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United States v. Penwell

United States District Court, Third Circuit

May 3, 2013

UNITED STATES
v.
MICHAEL PENWELL

OPINION AND ORDER

DONETTA W. AMBROSE, Senior District Judge.

SYNOPSIS

In this action, Defendant pleaded guilty to three counts involving the production, transportation, and possession of child pornography. He was sentenced on July 8, 2010, to a total term of 360 months imprisonment. The Court of Appeals affirmed this Court's judgment by Opinion dated October 5, 2011. Before the Court is Defendant's Motion pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 2255, claiming ineffective assistance of counsel.[1] For the following reasons, the Motion will be denied.

OPINION

I. APPLICABLE STANDARDS

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.

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 person seeking to vacate his conviction bears the burden of proof upon each ground presented for relief." United States v. Keyes, No. 93-22-2, 1997 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 12109, at *2 (E. D. Pa. Aug. 11, 1997). Conclusory allegations are insufficient to support ยง 2255 relief. United States v. Atkinson, No. 10-247, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 54812, at *2 (W.D. Pa. June 4, 2010).

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.

II. DEFENDANT'S MOTION

A. INEFFECTIVE ASSISTANCE OF COUNSEL

To demonstrate that counsel was ineffective, a defendant must show that counsel's performance fell below a "wide range of professionally competent assistance, " and also that the deficient conduct prejudiced defendant. 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. In light of the wide array of circumstances faced by counsel, and the range of legitimate decisions regarding how best to represent a defendant, Strickland's inquiry turns on whether counsel's assistance was reasonable considering all the circumstances. Wong v. Belmontes , 130 S.Ct. 383, 385, ___ U.S. ___, 175 L.Ed.2d 328 (2009).

Under 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 Gray , 878 F.2d at 709-13. A "reasonable probability" is one that is "sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome." Strickland , 466 U.S. at 694. 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. If a claim fails either prong, it cannot succeed. Id. at 697.

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). In order to fairly assess attorney performance, a court must make "every effort...to eliminate the distorting effects of hindsight...." Douglas v. Cathel , 456 F.3d 403, ...


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