.”
Holland, 560 U.S. at 649. As such, the evidence is substantial enough for the Court to rule out
equitable tolling in this case.
lets petitioners effectively circumvent the statute of limitations because the merits of their claims will
always be considered.” Id. at 251.
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Petitioner has Failed to Establish Ineffective Assistance of Counsel
Even if the Court were to accept Petitioner’s untimely motion, he has still failed to
present a cognizable argument for ineffective assistance of counsel. A freestanding ineffective
assistance of counsel claim may be properly asserted for the first time in a § 2255 motion.
United States v. DeFusco, 949 F.2d 114, 120–21 (4th Cir. 1991). To set forth a Sixth Amendment
claim for ineffective assistance of counsel, Petitioner must satisfy the two-prong test set forth
in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984), which requires the petitioner to show: (1) “that
counsel’s performance was deficient;” and (2) “that the deficient performance prejudiced the
defense.” 466 U.S. at 687; accord United States v. Rangel, 781 F.3d 736, 742 (4th Cir. 2015)
(“[J]udicial scrutiny of counsel’s performance must be highly deferential.” (quoting Strickland,
466 U.S. at 689)). When applying Strickland, it is unnecessary to address both prongs if the
petitioner makes “an insufficient showing on one.” Moore v. Hardee, 723 F.3d 488, 500 (4th Cir.
2013) (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 697). Accordingly, ineffective assistance of counsel claims
may be denied solely on a deficiency in either the “prejudice” prong or the “performance”
prong. See Strickland, 466 U.S. at 697.
Frazier’s Motion to Vacate asserts in conclusory fashion that Mr. Nieto made “grave
and serious” failures to assert “meritorious defenses to several of the charges,” which “would
have resulted in a much more favorable plea agreement and a significantly lighter sentence.”
(ECF No. 134 at 4.) However, he offers no evidence or authority in support of this assertion.
Petitioner fails to specify what defenses his attorney failed to raise, how those defenses might
have affected the charges against him, or how those defenses may have influenced his decision
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to plead guilty or his resulting sentence. As such, Frazier satisfies neither the performance nor
the prejudice prong of Strickland.
A. Deficient Performance
Frazier alleges that his attorney committed several errors that affected the outcome of
his criminal case. The “performance” prong requires a showing that counsel’s representation
fell below an “objective standard of reasonableness.” Id. at 688. In making this determination,
this Court applies “a strong presumption that counsel’s conduct falls within the wide range of
reasonable professional assistance.” Id. at 688–89; see Yarbrough v. Johnson, 520 F.3d 329, 337
(4th Cir. 2008) (highlighting importance of avoiding “the distorting effects of hindsight”
(quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 689)). Counsel’s performance must be “evaluated from
counsel’s perspective at the time of the alleged error and in light of all the circumstances, and
the standard of reasonableness is highly deferential.” United States v. Roane, 378 F.3d 382, 404–
05 (4th Cir. 2004) (quoting Kimmelman v. Morrison, 477 U.S. 365, 381 (1986)). To prevail, a
defendant must show that “counsel made errors so serious that counsel was not functioning
as the ‘counsel’ guaranteed to the defendant in the Sixth Amendment.” Id. at 687–91.
In an affidavit submitted in support of his motion, Frazier alleges a flurry of deficiencies
in his defense attorney’s performance. These arguments may be distilled into three claims: (1)
that Mr. Nieto failed to attend a hearing on a motion to suppress evidence brought by codefendant Mr. Eley; (2) that he failed to challenge several evidentiary decisions; (3) that Mr.
Nieto did not research and inform him of an affidavit filed in Delaware by Doneisha Holland,
the mother of Mr. Frazier’s child. (ECF No. 134-1.) However, Frazier offers no evidence in
support of these statements beyond the conclusory allegations in his affidavit, and he cites no
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authority demonstrating how these incidents render Mr. Nieto’s assistance constitutionally
deficient. (ECF No. 134.)
As to the first claim, Frazier fails to explain how physical attendance at Mr. Eley’s
suppression hearing could have affected Mr. Nieto’s defensive strategy. Petitioner mentions
in passing that Mr. Nieto could have filed a motion to suppress after surveillance presented at
Mr. Eley’s hearing did not observe Frazier physically pass a bag of drugs to Mr. Eley, but
Petitioner provides no explanation as to why Mr. Nieto’s choice not to file a motion
constitutes performance deficiency. (Pet’rs’ Mot. at 3, ECF No. 140.) Frazier was already under
investigation as the suspected leader of a drug trafficking organization; officers witnessed Mr.
Eley meet with Mr. Frazier, enter his vehicle, and emerge with a package that was subsequently
determined to be a fentanyl/ heroin mixture upon its confiscation. (ECF No. 54 at 2-3.)
Additionally, all motions to suppress addressed during Mr. Eley’s suppression hearing were
denied. (ECF No. 59; ECF No. 60.) As such, Mr. Nieto’s absence at Mr. Eley’s hearing does
not place his performance below an “objective standard of reasonableness.” Strickland at 688.
The second claim encompasses several alleged “failures,” by Mr. Nieto, none of which
fall outside the “wide range of reasonable professional assistance” available to attorneys. Id.
First, Frazier argues that Mr. Nieto “failed to challenge” Petitioner’s possession of guns and
drugs found during the execution of the search warrants. (ECF No. 134, ¶ 2.) Second, Frazier
asserts that Mr. Nieto could have moved to suppress drug evidence as other individuals besides
Frazier had keys to one of the residences that was searched. (Id.) Third, Frazier claims without
evidence that the conspiracy charge was wholly baseless, and that Mr. Nieto failed to challenge
the possession of drugs found in an Acura that Frazier “did not own or drive.” (Id. at ¶ 3, 7.)
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In making these arguments, Frazier offers virtually no insight as to how Mr. Nieto could have
reasonably challenged the weapons or drug possession, making only a vague claim in his Reply
that a lack of fingerprints on some of the guns constituted grounds for a suppression hearing.
(ECF No. 140 at 3.) In sum, Frazier suggests that Mr. Nieto should have attempted to suppress
several pieces of evidence that Frazier admitted to in his signed plea agreement, based on
highly tenuous potential issues. (ECF No. 69 at 11.) These conclusory arguments fail to rebut
the “strong presumption that counsel's conduct falls within the wide range of reasonable
professional assistance.” Strickland, 466 U.S. 688 at 689. Mr. Nieto’s failure to pursue
suppression of these evidentiary points on the grounds presented does not place him below
objective standards of reasonableness. Id at 688-89.
Third, and finally, Petitioner contends that Mr. Nieto failed to inform him of the
Affidavit of Doneisha Holland, which claimed that drugs found in her house were hers, and
not Frazier’s. (ECF No. 134-1, ¶ 6.) Once again, Petitioner fails to specify as to how this
“failing” placed Mr. Nieto below an objective standard of competence. In fact, Petitioner even
notes that most of the drugs he was charged with possessing were found elsewhere and makes
no argument as to the significance of the affidavit or how it might have affected his defense,
offering only a conclusory assertion that it would have been “helpful.” (ECF No. 134 at 3.)
Therefore, Mr. Nieto’s lack of reference to Ms. Holland does not reflect on his performance,
and certainly does not place it below an objective standard of reasonableness. Strickland, 466
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Even if counsel’s performance were constitutionally deficient, Frazier fails to show
prejudice. The “prejudice” prong requires the petitioner to demonstrate that counsel’s alleged
errors deprived him of a fair trial. Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687. “To satisfy the second prong, a
petitioner must show that ‘there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel’s [alleged]
errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different.’” Mahdi v. Stirling, 20 F.4th 846,
894 (4th Cir. 2021) (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 694). Additionally, a petitioner faces a
greater burden when he alleges ineffective assistance of counsel after a guilty plea has been
entered. Hooper v. Garraghty, 845 F.2d 471, 475 (4th Cir. 1988). In such a case, petitioner “must
show that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel’s errors, he would not have
pleaded guilty and would have insisted on going to trial.” Id. (quoting Hill v. Lockhart, 474 U.S.
52, 59 (1985)); Fields v. Att’y Gen., 956 F.2d 1290, 1299 (4th Cir. 1992).
In Fields v. Attorney General, 956 F.2d 1290 (4th Cir. 1992), a defendant who was
convicted of daytime housebreaking following a guilty plea filed a habeas petition, alleging that
his defense counsel had a conflict of interest that culminated in his advice to plead guilty. 956
F.2d at 1291, 1298. The District of Maryland denied the petition, and the Fourth Circuit
affirmed, concluding that the petitioner had failed to show prejudice, as his plea agreement
was voluntarily and intelligently made. Id at 1229. 4 The court observed that Fields was twice
asked whether anyone had forced, coerced, or threatened him into pleading guilty, and that he
The Fields Court also held that the petitioner had not satisfied the “performance” prong, as Firlds
had commented under oath: “I am very pleased with my counsel.” Id. at 1229. “Absent clear and
convincing evidence to the contrary, a defendant is bound by the representations he makes under oath
during a plea colloquy.” Id.
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twice answered in the negative. Id. at 1299. The voluntary character of the defendant’s plea
bargain was further evidenced by the fact that the plea agreement was favorable to him: “His
punitive exposure, had he been convicted at trial, would have been twenty years' imprisonment
on each count; instead, he was sentenced, effectively, to a total of five years.” Id. at 1299.
Moreover, Fields conceded that, even with competent counsel, he would not have proceeded
to trial. Id. at 1297.
The same is true in this case. Frazier rarely references prejudice in his filings at all;
Petitioner nowhere demonstrates, or even alleges, that he would have gone to trial absent Mr.
Nieto’s putative incompetence. Frazier accepted the plea agreement and the agreed upon
sentence pursuant to Rule 11(c)(1)(C) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. Fed. R.
Crim. P. 11(c)(1)(C). His signed Plea Agreement certifies: “I have read this Agreement,
including the Sealed Supplement, and carefully reviewed every part of it with my attorney. I
understand it and I voluntarily agree to it.” (ECF No. 69 at 10.) Moreover, during his plea
colloquy, Frazier affirmed that he understood the plea agreement, that his agreement was
voluntary, and that he was satisfied with his counsel’s performance. (Sentencing Hr’g at 4-5,
ECF No. 115 *SEALED*.) Here, as in Fields, these considerations strongly suggest that
Frazier’s plea agreement was voluntary.
Rather than contend that he would have proceeded to trial absent the putative
deficiencies, Frazier insufficiently alleges that Mr. Nieto’s incompetence resulted in a less
favorable agreement than he might have otherwise entered. (ECF No. 140 at 2, 4.) This theory
is speculative and unsupported by the record. Only once does the Petitioner mention prejudice
connected to a specific evidentiary matter, claiming that he would not have accepted a plea
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deal if he had been aware that others possessed keys to a searched house. (ECF No. 140 at 4.)
However, Frazier’s filings do not explain how or why this would have affected his willingness
to sign the plea agreement. Even assuming arguendo that Mr. Nieto rendered deficient
performance, Frazier can hardly claim that he was prejudiced by a sentence that fell well below
the advisory Guidelines given the strength of the evidence against him. Frazier faced a
minimum of 15 years and a maximum of life in prison if convicted—a plea deal that secured
an 11 year sentence can hardly be considered prejudicial to Frazier’s defense. As the filings
include neither argument nor evidence that Frazier would have gone to trial, Petitioner fails to
establish prejudice under Fourth Circuit precedent. Fields at 1297.
As Frazier agreed when he signed his guilty plea, “if this case had proceeded to trial,
[the Government] would have proven [the charges] beyond a reasonable doubt.” (ECF No.
69 at 11.) Acknowledging the voluntariness of Frazier’s sworn statements, and the lack of any
evidence refuting those statements in either the instant motion or his reply to the government,
Petitioner has failed to establish prejudice resulting from the facts discussed in his motion.
Accordingly, Petitioner’s Motion to Vacate Sentence (ECF No. 134) is DENIED.
For the reasons stated above, Petitioner's Motion to Vacate Sentence under 28 U.S.C.
§ 2255 (ECF No. 134) is DENIED. Pursuant to Rule 11(a) of the Rules Governing
Proceedings under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, the court is required to issue or deny a certificate of
appealability when it enters a final order adverse to the applicant. A certificate of appealability
is a “jurisdictional prerequisite” to an appeal from the court's earlier order. United States v.
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Hadden, 475 F.3d 652, 659 (4th Cir. 2007). A certificate of appealability may issue “only if the
applicant has made a substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right.” 28 U.S.C. §
2253(c)(2). Where the court denies petitioner's motion on its merits, a petitioner satisfies this
standard by demonstrating that reasonable jurists would find the court's assessment of the
constitutional claims debatable or wrong. See Slack v. McDaniel, 529 U.S. 473, 484 (2000); see
also Miller-El v. Cockrell, 537 U.S. 322, 336-38 (2003). Because reasonable jurists would not find
Frazier’s claims debatable, a certificate of appealability is DENIED as to Petitioner’s Motion
to Vacate Sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255.
A Separate Order Follows.
August 1, 2022
Richard D. Bennett
United States District Judge
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