United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
I. QUIÑONES ALEJANDRO, USDC J
this Court is a motion to correct, vacate, and/or set
aside sentence and conviction pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§2255, filed by Defendant Edwin Fernandez
(“Fernandez” or “Defendant”), based
on claims that trial counsel was ineffective: in failing to
advise him of how the statements made during the proffer
sessions with the Government could be used against him if he
stood trial; in arguing the motion to suppress; and in not
objecting to the presentence report at the sentencing
hearing. [ECF 197]. The Government filed a response opposing
the motion. [ECF 199]. The issues raised in the motion have
been fully briefed and are ripe for disposition. For the
reasons stated herein, Defendant's motion is denied.
facts and procedural history are known to the parties and
will only be discussed to the extent necessary for the
disposition of this motion. To provide context to
Defendant's motion, the relevant facts are summarized as
Fernandez and several co-defendants were charged by a second
superseding indictment with numerous drug offenses involving
conspiracy and cocaine. Fernandez filed a motion to suppress
the physical evidence. The Government filed a motion in
limine to admit, in rebuttal, statements made at the
proffer session. On January 5, 2015, the district
court conducted an evidentiary hearing on these
pretrial motions, and denied Fernandez' motion to
suppress and granted the Government's motion.
(See ECF 141). Thereafter, on that same day,
Fernandez entered into a Zudiak guilty plea to the
charges in the second superseding indictment and preserved,
under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(a)(2) and with
the Government's consent, his right to appeal the denial
of the motion to suppress the seizure and search of the two
cellular phones. On July 17, 2015, Fernandez was sentenced to
a term of 300 months imprisonment followed by 10 years of
supervised release, and imposed a special assessment of
Fernandez filed a timely appeal to the United States Court of
Appeals for the Third Circuit (“Third Circuit”)
raising two issues, to wit: whether the district
court erred in denying the motion to suppress evidence, and
whether the sentence imposed was substantively reasonable. On
July 13, 2016, the Third Circuit affirmed the
On November 7, 2017, Fernandez filed the instant §2255
motion. [ECF 197]. On February 26, 2018, the Government filed
its response in opposition. [ECF 199].
the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996
(“AEDPA”), a prisoner serving a sentence in
federal custody may move to vacate, set aside, or correct
his/her sentence under 28 U.S.C. §2255 only on the
grounds that the “sentence was imposed in violation of
the Constitution or laws of the United States, or that the
court was without jurisdiction to impose such sentence, or
that the sentence was in excess of the maximum authorized by
law, or is otherwise subject to collateral attack . . .
.” 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a). However, a motion under
§2255 is a collateral challenge that is viewed less
favorably than a direct appeal, and “relief under
§ 2255 is available only when ‘the claimed error
of law was a fundamental defect which inherently results in a
complete miscarriage of justice, and . . . present[s]
exceptional circumstances where the need for the remedy
afforded by the writ . . . is apparent.'”
United States v. Travillion, 759 F.3d 281, 288 (3d
Cir. 2014) (quoting Davis v. United States, 417 U.S.
333, 346 (1974)). If a court finds that the judgment or
sentence imposed was not authorized by law, or that there has
been such a denial or an infringement of the constitutional
rights of the prisoner as to render the judgment vulnerable
to collateral attack, the court shall vacate and set the
judgment aside and shall either discharge the prisoner,
resentence him, grant a new trial, or correct the sentence,
as may appear appropriate. 28 U.S.C. § 2255(b).
noted, in his motion to correct or vacate the sentence,
Defendant essentially argues that three of his trial counsel
were ineffective for failing: to properly advise him of the
significance of the testimony he offered during the proffer
sessions; to successfully argue the motion to suppress; and
to persuasively argue against the application of guideline
enhancements at sentencing. Although the underlying substance
of some of these claims has been presented to and ruled on by
the appellate court, this Court will, nonetheless, address
evaluating the effectiveness of trial counsel, this Court
must apply the familiar two-prong inquiry articulated in
Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984). To
prevail on such a claim, a defendant 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. Id. at 687-88; United States v.
Otero, 502 F.3d 331, 334 (3d Cir. 2007). Conclusory
allegations are insufficient to entitle a defendant to relief
under §2255. Blackledge v. Allison, 431 U.S.
63, 74 (1977). The burden is on the defendant in a §2255
motion to prove his claim of ineffective assistance of
counsel. Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687.
determining whether counsel has satisfied the objective
standard of reasonableness set forth in the first prong,
courts must be highly deferential toward counsel's
conduct. Strickland, 466 U.S. at 689. A strong
presumption exists 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).
The court must defer to counsel's tactical decisions,
avoiding “the distorting effects of hindsight, ”
and give counsel the benefit of a strong presumption of
reasonableness. Strickland, 466 U.S. at 689;
Gov't of the Virgin Islands v. Weatherwax, 77
F.3d 1425, 1431 (3d Cir. 1996). To succeed with an
ineffective assistance of counsel claim, “a defendant
must overcome the ‘presumption that, under the
circumstances, the challenged action might be considered
sound trial strategy.'” Bell v. Cone, 535
U.S. 685, 698 (2002) (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S.
at 689). “It is only the rare claim of ineffective
assistance of counsel that should succeed under the properly
deferential standard to be applied in scrutinizing
counsel's performance.” United States v.
Kaufman, 109 F.3d 186, 190 (3d Cir. 1997) (citations
omitted). 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 defendant must show that,
but for counsel's errors, the outcome of the proceeding
would have been different. See Strickland, 466 U.S.
at 694. Prejudice has been defined as a “showing that
counsel's errors were so serious as to deprive the
defendant of a fair trial, a trial whose result is
reliable.” Id. at 687; see also Frey v.
Fulcomer, 974 F.2d 348, 358 (3d Cir. 1992) (“[A]
petitioner must demonstrate a reasonable probability that,
but for the unprofessional errors, the result would have been
different.”). A district court need not conduct its
analysis of the two prongs in a particular order or address