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United States v. John R. Chaffo

October 18, 2012

UNITED STATES
v.
JOHN R. CHAFFO, JR.



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

OPINION AND ORDER

SYNOPSIS

In this action, a jury convicted Defendant of committing wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §1349 and §1343. He was sentenced on December 7, 2010 to a term of 57 months of imprisonment, followed by three years of supervised release. On appeal, the Court of Appeals affirmed his conviction and sentence. Presently before the Court is Defendant's Motion pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §2255. For the following reasons, the 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, 93 Fed. Appx. 402 (3d Cir. 2004). Under these standards, a hearing is unnecessary in this case, and the Motion will be disposed of on the record.

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 have considered Defendant's Motion according to these standards.

B. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

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 v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687, 104 S. Ct. 2052, 80 L. Ed. 2d 674. 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. Id. at 695; see also United States v. Gray, 878 F.2d 702, 709-13 (3d Cir. 1989). 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.

II. DEFENDANT'S MOTION

Presently, Defendant raises two challenges. The first of these involves counsel's failure to object to the introduction of the elements of "honest services fraud"-i.e., the Government's reference to fiduciary duties -- rather than the elements of wire fraud. The Court of Appeals, however, rejected as meritless Defendant's assertion that the jury may have relied on an alternative theory of guilt. It also explicitly rejected the contention that the ...


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