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Abdunafi v. United States

June 24, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Munley

Before the court is Malik Abuhamid Ibm Wakil Abdunafi's (hereinafter "defendant") motion to vacate, set aside or correct sentence filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. ¶ 2255. The matter has been fully briefed and is ripe for disposition.


On November 17, 2006, after a five-day trial, a jury found defendant guilty of several drug trafficking conspiracy crimes. (Doc. 63, Verdict).*fn1

The court sentenced defendant to a two hundred forty-month term of imprisonment. (Doc. 97, Criminal Judgment).

On March 27, 2008, defendant filed a post-trial motion for judgment of acquittal under Rule 29 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. (Doc. 79). This court denied the motion. (Doc. 94). Defendant appealed to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. (Doc. 98, Notice of Appeal). The Third Circuit affirmed this court's judgment on November 26, 2008. (Doc. 107).

Defendant then filed the instant motion to vacate pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. The court ruled on several issues contained in the motion in a memorandum and order issued on October 27, 2009. (Doc. 121, Memorandum and Order of Oct. 27, 2009). We found, however, that we needed a hearing to determine one issue, that is, whether defendant's counsel adequately explained the plea agreements that had been offered to him by the government. Accordingly, we appointed counsel for the defendant and held a hearing on March 10, 2010. After the hearing was transcribed, the parties submitted post-hearing briefs. The matter is now ripe for disposition.

Standard of Review

Defendant moves for relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, which provides that a court that has sentenced a defendant may vacate, set aside or correct the sentence if it is unconstitutional or a violation of federal law. Specifically section 2255 provides:

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, 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, may move the court which imposed the sentence to vacate, set aside or correct the sentence.

Unless the motion and the files and records of the case conclusively show that the prisoner is entitled to no relief, the court shall cause notice thereof to be served upon the United States attorney, grant a prompt hearing thereon, determine the issues and make findings of fact and conclusions of law with respect thereto. 28 U.S.C. § 2255.


The remaining issue in defendant's motion asserts ineffectiveness of counsel. The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that in all criminal prosecutions the accused shall have the assistance of counsel for his defense. The United States Supreme Court has found that "'the right to counsel is the right to the effective assistance of counsel.'" Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 686 (1984) (quoting McMann v. Richardson, 397 U.S. 759, 771 n.14 (1970)). Counsel is ineffective when "counsel's conduct so undermined the proper functioning of the adversarial process that the trial cannot be relied on as having produced a just result." Id.

In order to prove that his counsel was deficient at trial or sentencing, a defendant must convince a court of two factors: "[f]irst, the defendant must show that counsel's performance was deficient[,] . . . that counsel made errors so serious that counsel was not functioning as the 'counsel' guaranteed the defendant by the Sixth Amendment." Id. at 687. Substandard lawyering is not enough to obtain relief, however: "[s]econd, the defendant must show that the deficient performance prejudiced the defense" by demonstrating that "counsel's errors were so serious as to deprive the defendant of a fair trial, a trial whose result is reliable." Id. Relief is only available to defendants who make "both showings." Id. In sentencing, "prejudice exists where the deficient performance affected a defendant's sentence." United States v. Hankerson, 496 F.3d 303, 310 (3d Cir. 2007).

The right to counsel attaches to all critical stages of the criminal process. Boyd v. Waymart, 579 F.3d 330, 351-52 (3d Cir. 2009). The guilty plea stage is a critical stage of the criminal process and an attorney's failure to communicate a prosecutor's plea bargain offer is a violation of the Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel. Id. Thus, we must determine whether the credible evidence presented at the section 2255 hearing establishes that the defendant's counsel adequately explained to him the terms of the government's plea bargain offer. ...

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