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United States of America v. Ephraim E. Barr

February 21, 2013

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
EPHRAIM E. BARR



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rufe, J.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Defendant, Ephraim Barr, has filed an amended petition seeking habeas corpus relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 and requesting a new trial. The Government opposes the petition.

I. INTRODUCTION

After a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of the following crimes: conspiracy, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371 (Count 1), identity theft, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1028(a)(7), (b)(1)(D), and (c)(3)(A) (Count 2), and uttering counterfeit securities, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 513 (Counts 3-8). Defendant was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of 60 months on Count 1 and 87 months on Counts 2-8, with all sentences to run concurrently for a total of 87 months, to be followed by a term of supervised release of three years. Defendant has completed the prison sentence and is currently serving the term of supervised release.

Defendant appealed from the judgment of conviction and sentence, and the Court of Appeals affirmed in all respects. *fn1 Defendant then filed a pro se petition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Counsel was appointed, and an amended, counseled, petition was filed. *fn2 The amended petition argues that Defendant's trial attorney rendered ineffective assistance of counsel by failing to request a specific jury instruction. Although the asserted error applied only to Count 2, Defendant seeks a new trial on all counts on the theory that the asserted error "tainted" the jury's consideration of the other charges.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"), a prisoner serving a sentence in federal custody may petition the court which imposed the sentence to vacate, set aside, or correct the sentence by asserting 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." *fn3 "Habeas corpus relief is generally available only to protect against a fundamental defect which inherently results in a complete miscarriage of justice or an omission inconsistent with the rudimentary demands of fair procedure." *fn4 "The question of whether to order a hearing is committed to the sound discretion of the district court. In exercising that discretion the court must accept the truth of the movant's factual allegations unless they are clearly frivolous on the basis of the existing record. Further, the court must order an evidentiary hearing to determine the facts unless the motion and files and records of the case show conclusively that the movant is not entitled to relief. . . ." *fn5

When assessing a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, the Court applies the standard established by the Supreme Court in Strickland v. Washington. *fn6 Defendant bears the burden of demonstrating that his trial attorney's performance was deficient and that the deficiency caused him prejudice. *fn7

An attorney's performance is deficient only if it falls "below an objective standard of reasonableness, and that there is a reasonable probability that, but for the counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different." *fn8 There is a "strong presumption that counsel's conduct falls within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance; that is, the defendant must overcome the presumption that, under the circumstances, the challenged action might be considered sound trial strategy." *fn9

III. DISCUSSION

Nearly three years after the jury found Defendant guilty of identity theft and other charges, the Supreme Court decided the case of Flores-Figueroa v. United States. *fn10 In FloresFigueroa, the Supreme Court ruled upon a "federal criminal statute forbidding '[a]ggravated identity theft' [that] imposes a mandatory consecutive 2--year prison term upon individuals convicted of certain other crimes if , during (or in relation to) the commission of those other crimes, the offender ' knowingly transfers, possesses, or uses, without lawful authority, a means of identification of another person. '" *fn11 The Court held that the statutory language required the government to show that the defendant knew the means of identification belonged to an actual, rather than fictional, person. *fn12 Defendant argues that the holding in Flores-Figueroa applies equally to 18 U.S.C. § 1028(a)(7), the statute under which he was charged. The Court agrees.

The Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit appears to be the only appellate court to have addressed directly the applicability of Flores-Figueroa to § 1028(a)(7):

Although Flores-Figueroa did not address the knowledge necessary for a § 1028(a)(7) conviction, when Congress uses the same language in two statutes having similar purposes, particularly when one is enacted shortly after the other, it is appropriate to presume that Congress intended that text to have the same meaning in both statutes. Because § 1028(a)(7)'s wording is virtually identical to § 1028A, both statutes criminalize identity theft, and § 1028A was passed shortly after § 1028(a)(7), we agree that the Supreme Court's holding in Flores-Figueroa should apply to a § 1028(a)(7) conviction, as well. *fn13

As the Fourth Circuit noted, the operative language of the two statutes is very similar. Under 18 U.S.C. § 1028(a)(7), it is unlawful for someone to "knowingly transfer[ ], possess[ ], or use[ ], without lawful authority, a means of identification of another person with the intent to commit, or to aid or abet, or in connection with, any unlawful activity that constitutes a violation of Federal law, or that constitutes a felony under any applicable State or local law," and under 18 U.S.C. § 1028A(a)(1), it is unlawful for someone to "knowingly transfer[ ], possess[ ], or use[ ], without lawful authority, a means of ...


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