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United States of America v. Lacey E. Tilley

February 17, 2011


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



In this criminal matter, Defendant was convicted by a jury of being a felon in possession of a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. ' 922(g)(1). Before the Court is Defendant‟s Motion pursuant to 28 U.S.C. ' 2255, based on ineffective assistance of counsel, and various allegations of unfairness during trial. For the following reasons, the Motion will be denied, and no certificate of appealability shall issue.



A. Section 2255

Because Defendant expresses concerns about unintentional technical errors in his submissions, I note from the outset that 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 (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 assure Defendant that I consider his Motion according to these standards. I also assure Defendant that pro se litigants are not uncommon, and pose no particular difficulty to the Court. Their positions are evaluated with the same neutrality -- but greater flexibility, as dictated by applicable standards -- as those taken by attorneys.

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). Under that standard, 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). Moreover, "[c]onclusory allegations are insufficient to obtain § 2255 relief." Infante-Cabrera v. United States, No. 6-205, 1-1150, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 26280, at *16 (W.D. Tex. Feb. 25, 2008). Because Defendant seeks to have this Motion transferred to Judge Conti, who is currently presiding over other matters involving Defendant, I note that habeas petitions are properly brought before the sentencing judge. See, e.g., Garcia v. Beeler 1998 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 23633, at * (D.N.J. July 20, 1998). Thus, such a transfer would be inappropriate.

B. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel*fn1

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. 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');">878 F. 2d 702, 711 (3d Cir. 1989). Counsel's performance must be evaluated keeping in mind that an attorney's trial strategies are a matter of professional judgment and often turn on facts not contained in the trial record. Strickland, 466 U.S. at 689. In this analysis, the court cannot take on the role of "Monday morning quarterback." Harris v. Reed, 894 F.2d 871, 877 (7th Cir. 1990).

Under applicable standards, Defendant must meet a two-pronged test: "(1) that counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness; and (2) that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's error, the result would have been different." Rolan v. Vaughn, 445 F.3d 671, 681 (3d Cir. 2006). These standards apply to both appellate and trial counsel. Lusick v. Palakovich, 270 Fed. Appx. 108, 110 (3d Cir. 2008).

To meet the first prong, a defendant must first show that counsel's performance fell below "the wide range of professionally competent assistance." 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. To meet the prejudice prong, the pertinent question is "whether there is a reasonable probability that, absent the errors," the result would have been different. Strickland, 466 U.S. at 695; see also United States v. Gray, 878 F.2d 702, 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. Speculation and conjecture are insufficient to establish prejudice. See Infante-Cabrera, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 26280, at *16.

A court need not evaluate both prongs of Strickland; if a claim fails either prong, it cannot succeed. ...

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