United States District Court, D. Maryland
DEBORAH K. CHASANOW, District Judge.
Presently pending in this case is the motion of Petitioner, Jonathan Price ("Mr. Price" or "Petitioner"), to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. (ECF No. 46). For the following reasons, the court will hold an evidentiary hearing on the ineffective assistance of counsel claim, specifically whether Petitioner unequivocally directed his trial counsel to notice an appeal and he failed to do so.
On July 20, 2009, a grand jury in the District Court of Maryland returned an indictment charging Petitioner with one count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon on June 4, 2009 in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). (ECF No. 1). The Government filed a superseding information on December 2, 2009, adding an additional count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon on July 15, 2009. (ECF No. 26). Petitioner waived indictment on December 4, 2009, and the court held a guilty plea hearing. (ECF No. 30). Pursuant to a written plea agreement, Petitioner pled guilty to both counts of the superseding information. (ECF No. 48-1, at 1). Subsequently, on May 3, 2010, Petitioner was sentenced to a total term of imprisonment of 132 months - consisting of 120 months on count one of the superseding information and a consecutive term of twelve (12) months on count two - to be followed by three (3) years of supervised release. (ECF No. 42). Petitioner did not file a notice of appeal.
Almost one year later, in correspondence to the court dated March 24, 2011, Petitioner indicated his intention to file an appeal and requested that the court appoint an attorney for him in filing the appeal. (ECF No. 44). The Clerk of the Court replied to Petitioner on March 29, 2011, informing him of his right to file a habeas petition. (ECF No. 45). Petitioner filed the instant motion on May 2, 2011, which the Government opposed on July 8, 2011. (ECF Nos. 46 & 48).
II. Standard of Review
28 U.S.C. § 2255 requires a petitioner asserting constitutional error to prove by a preponderance of the evidence 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." If the Section 2255 motion, along with the files and records of the case, conclusively shows that petitioner is not entitled to relief, a hearing on the motion is unnecessary and the claims raised in the motion may be summarily denied. See 28 U.S.C. § 2255(b).
III. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel
Petitioner raises the following grounds in his Section 2255 motion: (1) that his counsel rendered ineffective assistance of counsel by failing to file a notice of appeal; and (2) that the Government breached the plea agreement.
A. Standard of Review
Claims of ineffective assistance of counsel are governed by the well-settled standard adopted by the United States Supreme Court in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984). To prevail on a claim under Strickland, the petitioner must show both that his attorney's performance fell below an objective standard of reasonableness and that he suffered actual prejudice. See Strickland, 466 U.S. at 688. To demonstrate actual prejudice, Petitioner must show that there is a "reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different." Id. at 694.
In the Strickland analysis, there exists a strong presumption that counsel's conduct falls within a wide range of reasonably professional conduct, and courts must be highly deferential in scrutinizing counsel's performance. Strickland, 466 U.S. at 688-89; Bunch v. Thompson, 949 F.2d 1354, 1363 (4th Cir. 1991). Courts must assess the reasonableness of attorney conduct "as of the time their actions occurred, not the conduct's consequences after the fact." Frye v. Lee, 235 F.3d 897, 906 (4th Cir. 2000). "A fair assessment of attorney performance requires that every effort be made to eliminate the distorting effects of hindsight, to reconstruct the circumstances of counsel's challenged conduct, and to evaluate the conduct from counsel's perspective at the time." Strickland, 466 U.S. at 689. Furthermore, a determination need not be made concerning the attorney's performance if it is clear that no prejudice could have resulted from some performance deficiency. See id. at 697.
A petitioner who pleads guilty has an especially high burden in establishing an ineffective assistance claim. As the Supreme Court explained, "[t]he plea process brings to the criminal justice system a stability and a certainty that must not be undermined by the prospect of collateral challenges in cases... where witnesses and evidence were not presented in the first place." Premo v. Moore, 131 S.Ct. 733, 746 (2011). Thus, a petitioner alleging ...