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United States of America v. James Whitted

April 25, 2013


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


The defendant was indicted on very serious drug charges and was convicted of those charges after a jury trial. Prior to trial, defendant had filed a motion to suppress which was denied, and other motions for pretrial release, which were granted. Following his conviction, the defendant was sentenced, and filed an appeal with the Third Circuit, which affirmed the conviction, but remanded for resentencing. On remand, this Court imposed a new sentence of 180 months imprisonment, plus other terms and conditions.

Defendant has now filed a petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, which the government has answered, and the defendant has filed a reply brief. The main thrust of the petition is that defendant's trial counsel did not render competent representation, and therefore defendant's constitutional rights were violated.

The Court notes that the government's reply sets forth a procedural history in much greater detail which is accurate, but unnecessary to repeat for purposes of determining this pending petition.

At trial, defendant was represented by Stephen Patrizio, Esquire, a very experienced and competent criminal defense lawyer. Mr. Patrizio filed the appropriate pretrial motions, and represented the petitioner very well at those hearing, filings briefs as necessary and making arguments which were the best advocacy as the facts and law allowed. Nonetheless the motions were denied.

The Court notes that defendant was released on bail during much of the pretrial proceedings, and thus fully able to cooperate with his counsel, without the restrictions of pretrial detention.

Similarly, at the trial, Mr. Patrizio defended petitioner with great vigor and skill. However, the government's evidence was overwhelming. Although the defendant testified in his own behalf and denied all of the allegations of criminal conduct, the jury obviously did not accept his testimony.

The government's reply also summarizes the evidence in great detail and accurately. Furthermore, the non-precedential opinion of the Third Circuit reviewed the evidence and affirmed the conviction finding that the evidence was sufficient to support the guilty verdicts, and there were no errors warranting a new trial.

In order to prevail on a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, a petitioner must satisfy the two-part test set forth in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984).

First, the defendant must show that counsel's performance was deficient. This requires showing that counsel made errors so serious that counsel was not functioning as the "counsel" guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment. Second, the defendant must show that the deficient errors were so serious as to deprive the defendant of a fair trial, a trial whose result is reliable. Unless a defendant makes both showings, it cannot be said that the conviction or death sentence resulted from a breakdown in the adversary process that renders the result unreliable.

The defendant bears the heavy burden of overcoming the "strong presumption" that counsel's conduct falls within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance .." 689. In addition, the defendant must also show that "there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different." Id. At 694. The Third Circuit has stressed that the second part of the Strickland test should be addressed first. See, McAleese v. Mazuriewicz, 1 F.3d 159 (3d Cir.), cert denied, 510 US. 1028 (1993); United States v. Fulford, 825 F.2d 3 (3d Cir. 1987), McNeil v. Cuyler, 782. F.2d 443 (3d Cir.) cert denied, 479 U.S. 1010 (1986).

Applying the Second part of the Strickland test, the Court concludes that the government's evidence of defendant's criminal conduct was so overwhelming that whatever complaints defendant makes about Mr. Patrizio, the defendant received a fair trial, and the resulting guilty verdicts are reliable. In other words, the Court concludes that no lawyer, no matter how competent, would have been able to achieve not guilty verdict for the defendant in view of the government's evidence.

Furthermore, the Court also finds that the errors alleged against Mr. Patrizio are meritless and that Mr. Patrizio acted as competent counsel throughout.

As the government points out in its response to the petition, petitioner has misstated, either purposely or otherwise, a good deal of the pretrial ...

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