United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
H. RAMBO United States District Judge.
before the court is Defendant's motion to vacate his
guilty plea and sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255
for ineffective assistance of counsel. For the reasons stated
herein, the motion will be denied.
September 26, 2012, a grand jury returned a two-count sealed
Indictment charging Defendant Elijah Ulysses Brown, Jr.
(“Defendant”) with violations of 18 U.S.C.
§§ 922(g), (j), and 924(e) in connection with his
illegal possession of a stolen firearm. (See Doc.
1.) Defendant entered a plea of not guilty (Doc. 15) on
October 1, 2012, and on October 4, 2012, the court appointed
attorney Dean E. Reynosa to represent him. (Doc. 34.)
Defendant was dissatisfied with Attorney Reynosa's
representation, however, and requested via letter on three
separate occasions between March 13, 2013 and April 10, 2013
(Docs. 89, 100, 116) for the removal of Attorney Reynosa from
his case and for appointment of substitute counsel. The court
denied Defendant's requests for substitute counsel (Docs.
108 & 117) and instead allowed him to proceed pro
se. After yet another request for substitute counsel
(see Doc. 118), the court appointed Attorney Robert
J. Daniels, Jr. (Doc. 119).
anticipation of trial, Defendant filed a motion to suppress
the handgun that was recovered during a warrantless search as
well as statements he made to police during the search. (Doc.
162.) A suppression hearing was held on April 24, 2014, and
the court subsequently denied the motion, ruling that both
the statement and gun were admissible for purposes of trial.
2, 2014, Defendant entered into a plea agreement in which he
agreed to plead guilty to a one-count Felony Information
(Doc. 178), and the court accepted his guilty plea on May 14,
2014 (Doc. 190). The plea agreement provided Defendant the
right to appeal any sentence in excess of 144 months. A
sentencing hearing was held on November 24, 2014, and
although the United States requested a 120-month term of
imprisonment, the court found that Defendant was an Armed
Career Criminal, placing the Advisory Guidelines range at
180-210 months. The court departed from the guidelines,
however, and sentenced Defendant to a 150-month term of
imprisonment. (See Doc. 209.) Defendant appealed
both his sentence and the court's refusal to suppress
evidence, and requested that new counsel be appointed to
pursue his appeal. (See Docs. 211, 212, 214.) The
Third Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed this court's
rulings as to both the suppression and sentence. (Docs. 251
September 23, 2016, Defendant filed a motion to vacate his
guilty plea and sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 on
the basis that his legal counsel was ineffective. (Doc. 265.)
After some difficulty locating Defendant for service of the
United States' opposition, the motion has been fully
briefed (Docs. 265-1 & 270) and is now ripe for
defendant in a criminal matter may challenge his conviction
or sentence on the basis that his legal counsel was
ineffective pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. In order to
establish ineffective assistance of counsel, a defendant must
prove both that his attorney's performance fell below an
objective standard of reasonableness and that the deficient
performance prejudiced the defense to the degree that it
deprived the defendant of a fair trial. See Strickland v.
Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984). A court
“must assess the reasonableness of counsel's
conduct on the facts of the particular case, and as of the
time of counsel's conduct.” Taylor v.
Horn, 504 F.3d 416, 430 (3d Cir. 2007) (citing
Strickland, 466 U.S. at 690). The defendant bears a
heavy burden of showing that “there is a reasonable
probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional
errors, the result of the proceeding would have been
different.” United States v. Delbridge, 504 F.
App'x 145, 151 (3d Cir. 2012) (quoting
Strickland, 466 U.S. at 694).
instant motion to vacate his sentence, Defendant argues that
his counsel was ineffective because he failed to properly
prepare or investigate Defendant's case, or to advise
Defendant regarding the penalties he faced as a result of his
plea agreement, including possible classification as an Armed
Career Criminal. Defendant further argues that the denial of
his request to be represented by a third attorney amounted to
a constructive denial of counsel. The court will address each
argument in turn.
Whether Counsel Properly Prepared and Investigated the
Defendant's second appointed counsel, Attorney Daniels
filed a motion to suppress and conducted a corresponding
hearing, which preserved the issue for Defendant on appeal.
In addition, Attorney Daniels negotiated a more favorable
plea agreement than what had been offered to Defendant's
first appointed counsel, and included a conditional appeal
waiver which permitted Defendant to appeal both the denial of
his motion to suppress as well as any sentence in excess of
144 months. Although Defendant now claims that
Attorney Daniels should have called additional witnesses at
the suppression hearing, nothing in Defendant's
assertions demonstrate that Attorney Daniels acted
unprofessionally or unreasonably, nor that the outcome of the
suppression hearing would have been different had Attorney
Daniels called additional witnesses. As the Supreme Court has
stated, “[t]he Sixth Amendment guarantees reasonable
competence, not perfect advocacy judged with the benefit of
hindsight.” Yarborough v. Gentry, 540 U.S. 1,
6 (2003) (citations omitted); see also Strickland,
466 U.S. at 690 (counsel is “strongly presumed”
to make decisions in the exercise of professional judgment).
Thus, the court finds that Attorney Daniels properly prepared
and investigated Defendant's case, and therefore did not
provide ineffective assistance of counsel on this basis.
Whether Counsel Properly Advised Defendant of Potential