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United States v. Goney

April 25, 2007

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
ALVIN EUGENE GONEY, DEFENDANT/PETITIONER.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Bloch, District J.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Petitioner, on September 15, 2005, filed a pro se Motion to Vacate Sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 ("Motion") and brief in support thereof (Doc. 79). For the reasons set forth below, the Court denies Petitioner's Motion.

I. Background

On September 25, 2002, the grand jury in the Western District of Pennsylvania returned an indictment charging Petitioner with Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1) and 924(e). (Doc. 1) Petitioner plead not guilty to the charge. Subsequently, Petitioner's original counsel, Brian L. Teslovich, Esq., was dismissed, and on January 13, 2003, the Court appointed Assistant Federal Public Defender William Penn Hackney, Esq. (Doc. 18 and Doc. 23).

On April 7, 2003, one week prior to trial, Petitioner filed a pro se motion for new counsel. (Doc. 43). On April 8, 2003, the Court held a hearing for Petitioner to show good cause for new counsel, at which time Petitioner stated that he thought his counsel developed "no defense" for his case, and that he was the "only one that pulled points out of [his] case." (Doc. 67 at 4). The Court decided that Petitioner failed to show good cause, such as "a conflict of interest, a complete breakdown of communication or an irreconcilable conflict with the attorney," to justify a continuance and, therefore, denied the request. (Id. at 5-6). The Court also noted that disagreement as to trial strategy is not good cause, and that it should consider "efficient administration of criminal justice and the accused's rights in making its determination." (Id. at 6). Citing those reasons, the Court denied Petitioner's motion. (Id.).

Petitioner's trial commenced on April 14, 2003, in the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. On April 16, 2003, the jury returned a guilty verdict, and the Court ordered a presentence investigation report ("PIR") to be prepared. (Doc. 46 and Doc. 47). Subsequently, trial counsel filed a Motion to Withdraw as Counsel and For Appointment of Substitute Counsel on Petitioner's behalf (Doc. 48), which was granted on May 14, 2003. At that time the Court appointed John Halley, Esquire, who assisted Petitioner during the sentencing and appeal phases of the case. (Doc. 49).

In the PIR, the Probation Officer adjusted Petitioner's offense level for obstruction of justice and found Petitioner to be an armed career criminal under Section 4B1.4 of the United States Sentencing Guidelines and determined that Defendant was subject to a sentencing range of 210 to 262 months. After reviewing Petitioner's objections to the PIR, the Court, on July 1, 2003, issued its Tentative Findings and Rulings Concerning Disputed Facts or Factors. (Doc. 53). The Court confirmed the guideline sentencing range of 210 to 262 months and, on July 10, 2003, sentenced Petitioner to 210 months' imprisonment to be followed by five years of supervised release. (Doc. 55).

Petitioner subsequently appealed and challenged his conviction, raising three arguments before the Third Circuit Court of Appeals: (1) that the statute under which he was convicted, 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1), is unconstitutional; (2) that the District Court erred in refusing to admit testimony of a fingerprint expert as irrelevant; and (3) the District Court erred in refusing to grant a downward departure because of his age and erred in using his prior convictions in calculating both his criminal history and his offense level. (Doc. 75).

On May 18, 2004, the Third Circuit affirmed Petitioner's conviction and the findings of the District Court. Petitioner filed a petition for a writ of certiorari which was denied on October 4, 2004. (Doc. 76).

On September 15, 2005, Petitioner, acting pro se, filed the present Motion pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. The Court will address the claims raised in this Motion below.

II. Discussion

Pro se pleadings are held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers. See Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972); Holley v. Department of Veterans Affairs, 165 F.3d 244, 247 (3d Cir. 1999). However, even a pro se plaintiff must be able to prove a "set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Haines, 404 U.S. at 520-21 (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957)). 28 U.S.C. § 2255 permits a "prisoner in custody under sentence of a court established by Act of Congress claiming the right to be released upon the ground that the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States . . . [to] move the court which imposed the sentence to vacate, set aside or correct the sentence." An evidentiary hearing is not required on a Section 2255 motion if "the motion and the files and records of the case conclusively show that the prisoner is entitled to no relief." 28 U.S.C. § 2255. As discussed below, the record in this case sufficiently demonstrates that Petitioner is not entitled to relief under Section 2255, and therefore, no evidentiary hearing is necessary.

A. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

The majority of Petitioner's claims relate to the alleged ineffective assistance rendered by his trial or appellate counsel. A petitioner seeking relief under Section 2255 on the grounds of ineffective assistance of counsel "must show both that: (1) counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of 'reasonableness under prevailing professional norms;' and (2) the defendant suffered prejudice as a result -- that is, there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's deficient performance, the result of the proceeding would have been different." Sistrunk v. Vaughn, 96 F.3d 666, 670 (3d Cir. 1996)(citing Strickland v. ...


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