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United States v. Stabley

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

September 16, 2014



SYLVIA H. RAMBO, District Judge.

Before the court is Petitioner Ferguson Stabley's motion filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 in which he alleges ineffective assistance of counsel in his criminal proceedings. The motion has been fully briefed[1] and is ripe for disposition. for the reasons set forth below, the motion will be denied.

I. Background

On December 15, 2010, local law enforcement officers arrested Thomas Evans for marijuana trafficking. Evans identified his source of supply as his roommate Ferguson Stabley. A search warrant was obtained and executed for their residence where the officers recovered approximately six pounds of marijuana, a pistol grip shotgun, approximately $3, 000 in cash, scales, and packaging materials. the residence was heavily secured with alarm systems, motion detectors, and heavy locks. (Doc. 205 at p. 1.)

Stabley agreed to cooperate and identified his source of supply and others involved in the distribution ring. His cooperation with the state officials was pursuant to a December 17, 2010 state proffer agreement. ( Id. )

Stabley was subsequently charged in this court with (1) conspiracy to distribute 100 kilograms and more of marijuana; (2) distribution of the same; (3) possession of a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking; and (4) felon in possession of a firearm. Pursuant to a plea agreement, Stabley pled guilty to Count 1, the conspiracy count. The agreement also provided the possibility of a three-point reduction for acceptance of responsibility; a 5K1.1 motion, and a waiver of appeal rights pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3742.

On December 20, 2012, Stabley entered a plea to conspiracy to distribute marijuana. He understood the plea agreement, the rights and privileges he was foregoing, and stated his satisfaction with his counsel's representation. (Doc. 180 at pp. 4-5.) On June 25, 2013, Stabley was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of 84 months. As a career offender, Stabley faced a guideline range of 188 to 235 months for the marijuana trafficking offenses. On Count 3, possession of a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking, he faced a guideline range of 360 months to life. As a result of the plea agreement, this potential sentence was avoided. No objections were previously made to the presentence report prepared in this matter.

On June 28, 2014, the instant motion was filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 alleging incompetency of counsel.

II. Discussion

A. Standard

A claim for ineffective assistance of counsel is evaluated under the standard set forth in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984). The standard has two prongs. First, the petitioner must show that (1) the performance of trial counsel fell below an objective standard of reasonableness, and (2) the performance of counsel unfairly prejudiced the defense. Id. at 687-88, 691 (1984). The first prong requires the petitioner to show that counsel made errors "so serious that counsel was not functioning as counsel' guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment." Id. This showing can be made by demonstrating that the attorney's performance was unreasonable under prevailing norms. United States v. Day, 969 F.2d 39, 42 (3d Cir. 1993). The second prong of Strickland requires petitioner to show that the errors were "sufficiently serious as to deprive the defendant a fair trial, a trial whose result is liable." Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687. To establish prejudice, the petitioner must show "a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different." United States v. Mannio, 212 F.3d 835, 840 (3d Cir. 2000).

Stabley did not go to trial; he pled guilty pursuant to a plea agreement. A defendant has a right to effective assistance of counsel during plea negotiations. Hill v. Lockhart, 474 U.S. 52, 56 (1985). See also Premo v. Moore, ___ U.S. ___, 131 S.Ct. 733, 741 (2011). With these precepts in mind, Stabley's claims will be addressed.

B. Incompetency of Counsel Allegations

Stabley raises the following issues which he claims are failures of counsel that go to his incompetency. He claims that (1) counsel failed to raise the issue that the proffer agreement with the State was ambiguous; (2) that the State violated the terms of the agreement by using the information obtained from him during the proffer session to prosecute him; (3) that the United States used the information of the proffer session to file federal charges; and (4) counsel failed to raise certain arguments regarding Stabley's sentencing. These claims will be discussed below.

1. State Proffer Agreement

All three counts of the indictment were based on information from coconspirator Thomas Evans and the subsequent search of Stabley's residence. This occurred before the proffer agreement. The search was performed on December 15, 2010; Stabley entered the proffer agreement on December 17, 2010. It was on December 17, 2010 that Stabley contacted and advised investigators that he wanted to provide cooperation to authorities. (PSR at ¶ 6.) Stabley argues that the information he gave concerning his co-defendants was immunized pursuant to the proffer agreement and that immunization covered information obtained from co-defendants which he named during the proffer meeting.

The United States was not a party to the immunity letter from the Dauphin County District Attorney's Office. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania cannot bind the federal prosecutor. The agreement does not bar the use of the proffered information before a federal grand jury.[2]

Should other minds find merit in Stabley's argument regarding the proffer agreement, the proffer agreement did not affect the Government from pursuing the charges related to the guns. All of the offenses charged arose directly from the information provided by the co-conspirator Evans and the subsequent search of Stabley's house. (Doc. 205 at p. 10.) As a result of the search of Stabley's house, which occurred before the proffer agreement, the United States filed the charges pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) and 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1), free from any claimed taint of the proffer agreement. ( Id. )

Counsel was confronted with his client facing a guideline sentence under the 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) charge of 360 months to life. There is no question in this court's opinion that the charge was not tainted by the proffer agreement. For counsel to have challenged that charge based on an alleged violation of a proffer agreement would have been futile. Counsel made the strategic decision to enter into a plea agreement that reduced his client's guidelines by almost fifty percent, with a further reduction pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 5K1.1. Counsel was extremely effective in his representation of his client and Stabley was not prejudiced by the plea agreement that his counsel was able to negotiate.

2. Objections to Presentence Report

Stabley raises some issues regarding counsel's failure to argue certain objections to his presentence report and sentence. Based on Stabley's waiver of his right to appeal, he has waived this issue.

III. Conclusion

Based on the foregoing discussion, Stabley's motion filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 will be denied. An appropriate order will be issued.

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