United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
Christopher C. Conner, Chief Judge.
court sentenced defendant DonCarlos Urrutia
(“Urrutia”) to 180 months' imprisonment after
he pled guilty to possession of a firearm by a convicted
felon. Urrutia's sentence reflects the mandatory minimum
established by the Armed Career Criminal Act
(“ACCA”), 18 U.S.C. § 924(e). Urrutia moves
to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 2255. (Doc. 85). We will deny Urrutia's
Factual Background & Procedural History
2017, a grand jury returned an indictment charging Urrutia
with one count of possession of a firearm by a convicted
felon in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1) and
924(e). Nine months later, Urrutia pled guilty-pursuant to a
written plea agreement-to the single-count indictment. In
exchange for Urrutia's guilty plea, the government agreed
to recommend the mandatory minimum 15-year term of
imprisonment at sentencing. (See Doc. 58
¶¶ 1, 2, 11). Urrutia subsequently withdrew his
not-guilty plea and pled guilty to Count 1. On July 25, 2018,
the court sentenced Urrutia to 180 months' imprisonment
pursuant to the ACCA mandatory minimum, 18 U.S.C. §
924(e)(1). Urrutia did not appeal his conviction or sentence
to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.
filed a pro se “motion for reconsideration of
sentence” approximately seven months after sentencing.
(Doc. 79). The court provided Urrutia with notice pursuant to
United States v. Miller, 197 F.3d 644 (3d Cir.
1999), that it intended to construe his filing as a motion to
vacate, set aside, or correct sentence under 28 U.S.C. §
2255. Upon receipt of this notice, Urrutia formally elected
to have his motion for reconsideration of sentence construed
and ruled upon under Section 2255. The government responded
to Urrutia's motion, which is now ripe for disposition.
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 Section 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 28 U.S.C. § 2255 Rule 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 Section 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
advances two primary arguments in his Section 2255 motion,
neither of which has merit. He first asserts that his
sentence is illegal under Alleyne v. United States,
570 U.S. 99 (2013), because his ACCA predicate offenses were
not found by a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. In a related
claim, Urrutia contends that his trial counsel was
ineffective under the Sixth Amendment for failing to identify
the Alleyne violation and instead recommending that
Urrutia plead guilty to an illegal enhancement under Section
initially note that Urrutia's first claim, which
undergirds his ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim, is
procedurally defaulted. Urrutia provides no reason why this
Alleyne-based challenge to the legality of his
sentence could not have been raised at sentencing or on
direct appeal. See United States v. Travillion, 759
F.3d 281, 288 n.11 (3d Cir. 2014) (citing United States
v. DeRewal, 10 F.3d 100, 105 n.4 (3d Cir. 1993)).
Accordingly, the only cognizable claim for Section 2255
review is Urrutia's related assertion of ineffective
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 such a claim, a defendant must demonstrate that
(1) counsel's representation fell below an objective
level of reasonableness based on prevailing professional
norms, and (2) the deficient representation was prejudicial.
See id. at 687-88. The defendant bears the burden of
proving both prongs. See id. at 687. Conclusory
allegations are insufficient to entitle a defendant to relief
under Section 2255. See United States v. Thomas, 221
F.3d 430, 437 (3d Cir. 2000); Sepulveda v. United
States, 69 F.Supp.2d 633, 639-40 (D.N.J. 1999) (citing
Blackledge v. Allison, 431 U.S. 63 (1977)).
determine whether counsel has satisfied the objective
standard of reasonableness under 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 performance falls within the
broad 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).
satisfy the prejudice prong, the defendant must establish a
reasonable probability that, but for counsel's errors,
the outcome of the proceeding would have been different.
Strickland, 466 U.S. at 694. The district court need
not conduct its analysis of the two prongs in a particular
order or even address both prongs of the inquiry if the
defendant makes an insufficient showing in one. See
id. at 697; United States v. Lilly, 536 F.3d
190, 196 (3d Cir. 2008).
ineffectiveness claim begins and ends with
Strickland's first prong. His allegations, taken
as true, fail to establish any conduct by his appointed
counsel that could possibly have fallen below prevailing
professional norms. Urrutia contends that his counsel should
have known that, under Alleyne, Urrutia could not
have been “sentenced to a mandatory minimum sentence .
. . because [his ACCA predicate offenses were] never
submitted to a jury.” (Doc. 85 ¶¶ 11, 12).
Urrutia extrapolates that he was provided constitutionally
deficient advice because his attorney recommended that he
plead guilty to ...