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United States v. Stroman

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

June 8, 2018




         Before the court for disposition is Defendant Shaliek Stroman's 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (hereinafter “section 2255”) motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence. (Doc. 411). The motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for disposition.


         On October 14, 2014, a grand jury charged defendant with four (4) counts of drug trafficking in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1). (Doc. 36). On January 4, 2016, defendant plead guilty to one count, conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute heroin, a Schedule I controlled substance, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841. (Doc. 266). The government dismissed the remaining counts. The court sentenced defendant to a term of 151 months followed by three (3) years of supervised release. (Id.) On January 15, 2016, defendant appealed the judgment (Doc. 275). The Third Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment on February 1, 2017. United States v. Stroman, 677 Fed. App'x 746 (3d Cir. 2017). On April 15, 2017, defendant filed the present motion to vacate under section 2255. (Doc. 411). The parties have briefed their respective positions, bringing the case to its current posture.


         As defendant brings his motion under section 2255, we have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 (“The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.”). We also have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 2241 (“Writs of habeas corpus may be granted by...the district courts[.]”).

         Standard of review

         Generally, a federal prisoner in custody under the sentence of a federal court may, within one year from when the judgment becomes final, move the sentencing court to “vacate, set aside, or correct” a sentence “imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a). A section 2255 motion may attack a federal prisoner's sentence on any of the following foundations: (1) the judgment was rendered without jurisdiction; (2) the sentence imposed was not authorized by law or otherwise open to collateral attack; or (3) there has been such a denial or infringement of the Constitutional rights of the prisoner as to render the judgment vulnerable to collateral attack. 28 U.S.C. § 2255(b).

         Section 2255 does not, however, afford a remedy for all errors that may have been made at trial or sentencing. United States v. Essig, 10 F.3d 968, 977 n.25 (3d Cir. 1993). Rather, section 2255 permits relief for an error of law or fact constituting a “fundamental defect which inherently results in a complete miscarriage of justice.” United States v. Eakman, 378 F.3d 294, 298 (3d Cir. 2004) (citing United States v. Addonizio, 442 U.S. 178, 185 (1979)). If the court determines that the sentence was not authorized by law, was unconstitutional, or is otherwise open to collateral attack, the court must vacate the judgment, resentence the prisoner, or grant the prisoner a new trial as appropriate. See 28 U.S.C. § 2255(b).

         A habeas petitioner may allege ineffective assistance of counsel in a 2255 motion even if he did not raise it on direct appeal. See Massaro v. United States, 538 U.S. 500, 504 (2003). Nevertheless after a legal argument has been decided adversely to a defendant in trial court and on direct appeal, declining to reconsider those same arguments raised in a subsequent section 2255 collateral proceeding is within a district court's discretion, United States v. Orejuela, 639 F.2d 1055, 1057 (3d Cir. 1981).

         Standard of review for ineffective assistance of counsel claims

         Defendant's motion raises issues of ineffectiveness of counsel. The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees criminal defendants the right to counsel. The United States Supreme Court has found that “‘the right to counsel is the right to the effective assistance of counsel.'” Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 686 (1984) (quoting McMann v. Richardson, 397 U.S. 759, 771, n.14 (1970)). Counsel is ineffective when “counsel's conduct so undermined the proper functioning of the adversarial process that the trial cannot be relied on as having produced a just result.” Strickland, 466 U.S. at 686.

         Thus, under Strickland, to prove that his counsel was deficient at trial or sentencing, a defendant must convince the court of two factors: 1) deficient performance by counsel; and 2) prejudice from that deficient performance. “First, the defendant must show that counsel's performance was deficient.” Id. at 687. Satisfying the first factor requires a “showing that counsel made errors so serious that counsel was not functioning as the ‘counsel' guaranteed the defendant by the Sixth Amendment.” Id. Substandard lawyering is not enough to obtain relief. In assessing an attorney's performance, courts apply a highly deferential level of scrutiny. See Marshall v. Cathel, 428 F.3d 452, 462 (3d Cir. 2005) (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 689). This deference is afforded because “counsel is strongly presumed to have rendered adequate assistance and made all significant decisions in the exercise of reasonable professional judgment.” Strickland, 466 U.S. at 690.

         To satisfy the second factor of the Strickland test, “the defendant must show that the deficient performance prejudiced the defense” by demonstrating that “counsel's errors were so serious as to deprive the defendant of a fair trial, a trial whose result is reliable.” Id. Put another way, “the party claiming ineffective assistance ‘must show that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different.'” Campbell v. Burris, 515 F.3d 172, 184 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Strickland, 422 U.S. at 694). “‘It is not enough for the defendant to show that the errors had some conceivable effect on the outcome of the proceedings...not every error that conceivably could have influenced the outcome undermines the reliability of ...

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