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Patton v. United States

August 11, 2010

OMARI PATTON,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Donetta W. Ambrose United States District Judge

OPINION AND ORDER

SYNOPSIS

In this criminal matter, Defendant was charged with several counts related to a drug conspiracy, initially involving twenty-four defendants, and ranging over a period of several years. A jury convicted Defendant on the conspiracy count, and twenty-seven substantive counts. He was sentenced on July 11, 2005 to a term of 360 months, followed by five years of supervised release. On September 5, 2008, the Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction.

Presently before the Court is Defendant's Motion pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, seeking to vacate, correct, or set aside his sentence on grounds of ineffective assistance of counsel.*fn1 Defendant has also filed a notice of appeal regarding this Court's denial of extensions of time and discovery. This is an interlocutory appeal, which does not deprive this Court of jurisdiction. E.g., Bratek v. Beyond Juice, LLC, No. 4-4491, 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 33352 (E.D. Pa. Dec. 15, 2005). For the following reasons, the Motion will be denied.

I. APPLICABLE STANDARDS

I. Section 2255

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, 93 Fed. Appx. 402, 2004 U.S. App. Lexis 5692, at *4 (3d Cir. 2004). "A hearing is not required on...claims...which are based upon unsupported generalizations. Nor is a hearing required where the petitioner's allegations are affirmatively contradicted in the record." Holmes v. United States, 876 F.2d 1545, 1553 (11th Cir. 1989). "[W]e do not need to accept as true allegations that are "unsupported by specifics [or] wholly incredible in the face of the record." United States v. Estrada, 849 F.2d 1304, 1307 (10th Cir. 1988).

"In deciding whether to hold a hearing, a trial court judge may draw upon his own personal knowledge and recollection of the trial when considering the factual allegations of a § 2255 motion that relate to events that occurred in the judge's presence." United States v. Bell, No. 4-212, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 42947, at *10 (W.D. Pa. May 3, 2010). A hearing need not be held, unless the motion "raises detailed and specific factual allegations whose resolution requires information outside of the record or the judge's personal knowledge or recollection...." United States v. Pollard, 959 F.2d 1011, 1031 (D.C. Cir. 1992). Under these principles, a hearing is unnecessary in this case, and I will dispose of the Motion on the record.

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).

Finally, a pro se pleading is held to less stringent standards than pleadings drafted by attorneys. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106, 97, 97 S.Ct. 285, 50 L.Ed. 2d 251 S.Ct. 285, 429 U.S. 97, 97 S.Ct. 285, 50 L.Ed. 2d 251 (1976); Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520, 92 S.Ct. 594, 30 L.Ed. 2d 652 (1972). Thus, a pro se habeas petition should be construed liberally. See Royce v. Hahn, 151 F.3d 116, 118 (3d Cir. 1998). I will consider Defendant's Motion according to these standards.

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 (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 either trial or appellate 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. See 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. 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. A court need not consider both components of Strickland, if there is an insufficient showing on one or the other. Strickland, 466 U.S. at 697.

II. DEFENDANT'S MOTION

A. Sixth Amendment - Right to Public Trial

Defendant contends that counsel was ineffective when he failed to object to the closing of the courtroom to the public. The transcription reflects that court convened at 10:45 AM. Defendant avers that the Court "ordered Court Reporter to turn off the record," then instructed the Courtroom Deputy to in turn instruct the U.S. Marshals to "close the courtroom doors." Then, he avers, the Court went back on the record and discussed other issues. In contrast, counsel for the Government asserts that she does not recall such activity occurring, either on or off the record.

Defendant points, in particular, to a portion of the proceeding that apparently occurred prior to all counsel being present, during which a "discussion was held off the record." The Court then called in the jury pool. Defendant states that he noticed approximately ninety-six people enter the courtroom. Once the voir dire began, Defendant avers that he asked his counsel why his family was not in the courtroom, and counsel responded that the courtroom was too small to fit ...


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