Chauhan v. USA - 2255
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge Paul W. Grimm on 6/7/2021. (dg3s, Deputy Clerk)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF MARYLAND
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
Case No. 18-cr-214-PWG
Before the Court is Defendant Kamlesh Chauhan’s motion to vacate his sentence under 28
U.S.C. § 2255 and motion for appointment of counsel under 18 U.S.C. § 3006A(a)(2)(B), ECF
No. 47. Mr. Chauhan is proceeding as a self-represented litigant after pleading guilty on November
26, 2018 to one count of unlawful sexual contact in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2244(b). Mr. Chauhan
was represented by counsel through his sentencing hearing, where he received a sentence of 10
months’ incarceration, followed by 12 months of supervised release. Judgment, ECF No. 38.
Mr. Chauhan’s term of incarceration ended on March 11, 2020. Bop.gov/inmateloc (last
visited June 7, 2021). His 12-month term of supervised release has since expired. Despite no
longer being subject to custody, because he filed his motion while incarcerated, Mr. Chauhan
satisfies the custodial prerequisite to a habeas corpus petition. § 2255(a); see Carafas v. LaValee,
391 U.S. 234, 237–38 (1968) (holding that despite state habeas petitioner’s sentence expiration,
his petition, filed while incarcerated, was not moot; “once the federal jurisdiction has attached in
District Court, it is not defeated by the release of the petitioner prior to completion of proceedings
on such application”); Maleng v. Cook, 490 U.S. 488, 490–91 (1989) (“We have interpreted the
statutory language as requiring that the habeas petitioner be ‘in custody’ under the conviction or
sentence under attack at the time his petition is filed.”) (citing Carafas, 391 U.S. at 238); Wolfe v.
Clarke, 718 F.3d 277, 286 n. 10 (4th Cir. 2013) (citing Carafas and Maleng with approval in noting
vacatur of a petitioner’s conviction did not deprive the district court of jurisdiction where petition
was filed while petitioner was in custody); Woodfolk v. Maynard, 857 F.3d 531, 539 (4th Cir.
2017) (“It is well settled that the ‘in custody’ requirement applies at the time a petition is filed.);
see also Torzala v. United States, 545 F.3d 517, 521 (7th Cir. 2008) (“That Torzala is no longer in
custody or on supervised release, and had neither status at the time the district court denied his
motion, does not preclude out review. Torzala was in custody when he filed the motion, and that
is all that is required to be ‘in custody’ under the statute.”) (citing Spencer v. Kemna, 523 U.S. 1,
The basis of Mr. Chauhan’s § 2255 motion is twofold: he alleges counsel twice rendered
ineffective assistance in violation of the Sixth Amendment, first in counsel’s failure to properly
advise him of the elements of the offense to which he pleaded guilty, and second for counsel’s
failure to object to a two-point increase to Mr. Chauhan’s offense level (from 10 to 12) at the
sentencing hearing. Def.’s Mot. 4–5. Mr. Chauhan also seeks appointment of counsel, stating he
is unable to present the claims himself. Def.’s Mot. 6.1 The Government filed an opposition to
the motion, ECF No. 52, and Mr. Chauhan a reply, ECF No. 55. I have reviewed all the materials
and find a hearing unnecessary. See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2018). Because Mr. Chauhan failed
to show the requisite prejudice on either of his ineffective assistance claims, see Strickland v.
Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 694 (1984), his § 2255 motion must be denied. I will also deny his
motion to appoint counsel for the reasons stated below.
Mr. Chauhan also moves for release on bail pending resolution of his motion, Def.’s Mot.
6, which is denied as moot in light of the sentence’s expiration. Since the filing of his § 2255
motion, Mr. Chauhan also had filed for a stay of execution of the Judgment, ECF No. 56. The
Government correctly states that no statute or rule permits such relief, and therefore the motion for
a stay is denied. Gov’t Opp. at 1, ECF No. 57.
The facts of this case, as set forth in the plea agreement, are as follows:
At all relevant times, the victim (“V-1”) was a research entomologist for the
Department of Agriculture, assigned to the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center
("BARC") located in Beltsville, Maryland.
The Defendant, KAMLESH
CHAUHAN ("CHAUHAN") was also a research entomologist at the same facility.
Some time after they both started working at BARC in 2001, V-1 and CHAUHAN
began working together, and CHAUHAN became the V-1's supervisor.
On multiple occasions, CHAUHAN kissed V-1 without V-1's consent, sometimes
asking V-1 to come into his office and sometimes committing the actions in a
laboratory. At other times, CHAUHAN kissed V-1's breast, placed his hand
beneath V-1's clothing, and pushed V-1 against a wall where he kissed V-1 on the
face, all without V-1's consent. V-1 repeatedly told CHAUHAN that V-1 did not
want to have any such contact with him.
On March 30, 2018, V-1 was in CHAUHAN's office. CHAUHAN told V-1 to stand
up for a hug and tried to kiss V-1. CHAUHAN touched V-l's right breast and tried
to remove V-1's shirt. V-1 pulled the shirt back down and left.
BARC is located on lands within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of
the United States.
Attachment A to Plea Agreement, Stipulation of Facts, ECF No. 23-1.
Mr. Chauhan was arraigned on May 14, 2018, after being indicted on three counts of
abusive sexual contact. Indictment, ECF No. 1; Arraignment, ECF No. 15. As the Government
states, the case resolved in a plea agreement under Fed. R. Crim. P. 11(c)(1)(C) with a joint
agreement to recommend the Court impose a sentence of 10 months imprisonment. Gov’t Opp. 2;
Plea Agreement, ECF No. 23. That agreement included a two-level increase to Mr. Chauhan’s
Sentencing Guidelines offense level due to the victim being in “supervisory control by the
defendant.” Plea Agreement 4, ¶ 6(c).
Mr. Chauhan’s petition hinges on language in the plea agreement setting forth the elements
of the offense. The plea agreement set out the elements as follows:
The elements of the offense to which the Defendant has agreed to plead guilty, and
which this Office would prove if the case went to trial, are as follows: That on or
about the time alleged in the Indictment, in the District of Maryland, the Defendant
(1) engaged in sexual contact; (2) acted knowingly when he engaged in that sexual
contact; (3) did so with the intent to abuse, humiliate, harass, degrade, or arouse or
gratify the sexual desire of any person; and (4) did so on lands within the special
maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States.
Plea Agreement at 1, ¶ 2. I conducted a thorough Rule 11 colloquy with Mr. Chauhan to ensure
he entered the plea knowingly, voluntarily, and with a full understanding of the agreement. After
being sworn, Mr. Chauhan acknowledged that he understood the agreement, had sufficient time to
discuss the agreement with his attorney, entered his plea voluntarily and without coercion, and had
had enough time to review the terms of the plea. Ex. 1 to Gov’t Opp. 2–5, Plea Hearing Transcript,
ECF No. 52-1. Additionally, the Government read the above statement of facts into the record.
Id. at 26–27. Mr. Chauhan admitted under oath that those facts were true, and that, had this case
proceeded to trial, the Government would have proved those facts beyond a reasonable doubt. Id.
Standard of Review
28 U.S.C. § 2255(a) permits a prisoner2 to file a motion to vacate, set aside or correct his
sentence on the ground that it “was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United
States . . . .” The petitioner must prove his case by a preponderance of the evidence. Miller v.
United States, 261 F.2d 546, 547 (4th Cir. 1958); Brown v. United States, Civil No. DKC-10-2569
Mr. Chauhan filed his motion while incarcerated and has since completed his sentence.
However, as noted, the custody prerequisite for a habeas petition is assessed at the time a petition
is filed and Mr. Chauhan therefore satisfies this requirement. See Woodfolk v. Maynard, 857 F.3d
531, 539 (4th Cir. 2017) (“It is well settled that the ‘in custody’ requirement applies at the time a
petition is filed.) (citing Carafas v. LaVallee, 391 U.S. 234, 238–39 (1968); Griffin v. Balt. Police
Dep’t, 804 F.3d 692, 697 (4th Cir. 2015)).
& Crim. No. DKC-08-529, 2013 WL 4562276, at *5 (D. Md. Aug. 27, 2013). If the court finds
for the prisoner, “the court shall vacate and set the judgment aside and shall discharge the prisoner
or resentence him or grant a new trial or correct the sentence as may appear appropriate.” 28 U.S.C.
§ 2255(b). Although “a pro se movant is entitled to have his arguments reviewed with appropriate
deference,” the Court may summarily deny the motion without a hearing “if the § 2255 motion,
along with the files and records of the case, conclusively shows that [the prisoner] is not entitled
to relief.” Brown, 2013 WL 4562276, at *5 (citing Gordon v. Leeke, 574 F.2d 1147, 1151–53 (4th
Cir.1978); 28 U.S.C. § 2255(b)).
To prevail on a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel as the alleged Constitutional
a petitioner must show that counsel’s performance was constitutionally deficient to
the extent that it fell below an objective standard of reasonableness, and that he was
prejudiced thereby. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687–91 (1984). In
making this determination, there is a strong presumption that counsel’s conduct was
within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance. Id. at 689; see also
Fields v. Attorney Gen. of Md., 956 F.2d 1290, 1297–99 (4th Cir. 1992).
Furthermore, the petitioner “bears the burden of proving Strickland prejudice.”
Fields, 956 F.2d at 1297. “If the petitioner fails to meet this burden, a reviewing
court need not consider the performance prong.” Fields, 956 F.2d at 1297 (citing
Strickland, 466 U.S. at 697). In considering the prejudice prong of the analysis, the
Court may not grant relief solely because the petitioner can show that, but for
counsel’s performance, the outcome would have been different. Sexton v. French,
163 F.3d 874, 882 (4th Cir. 1998). Rather, the Court “can only grant relief under .
. . Strickland if the ‘result of the proceeding was fundamentally unfair or
unreliable.’” Id. (quoting Lockhart v. Fretwell, 506 U.S. 364, 369 (1993)).
United States v. Lomax, Civil No. WMN-13-2375 & Crim. No. WMN-10-145, 2014 WL 1340065,
at *2 (D. Md. Apr. 2, 2014).
To show prejudice, the defendant must demonstrate “a reasonable probability that, but for
counsel’s unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different.” See
Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 694 (1984). A probability is reasonable if it is “sufficient
to undermine confidence in the outcome.” Id. Additionally, the defendant must show that “the
‘result of the proceeding was fundamentally unfair or unreliable.’” Lomax, 2014 WL 1340065, at
*2 (quoting Sexton v. French, 163 F.3d 874, 882 (4th Cir. 1998) (quoting Lockhart v. Fretwell,
506 U.S. 364, 369 (1993))); see also Lockhart, 506 U.S. at 369 (“[A]n analysis focusing solely on
mere outcome determination, without attention to whether the result of the proceeding was
fundamentally unfair or unreliable, is defective.”). If the defendant fails to show prejudice, the
Court need not consider the performance prong. Id.
1) Guilty Plea
The plea agreement in this case recited the elements of 18 U.S.C. § 2244(b) as follows:
on or about the time alleged in the Indictment, in the District of Maryland, the
Defendant (1) engaged in sexual contact; (2) acted knowingly when he engaged in
that sexual contact; (3) did so with the intent to abuse, humiliate, harass, degrade,
or arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person; and (4) did so on lands within
the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States.
Plea Agreement 1, ¶ 2, ECF No. 23. What’s missing from the agreement, Mr. Chauhan argues, is
the element that the conduct was done without the alleged victim’s permission. Def.’s Mot. 4
(citing United States v. Price, 2019 U.S. App. LEXIS 10814, at *15 (9th Cir. Apr. 12, 2019)). Mr.
Chauhan claims that had he known about the permission element, he would not have entered a
guilty plea and would instead have proceeded to trial, considering the voluminous evidence he
possessed indicating a consensual relationship between himself and the victim. Def.’s Mot. 1–2
(§ II. Statement of Relevant Facts detailing photographs of the victim with Mr. Chauhan).
The plain text of the statute3 instructs that a § 2244(b) conviction requires a lack of
permission on the victim’s part. But just because the statute notes the requirement that the conduct
occur without the victim’s permission, and that this language was missing from the plea agreement,
does not entitle Mr. Chauhan to relief. A viable starting point in determining the correct outcome
here is the Government’s invocation of the Fourth Circuit’s charge that “solemn declarations in
open court affirming a plea agreement . . . carry a strong presumption of verity, because courts
must be able to rely on the defendant’s statements made under oath” during a Rule 11 plea
proceeding. Gov’t Opp. 6 (citing United States v. Lemaster, 403 F.3d 216, 221 (4th Cir. 2005)).
When Mr. Chauhan entered his guilty plea on November 26, 2018, I reviewed the statement
of facts attached to the plea agreement with him in open court and—under oath—Mr. Chauhan
affirmed that the facts contained in that statement were true and accurate. Statement of Facts, ECF
No. 23-1. Included was the following statement: “[o]n multiple occasions, CHAUHAN kissed V1 without V-1’s consent . . . . At other times, CHAUHAN kissed V-1’s breast, placed his hand
beneath V-1’s clothing, and pushed V-1 against a wall where he kissed V-1 on the face, all without
V-1’s consent.” Id.
As Lemaster instructs, district courts should summarily dismiss “any § 2255 motion that
necessarily relies on allegations that contradict [a defendant’s] sworn statements.” Lemaster, 403
F.3d at 222. Contradicting the Rule 11 proceeding is precisely what Mr. Chauhan’s motion seeks
to accomplish and therefore it must be denied.
18 U.S.C. § 2244(b) states, in relevant part: “Whoever, in the special maritime and
territorial jurisdiction of the United States . . . knowingly engages in sexual contact with another
person without that other person’s permission shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more
than two years, or both.” (emphasis added).
As the Government correctly states, Mr. Chauhan “repeatedly agreed that the sexual acts
were non-consensual.” Gov’t Opp. 8; Statement of Facts, ECF No. 23-1, Presentence Investigation
Report at 4, ECF No. 37. To claim otherwise now, couched as an ineffective assistance claim for
failure to properly advise a defendant that his plea to the charge required proof that his sexual
contact with the victim was without her permission, when he admitted under oath that it was, is
Claims for ineffective assistance may be denied on the sole basis that a defendant fails to
show prejudice; upon such a finding, a court need not address the deficient performance prong.
Lomax, 2014 WL 1340065, at *2. Here, I find Mr. Chauhan has failed to establish any prejudice,
much less to do so by a preponderance of the evidence, as he is required to do. Miller, 261 F.2d
at 547. While Mr. Chauhan now claims that he would have proceeded to trial had counsel advised
him that the essential elements of the offense included the victim’s lack of permission, this
assertion is flatly contradicted by Mr. Chauhan’s repeated sworn statements that he did indeed
engage in the charged sexual abuse without the victim’s permission. Further, Mr. Chauhan’s
assertions that he possessed evidence to prove he had a consensual relationship in this case are
unconvincing. While it may be true that the victim and Mr. Chauhan had repeated consensual
encounters—a claim the Court does not credit but will assume is true for the sake of argument—
the facts of this case conclusively show that on multiple occasions, Mr. Chauhan engaged in sexual
acts with the victim without the victim’s permission. Mr. Chauhan swore that he did so and swore
that the Government would have proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt at trial. Accordingly,
the supposed prejudice here rings hollow, and the motion must be denied as to the first alleged
grounds of ineffective assistance.
2) Sentencing Hearing
For similar reasons, I find the ineffective assistance claim as to the two-level enhancement
fails. Mr. Chauhan cannot show that he suffered any prejudice from what he states was counsel’s
failure to object to application of the two-level enhancement under U.S.S.G. § 2A3.4(b)(3) for the
victim being in Mr. Chauhan’s “custody, care, or supervisory control.” Again, the agreed-upon
facts belie Mr. Chauhan’s claim: “Some time after they both started working at [the Beltsville
Agricultural Research Center] in 2001, V-1 and CHAUHAN began working together, and
CHAUHAN became the V-1’s supervisor.” The sexual abuse occurred thereafter. The nature of
Mr. Chauhan’s supervisory relationship to V-1, again admitted to by him under oath, could not be
clearer, nor could the appropriateness of the two-level enhancement.
The claim also fails because the plea agreement itself called for a two-level enhancement
under U.S.S.G. § 2A3.4(b)(3). Written Plea Agreement, ECF No. 23 at ¶ 6(b). As noted, Mr.
Chauhan swore during the Rule 11 colloquy that he understood and fully reviewed the agreement.
And while Mr. Chauhan bases his claim on the failure of the probation officer that prepared the
PSR to include the two-level enhancement of U.S.S.G. § 2A3.4(b)(3) he cites no authority that the
Probation Office, rather than the Court, is the final arbiter of guideline applications. Nor has he
shown that his admission under oath of the factual predicate for that sentencing enhancement did
not justify its application by the Court when it determined the sentencing guidelines in his case.
Indeed, such a claim would be contradicted by statute. See 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) (listing factors a
court must consider when imposing a sentence, including the sentencing range established by the
3) Appointment of Counsel
Finally, Mr. Chauhan seeks appointment of counsel under 18 U.S.C. § 3006A(a)(2)(B).
There is no general constitutional right to appointed counsel in post-conviction proceedings. See
Pennsylvania v. Finley, 481 U.S. 551 (1987) ([T]he right to appointed counsel extends to the first
appeal of right, and no further.”); United States v. Williamson, 706 F.3d 405, 416 (4th Cir. 2013).
Instead, the Court has discretion to appoint counsel in proceedings where justice so requires. 18
U.S.C. § 3006A(a)(2)(B) (providing interests of justice standard for appointment of counsel in
post-conviction proceedings including § 2255 petition). The record reflects that Mr. Chauhan has
capably presented his petition for post-conviction relief without the assistance of counsel. After
all, he holds a PhD in a scientific field, and was employed by the United States Department of
Agriculture as a research chemist, PSR, ECF No. 26 at ¶¶ 44, 46, so there is no credible evidence
that he lacks the ability to express himself, organize his arguments, and state them clearly, just has
he has done in his filings. He has more than demonstrated his ability to effectively communicate
the basis for the relief that he requests, therefore, interests of justice do not require me to appoint
counsel to represent him. Therefore, I deny Mr. Chauhan’s motion to appoint counsel.
Certificate of Appealability
Rule 11(a) of the Rules Governing Proceedings under 28 U.S.C. §§ 2254 or 2255 provides
that the court must “issue or deny a certificate of appealability when it enters a final order adverse
to the petitioner.” Brown, 2013 WL 4562276, at *10. This certificate “is a ‘jurisdictional
prerequisite’ to an appeal from the court’s order” that “may issue ‘only if the applicant has made
a substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right.’” Id. (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c)(2)
and citing United States v. Hadden, 475 F.3d 652, 659 (4th Cir. 2007)). A prisoner makes this
showing “[w]here the court denies a petitioner’s motion on its merits . . . by demonstrating that
reasonable jurists would find the court's assessment of the constitutional claims debatable or
wrong.” Id. (citing Miller–El v. Cockrell, 537 U.S. 322, 336–38 (2003); Slack v. McDaniel, 529
U.S. 473, 484 (2000)). Because Mr. Chauhan has not shown that a reasonable jurist “would find
the court’s assessment of the constitutional claim debatable or wrong,” and therefore has not
made a substantial showing that his Constitutional rights were denied, I will not issue a certificate
of appealability. See id.; 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c)(2). Miller-El, 537 U.S. at 336–38; Slack, 529 U.S.
at 484. However, this ruling does not preclude Mr. Chauhan from seeking a certificate of
appealability directly from the Fourth Circuit if he wishes to do so. See 4th Cir. Loc. R. 22(b)(1).
Mr. Chauhan’s Motion to Vacate, Set Aside or Correct Sentence is DENIED for the reasons
stated above. This Memorandum Opinion disposes of ECF Nos. 47 and 56 in Criminal No. PWG18-214.
The Clerk is directed to file a copy of this Memorandum Opinion in Criminal No. PWG18-214 and Civil Action No. PWG-19-3646, to MAIL a copy of it to Defendant, and to CLOSE
Civil Action No. PWG-19-3646.
A separate Order follows.
Paul W. Grimm
United States District Judge
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