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United States v. Synopsis

January 31, 2008

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
SYNOPSIS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sharron Fields Ambrose, Chief District Judge.

OPINION AND ORDER

In this criminal matter, Defendant pleaded guilty to violating 21 U.S.C. §§ 841 (a)(1)(b)(1), (1)(B)(ii), and 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). Before the Court is Defendant's motion pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, claiming that appellate counsel was ineffective for abandoning the appeal, and that prior counsel were ineffective in that they advised Defendant to plead guilty, without investigation or obtaining discovery. In response, the Government avers, inter alia, that in his plea agreement, Defendant waived his right to direct appeal and to collateral attack.

For the following reasons, Defendant's Motion will be denied.

OPINION

I. APPLICABLE STANDARDS

A. Section 2255

Relief is available under Section 2255 only under exceptional circumstances, when the claimed errors of law are "a fundamental defect which inherently results in a complete miscarriage of justice," or "an omission inconsistent with the rudimentary demands of fair procedure." Hill v. United States, 368 U.S. 424, 428, 82 S.Ct. 468, 7 L.Ed. 2d 417 (1962).

A district court need not hold an evidentiary hearing on a Section 2255 motion if the motion, files, and records show conclusively that the defendant is not entitled to relief. United States v. Ritter, No. 02-2604, 2004 U.S. App. LEXIS 5692, at *4 (3d Cir. Mar. 26, 2004). Under that standard, a hearing is unnecessary in this case, and I will dispose of the Motion on the record.

B. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

In the context of an ineffective assistance of counsel claim, a court should be "highly deferential" when evaluating an attorney's conduct; there is a "strong presumption" that the attorney's performance was reasonable. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 689, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed. 2d 674 (1984). "It is... only the rare claim of ineffectiveness of counsel that should succeed under the properly deferential standard to be applied in scrutinizing counsel's performance." United States v. Gray, 878 F. 2d 702, 711 (3d Cir. 1989).

To demonstrate that counsel was ineffective, a defendant must show that counsel's performance fell below "the wide range of professionally competent assistance" and also that the deficient conduct prejudiced defendant. Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687. Counsel's conduct must be assessed according to the facts of the particular case, viewed as of the time of counsel's conduct. Id. at 689.

Under the prejudice prong, the pertinent question is "whether there is a reasonable probability that, absent the errors," the result would have been different. Id. at 695; see also Gray, 878 F.2d at 709-13 (3d Cir. 1989). Speculation as to "whether a different . . . strategy might have been more successful" is not enough. Lockhart v. Fretwell, 506 U.S. 364, 113 S.Ct. 838, 843-44, 122 L.Ed. 2d 180 (1993). The prejudice prong of Strickland rests on "whether counsel's deficient performance renders the result of the . . . proceeding fundamentally unfair," or strips the defendant of a "substantive or procedural right to which the law entitles him." Id. at 844.*fn1

Accordingly, a guilty plea may be withdrawn based on ineffective assistance of counsel only if "(1) the defendant shows that his attorney's advice was under all the circumstances unreasonable under prevailing professional norms, and (2) the defendant shows that he suffered 'sufficient prejudice' from his ...


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