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Sloan v. United States

May 25, 2006

ALPHONSO SLOAN, PETITIONER,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, RESPONDENT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Conti, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Pending before the court is a motion to vacate, set aside, or correct sentence by a person in federal custody pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 ("petitioner's motion") (Doc. No. 427) filed by petitioner Alphonso Sloan ("petitioner"). Upon reviewing petitioner's motion and the government's brief in opposition (Doc. No. 451), the court will deny petitioner's motion for the reasons set forth herein.

I. Background

On February 18, 2003, a federal grand jury returned a nineteen-count indictment charging several individuals with various drug-trafficking and firearms charges. Petitioner was charged with conspiracy to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute one hundred (100) grams or more of a mixture and substance containing a detectable amount of heroin, a Schedule I controlled substance, from on or about November 20, 2002 and continuing thereafter to on or about February 8, 2003, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 846, 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(B)(i) (Count Six) and with possession with the intent to distribute less than one hundred (100) grams of a mixture and substance containing a detectable amount of heroin, a Schedule I controlled substance, on or about January 8, 2003 (Count Eleven). (Doc. No. 1).

On October 21, 2003, petitioner entered a plea of guilty to the conspiracy charge (Count Six). (Doc. No. 228). On March 19, 2004, petitioner was sentenced to imprisonment for a term of 63 months to be followed by supervised release for a term of 4 years. (Doc. No. 289). Although petitioner did not appeal his sentence, "there is no procedural default for failure to raise an ineffective assistance claim on direct appeal." Massaro v. United States, 538 U.S. 500, 503-04 (2003).*fn1

On or about March 7, 2005, the clerk of court received and filed petitioner's motion to vacate, set aside, or correct sentence by a person in federal custody pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (Doc. No. 427). In his motion, petitioner lists two grounds for his claim that he is being held in violation of the Constitution, laws or treaties of the United States and his prayer for relief that the court vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence. Specifically, petitioner alleges (1) ineffective assistance of counsel in violation of the Sixth Amendment based upon counsel's failure to make arguments on petitioner's behalf at sentencing pursuant to U.S.S.G. §§ 5G1.3 (undischarged term of imprisonment) and 3B1.2 (minor role); and (2) deprivation of civil rights protections and guarantees under the Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection Clause and Due Process Clause based upon counsel's failure to consult with petitioner concerning these arguments notwithstanding his Sixth Amendment rights.

On April 11, 2005, the court issued a notice that the motion to vacate had been filed and directed the government to file its response and a brief in opposition on or before April 22, 2005 (Doc. No. 440). On April 22, 2005, the government filed its response in opposition. (Doc. No. 451).

II. Standard of Review

A district court is required to hold an evidentiary hearing on a motion to vacate sentence filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 unless the motion and files and records of the case show conclusively that the movant is not entitled to relief. 28 U.S.C. § 2255 ("Unless the motion and the files and records of the case conclusively show that the prisoner is entitled to no relief, the court shall . . . grant a prompt hearing thereon, determine the issues and make findings of fact and conclusions of law with respect thereto."); United States v. Booth, 432 F.3d 542, 545-46 (3d Cir. 2005). For reasons set forth herein, and based upon the motion and files and records of the case, the court determines that petitioner's motion shall be denied without a hearing because the motion and files and records of the case show conclusively that the movant is not entitled to relief.

Under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, a federal prisoner in custody may move the court which imposed the sentence to vacate, set aside or correct the sentence upon the ground that "the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States, or that the court was without jurisdiction to impose such sentence, or that the sentence was in excess of the maximum authorized by law, or is otherwise subject to collateral attack." The Supreme Court read the statute as stating four grounds upon which relief can be granted:

(1) "that the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States;" (2) "that the court was without jurisdiction to impose such sentence;" (3) "that the sentence was in excess of the maximum authorized by law;" and (4) that the sentence "is otherwise subject to collateral attack."

CHARLES A. WRIGHT, ET AL., FEDERAL PRACTICE AND PROCEDURE § 593 (3d ed. 2004) (quoting Hill v. United States, 368 U.S. 424, 426-27 (1962)). The statute provides as a remedy for a sentence imposed in violation of law that "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.

III. Analysis

A. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel Claims

To establish ineffective assistance of counsel in violation of the Sixth Amendment, petitioner must prove (1) deficient representation, meaning that counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness; and (2) prejudice, meaning that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different. Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 390-91 (2000); Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687-88, 694 (1984). Concerning the prejudice prong, a "reasonable probability" is a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome." Williams, 529 U.S. at 390-91. In the case of ineffective assistance at sentencing, prejudice is established if the movant demonstrates that his sentence was increased by the deficient performance of his attorney. Glover v. United States, 531 U.S. 198, 200, 203-04 (2001). That is, a movant arguing ineffective assistance at sentencing must show that counsel's deficiencies at sentencing created a reasonable probability that, but for the deficient performance, his sentence would have been less harsh. See id. at 200.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit directed courts to address the prejudice prong of the analysis first. See McAleese v. Mazurkiewicz, 1 F.3d 159, 170 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 1028 (1993) ("Indeed, this Court has read Strickland as requiring the courts to decide first whether the assumed deficient conduct of counsel prejudiced the defendant.") (internal quotations and citations omitted). The court of appeals in McAleese noted that Strickland itself recognized that a court need not determine whether counsel's performance was deficient before examining the prejudice suffered by the defendant as a result of the alleged deficiencies. The object of an ineffectiveness claim is not to grade counsel's performance. If it is easier to dispose of an ineffectiveness claim on the ground of lack of sufficient prejudice, which we expect will often be so, that course should be followed. 466 U.S. at 697.

The court, therefore, will examine the prejudice prong of the Strickland analysis before considering the ...


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