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United States v. Ollie

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

December 1, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
JOSEPH LEE OLLIE

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Donetta W. Ambrose, Senior Judge

         SYNOPSIS

         In this matter, Defendant was convicted, at two separate dockets, on five firearm charges - at one docket, CR No. 12-09 (“12-09”), the conviction arose from a guilty plea; at the other, CR No. 12-18 (“12-18”), from a jury verdict.[1] He was sentenced on September 25, 2014. On August 19, 2015, the Court of Appeals affirmed his convictions in both cases. United States v. Ollie, 624 F. App'x 807 (3d Cir. 2015). Defendant's petition for writ of certiorari was denied on January 11, 2016. Ollie v. United States, 136 S.Ct. 848 (2016). On June 21, 2016, Defendant filed counseled Motions at both dockets pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, challenging his sentence pursuant to Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015). The Motions were stayed pending the Supreme Court's decision in Beckles v. United States, 137 S.Ct. 886 (2017). Following the resolution of Beckles, the stays were lifted and both counseled Motions were voluntarily dismissed by Notices filed on March 16, 2017 at both dockets. Counsel then moved for and was granted permission to withdraw from both cases.

         Presently before the Court are Defendant's pro se Section 2255 Motions, which were docketed soon after the voluntary dismissal of his counseled requests for relief, and which raise issues other than Johnson. In particular, Defendant challenges the effectiveness of trial and appellate counsel in various respects throughout these proceedings. In support of his Motions, Defendant has filed multiple and voluminous supplements, most recently on July 25, 2017 at both docket numbers. For the following reasons, Defendant's Motions will be denied, and no certificates of appealability shall issue.

         OPINION

         I. APPLICABLE STANDARDS

         A. Section 2255

         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 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). Moreover, conclusory allegations in a § 2255 petition "may be disposed of without further investigation by the District Court." United States v. Thomas, 221 F.3d 430, 437 (3d Cir. 2000). A district court must "accept the truth of the movant's factual allegations unless they are clearly frivolous on the basis of the existing record." United States v. Booth, 432 F.3d 542, 545-46 (3d Cir. 2005) (citations omitted). However, vague and conclusory allegations contained in a Section 2255 petition may be disposed of without a hearing. Johnson v. United States, 294 Fed.Appx. 709 (3d Cir.2008). I further note that pro se pleadings are to be construed liberally, and I have so construed Defendant's submissions. See United States v. Otero, 502 F.3d 331, 334 (3d Cir. 2007). In this case, a hearing is unnecessary, and the Motions will be disposed of on the record.

         B. Ineffective Assistance

         Defendant's Motions implicate the standards applicable to claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. In order to demonstrate ineffective assistance, a defendant must show that counsel's performance fell below "the wide range of professionally competent assistance" and also that the deficient conduct prejudiced defendant. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984). 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. Under the prejudice prong, the pertinent question is "whether there is a reasonable probability that, absent the errors, " the result would have been different. Id. at 695; see also United States v. Gray, 878 F.2d 702, 709-13 (3d Cir.1989). 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's review of ineffective assistance claims must be "'highly deferential, '" and must "'indulge a strong presumption' that, under the circumstances, counsel's challenged actions 'might be considered sound … strategy.'" Buehl v. Vaughn, 166 F.3d 163, 169 (3d Cir. 1999) (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 689). Moreover, “[d]ecisions in trial strategy are to be afforded appropriate deference; it is not the Court's role to second-guess such decisions, absent a fundamental defect.” United States v. Pawlowski, No. 9-209, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 66607, at *5 (W.D. Pa. May 15, 2014). Therefore, 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." Gray, 878 F.2d at 711.

         C. DEFENDANT'S MOTIONS

         A. Timeliness

         As a threshold matter, the Government challenges the timeliness of Defendant's pro se Motions to Vacate. As recounted supra, Defendant was sentenced on September 25, 2014.[2] On August 19, 2015, the Court of Appeals affirmed Defendant's convictions. United States v. Ollie, 624 F. App'x 807 (3d Cir. 2015). Defendant's petition for writ of certiorari was denied on January 11, 2016. Ollie v. United States, 136 S.Ct. 848 (2016). Defendant's counseled Section 2255 Motions were then filed on June 21, 2016; each Motion raised only a claim pursuant to Johnson. Subsequently, the Motions were stayed pending the Supreme Court's decision in Beckles. On March ...


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