United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
OPINION AND ORDER SYNOPSIS
Donetta W. Ambrose, U.S. District Court Senior Judge
action, Defendant pleaded guilty, via Rule 11(c)(1)(C), to
one Count of violating 21 U.S.C. §§ 846, 18 U.S.C.
§ 2. On February 26, 2018, he was sentenced to a term of
imprisonment of 180 months, with credit for time served from
the date of his arrest in Mexico, believed to have occurred
on January 7, 2016, followed by a term of supervised release.
No. appeal was taken. On March 5, 2019, Defendant filed a
Motion to Vacate pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Following
Miller notice, Defendant made no additional filing, and the
Court issued a briefing schedule. The Government filed its
response, and the Motion is ripe for disposition.
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). Further, pro se pleadings
are to be liberally construed, and I have considered
Defendant's submissions accordingly. See United States v.
Otero, 502 F.3d 331, 334 (3d Cir. 2007). In this case, a
hearing is unnecessary, and the Motion will be disposed of on
a native Spanish speaker, asserts ineffective assistance of
counsel stemming from a breakdown in communication between
Defendant, counsel, and the interpreter. Defendant contends
that counsel intentionally used miscommunication between
counsel and the interpreter to deceive Defendant into signing
the plea. He claims he was instructed to answer in the
affirmative to all questions at the plea colloquy, and that
the interpreter misled and misinformed him. He claims that he
was not advised about mandatory minimum sentences, was
misinformed about the plea deal, was not given information
regarding how to obtain a bilingual lawyer, and had no
opportunity to use the plea deal as leverage for a treaty
context of an ineffective assistance of counsel claim, a
court should be "highly deferential" when
evaluating an attorney's conduct; there is a "strong
presumption" that the attorney's performance was
reasonable. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 689, 104
S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed.2d 674 (1984). "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." United States
v. Gray, 878 F.2d 702, 711 (3d Cir. 1989).
demonstrate that counsel was ineffective, 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,
466 U.S. at 687. 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. A
defendant must show that "counsel made errors so serious
that counsel was not functioning as the 'counsel'
guaranteed the defendant by the sixth amendment."
Id. at 686. 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 Gray, 878 F.2d at
709-13. 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." Strickland, 466
U.S. at 700.
representations of the defendant...as well as any findings
made by the judge accepting the plea, constitute a formidable
barrier in any subsequent collateral proceedings. Solemn
declarations in open court carry a strong presumption of
verity." Blackledge v. Allison, 431 U.S. 63, 73-74, 97
S.Ct. 1621, 52 L.Ed.2d 136 (1977). "[A]bsent clear and
convincing evidence to the contrary, a court must presume the
veracity of a defendant's statements made while under
oath in open court." Morris v. United States, No.
04-1570, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 31295, at *14 (D. Del. Apr.
16, 2008). Consistent with these principles is the
"fundamental interest in the finality of guilty
pleas." Hill v. Lockhart, 474 U.S. 52, 58, 106 S.Ct.
366, 88 L.Ed.2d 203 (1985).
Defendant's October 23, 2017 change of plea proceeding,
the following exchanges occurred:
Court: For the record, we do have a certified translator
here. If there's anything that I say that you do not
understand, please ask me to repeat it and I will, or to
explain further, I will.
Defendant: Yes, your ...