United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
Christopher C. Conner, Chief Judge
court sentenced defendant Darnell Lamont Doss
("Doss") to 151 months' imprisonment for drug
trafficking. (Doc. 99). Presently before the court is
Doss's pro se motion (Doc. 108) to vacate, set
aside, or correct his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
2255. Doss asserts that he was denied effective assistance of
counsel in violation of the Sixth Amendment to the United
States Constitution. The motion will be denied.
Factual Background & Procedural History
December 19, 2012, a grand jury returned an indictment
charging Doss with possession of a firearm by a convicted
felon in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1) and
924(e); possession of cocaine and cocaine base with intent to
distribute in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a); and
possession of a firearm during and in relation to a drug
trafficking crime in violation of 18 U.S.C. §
924(c)(1)(a). (Doc. 1). Doss initially pled not guilty. (Doc.
9). On January 15, 2013, the court appointed attorney John F.
Yaninek ("Attorney Yaninek") to represent Doss.
grand jury returned a superseding indictment on February 26,
2014, adding a second count of possession with intent to
distribute cocaine base. (Doc. 35). Doss pled not guilty to
all five counts. (Doc. 43). During arraignment proceedings,
Doss maintained that the court lacked jurisdiction over his
natural body. (Doc. 75 at 5:15-5:18).
October 23, 2014, Doss executed a written plea agreement
wherein he agreed to plead guilty to one count of possession
with intent to distribute cocaine base. (Doc. 78). Doss
acquiesced that he fully understood and voluntarily agreed to
the plea agreement. (Id. at 24). Pursuant to the
plea agreement, Doss waived any right to challenge his
conviction and sentence via direct appeal. (Id. at
21). The agreement did not include a waiver of Doss's
right to a collateral attack under 28 U.S.C. § 2255.
(Id.) The court explained the appellate waiver
provision to Doss at his plea hearing, whereupon Doss
reaffirmed his consent to this provision as well as the
entirety of the written plea agreement. (Doc. 119 at
December 16, 2014, the court denied Doss's motion seeking
to discharge counsel and to continue pro se. (Docs.
85-86). The court based its decision on a finding that Doss
was unable to adequately represent himself. (Doc. 86).
Attorney Yaninek continued to represent Doss throughout
sentencing. (See Doc. 99). The presentence report
determined that Doss was a career offender, resulting in a
Sentencing Guidelines range of 151 to 188 months'
imprisonment. (Doc. 89). On March 13, 2015, Attorney Yaninek
filed a detailed sentencing memorandum on Doss's behalf.
(Doc. 96). Therein, he sought a downward variance from the
career offender Guidelines. (Id. at 12).
March 17, 2015, the court held a sentencing hearing and
provided Doss the opportunity of allocution. (Doc. 120 at
9:11-13:16). The court declined to vary from the career
offender range, citing Doss's consistent and pervasive
history of violent and drug-related offenses. (Id.
at 20:22-21:5). Before the conclusion of the hearing,
Attorney Yaninek informed the court that he had advised Doss
it would be against his interests to file a direct appeal due
to the appellate waiver and Third Circuit case law.
(Id. at 25:22-26:8). The court sentenced Doss to 151
months' imprisonment. (Doc. 99).
March 22, 2016, Doss filed the instant motion (Doc. 108) to
vacate, set aside, or correct sentence under 28 U.S.C. §
2255. The motion is fully briefed and ripe for
Standard of Review
28 U.S.C. § 2255, a federal prisoner may move the
sentencing court to vacate, set aside, or correct the
prisoner's sentence. 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Courts may
afford relief under § 2255 on a number of grounds
including, inter alia, "that the sentence was
imposed in violation of the Constitution or the laws of the
United States." 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a); see also R.
Governing § 2255 Cases 1(a). The statute provides that,
as a remedy for an unlawfully-imposed sentence, "the
court shall vacate and set the judgment aside and shall
discharge the prisoner or resentence him or grant a new trial
or correct the sentence as may appear appropriate." 28
U.S.C. § 2255(b). The court accepts the truth of the
defendant's allegations when reviewing a § 2255
motion unless those allegations are "clearly frivolous
based on the existing record." United States v.
Booth, 432 F.3d 542, 545 (3d Cir. 2005). A court is
required to hold an evidentiary hearing when the motion
"allege[s] any facts warranting § 2255 relief that
are not clearly resolved by the record." United
States v. Tolliver, 800 F.3d 138, 141 (3d Cir. 2015)
(quoting Booth, 432 F.3d at 546).
collateral attack based on ineffective assistance of counsel
is governed by the two-pronged test set forth in
Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984). To
prevail on this claim, a petitioner must demonstrate (1) that
counsel's representation fell below an objective standard
of reasonableness based on prevailing professional norms and
(2) that the deficient representation was prejudicial.
See id. at 687-88. Conclusory allegations are
insufficient to entitle a petitioner to relief under §
2255. See Sepulveda v. United States, 69 F.Supp.2d
633, 639-40 (D.N.J. 1999) (citing Blackledge v.
Allison, 431 U.S. 63, 74 (1977)).
determining whether counsel has satisfied the objective
standard of reasonableness in accordance with the first
prong, courts must be highly deferential toward counsel's
conduct. Strickland, 466 U.S. at 689. There is a
strong presumption that counsel's conduct falls within
the wide range of reasonable professional assistance. See
United States v. Gray, 878 F.2d 702, 710 (3d Cir. 1989).
Only a "rare claim" of ineffectiveness of counsel
should succeed "under the properly deferential standard
to be applied in scrutinizing counsel's
performance." Id. at 711
(citing Strickland, 466 U.S. at 689-90). Counsel
will not be deemed ineffective for failing to raise a
meritless claim. See United States v. Sanders, 165
F.3d 248, 253 (3d Cir. 1999).
satisfy the prejudice prong, the petitioner must show that,
but for counsel's errors, the outcome of the proceeding
would have been different. See Strickland, 466 U.S.
at 694. The district court need not conduct its analysis of
the two prongs in a particular order or address both prongs
of the inquiry if a defendant makes an insufficient showing
in one. See id. at 697; United States v.
Lilly, 536 F.3d 190, 196 (3d Cir. 2008).
contends that Attorney Yaninek provided ineffective counsel
by failing to: (1) file a notice of direct appeal; (2) abide
by Doss's requests pertaining to the sentencing
memorandum; (3) seek a continuance of sentencing; and (4)
raise certain issues at the sentencing hearing. (Doc. 108).
The court will address Doss's claims seriatim.
Failure to File Notice of Appeal
defendant has raised an ineffective assistance claim based
upon counsel's failure to file an appeal, the court must
typically conduct a particularized Strickland
analysis in accordance with Roe v. Flores-Ortega,
528 U.S. 470 (2000). See Harrington v. Gillis, 456
F.3d 118, 125 (3d Cir. 2006). In Flores-Ortega, the
Supreme Court held that defense counsel must consult with
their client about an appeal in situations where a rational
defendant would want to appeal or where the defendant
actually expressed interest in appealing.
Flores-Ortega, 528 U.S. at 480. The Court defined
"consult" as "advising the ...