United States District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania
GENE E.K. PRATTER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Mr. Rafael Minaya-Yanger admitted his guilt of the crime of illegal re-entry after deportation following conviction for an aggravated felony, a violation of 8 U.S.C. §1326(b)(2). The prior aggravated felony concerned Mr. Minaya-Yanger’s plea of guilty in 2007 to trafficking in five kilograms or more of cocaine, his conviction for which prompted his sentence of 40 months in federal prison and deportation. For the illegal re-entry conviction at hand, Mr. Minaya-Yanger was sentenced to a term of 48 months, on the low end of a 46-to-57 month Guideline range.
Following a voluntarily withdrawn appeal, Mr. Minaya-Yanger elected to pursue a pro se Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §2255. The upshot of Mr. Minaya-Yanger’s Motion is that the assistance rendered to him by his counsel was constitutionally ineffective because, he claims, his lawyer failed to explain to him - - and then failed to successfully invoke - - the so-called “Fast Track” program. The Government opposes the Motion, and for the reasons that follow, the Court denies it.
Mr. Minaya-Yanger asserts that his counsel failed to inform him that there was a “fast track” program for those who plead guilty at an early stage and that his lawyer was otherwise constitutionally ineffective for not having “request[ed] [a] downward departure” under a “fast track” program. Consequently, Mr. Minaya-Yanger’s claims are governed by the analysis constructed by the Supreme Court in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 686 (1984). The Strickland test has two components: inadequate performance by counsel and prejudice flowing from the inadequate performance. Analytically, even if counsel’s performance falls below the applicable standard of care, the client cannot attain relief unless the client also shows that counsel’s unprofessional errors actually visited some palpable prejudice on the defense. Strickland U.S. at 687. With the burden to establish the requisite prejudice, the defendant must show that the error(s) had some identifiable effect on the outcome of the proceeding to the client’s detriment. Stated otherwise, the client is obliged to show that “but for” the defense lawyer’s errors the outcome would have been different, i.e., less unfavorable to the defendant. Because it is more efficient “ ‘to dispose of [the] ineffectiveness claim on the ground of lack of sufficient prejudice… that course [will] be followed’ ” here in this case. Rainey v. Varner, 603 F.3d 189, 201 (3d Cir. 2010) (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 697).
The Government has stated - - and the Court is generally aware from the on-going management of a busy criminal case docket - - that in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania the U.S. Attorney’s office has the discretion to deny a defendant’s participation in the “fast track” program if the defendant has a prior drug trafficking conviction. On the unbalanced basis of Mr. Minaya-Yanger’s prior federal conviction for conspiracy to distribute 5 kilograms of cocaine, Mr. Minaya-Yanger was not a candidate for this District’s “fast track” program. Accordingly, he would not have had any option to consider a “fast track” plea agreement because none would have been afforded to him, whether or not his lawyer tried to negotiate one. In other words, no Guideline §5K3.1 Government motion for a “fast track” downward departure would have ever been in the offing in this case and no amount of defense clamoring for such a departure would have been successful in the absence of a Government motion.
Therefore, Mr. Minaya-Yanger cannot establish that he was prejudiced by his lawyer’s alleged short comings, and his ...