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United States v. Palmer

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

July 27, 2016

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
CHRISTOPHER WALTER PALMER Civil Case No. PWG-15-634.

          Christopher Walter Palmer, Petitioner, Pro Se.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          PAUL W. GRIMM, District Judge.

         On November 6, 2013, Christopher Palmer was charged with conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine and 28 grams or more of crack cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846. See Indict., ECF No. 1. On November 8, 2013, Palmer sold crack cocaine to an undercover law enforcement officer in exchange for three machine guns. Plea Agr. Sealed Suppl. 10-11, ECF No. 96-1; Re-Arraignment Trans. 31:16-18, 32:12-15, ECF No. 96-2. On April 24, 2014, Palmer pleaded guilty to a two-count Superseding Information which included the original § 846 charge, as well as possession of a machine gun, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 922(o)(1). Plea Agr. 1, ECF No. 47. Palmer was sentenced to ten years of imprisonment and five years of supervised release. Jgmt., ECF No. 81.

         Palmer now brings a motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 seeking to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence on the basis of ineffective assistance of counsel.[2] Def.'s Mot., ECF No. 85. First, Palmer alleges that ineffective assistance of counsel rendered his guilty plea involuntary on the grounds that his attorney (1) failed to present him with alternative options to accepting the plea agreement and failed to notify him of prosecutorial defects; (2) was unfamiliar with the facts of his case; and (3) failed to advise him of his right to a speedy trial or of the Sixth Amendment rights he would surrender with the entry of his guilty plea. Id. at 1-2. Second, Palmer alleges ineffective assistance of counsel on the basis that his attorney failed to protect his right to a speedy trial. Id. at 5. Because the record does not support Palmer's claims that his counsel was ineffective in either respect, I will deny his motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence.

         I. STANDARD

         28 U.S.C. § 2255(a) permits a prisoner to file a motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence on the ground that it "was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States...." The prisoner must prove his case by a preponderance of the evidence. Brown v. United States, Civil No. DKC-10-2569 & Crim. No. DKC-08-529, 2013 WL 4562276, at *5 (D. Md. Aug. 27, 2013). If the court finds for the prisoner, "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). Although "a pro se movant is entitled to have his arguments reviewed with appropriate deference, " the court may summarily deny the motion without a hearing "if the § 2255 motion, along with the files and records of the case, conclusively shows that [the prisoner] is not entitled to relief." Brown, 2013 WL 4562276, at *5 (citing Gordon v. Leeke, 574 F.2d 1147, 1151-53 (4th Cir. 1978); 28 U.S.C. § 2255(b)).

         To prevail on a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel as the alleged constitutional violation,

a petitioner must show that counsel's performance was constitutionally deficient to the extent that it fell below an objective standard of reasonableness, and that he was prejudiced thereby. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687-91 (1984). In making this determination, there is a strong presumption that counsel's conduct was within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance. Id. at 689; see also Fields v. Attorney Gen. of Md., 956 F.2d 1290, 1297-99 (4th Cir. 1992). Furthermore, the petitioner "bears the burden of proving Strickland prejudice." Fields, 956 F.2d at 1297. "If the petitioner fails to meet this burden, a reviewing court need not consider the performance prong." Fields, 956 F.2d at 1297 (citing Strickland, 466 U.S. at 697). In considering the prejudice prong of the analysis, the Court may not grant relief solely because the petitioner can show that, but for counsel's performance, the outcome would have been different. Sexton v. French, 163 F.3d 874, 882 (4th Cir. 1998). Rather, the Court "can only grant relief under... Strickland if the result of the proceeding was fundamentally unfair or unreliable.'" Id. (quoting Lockhard v. Fretwell, 506 U.S. 364, 369 (1993)).

United States v. Lomax, Civil No. WMN-13-2375 & Crim. No. WMN-10-145, 2014 WL 1340065, at *2 (D. Md. Apr. 2, 2014). "When a petitioner alleges ineffective assistance of counsel following the entry of a guilty plea, he must show that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's errors, [he] would not have pleaded guilty and would have insisted on going to trial.'" United States v. Fabian, 798 F.Supp.2d 647, 670-71 (D. Md. 2011) (quoting Hill v. Lockhart, 474 U.S. 52, 59 (1985)).

         II. DISCUSSION

         Palmer states that his motion to vacate should be granted on the basis of ineffective assistance of counsel by his attorney, Andrew Szekely. See Def.'s Mot. 1. Palmer states that "his plea was not made intelligently, voluntarily, and was made without sufficient awareness of the relevant circumstances." Id. Furthermore, he states that

Defendant's counsel deceitfully obscured the facts of this matter from Defendant. Counsel coerced Defendant into accepting a plea as his only option in the matter. Counsel never discussed any legal options with Defendant including any other suppressive motions, the insufficiency of the indictment and affidavits supporting the warrants, his right to trial by jury, his right to a speedy trial and the relevant statutes that prevent prolonged pretrial incarceration, prosecutorial defects, affirmative defenses and other statutory claims to challenge the indictment.
Defendant was assigned counsel who was ineffective, counsel was never familiar with the facts of the matter, instead of intelligently discussing the matter and options to Defendant, counsel attempted to convince Defendant that he had no other options other then [sic] going with plea offer. Counsel did not provide guidance to Defendant on his rights and his legal options in this matter, instead council [sic] convinced against [Palmer's] better judgment that he had no options but to take the plea.

Id. at 1-2. He separately alleges that "counsel did not protect Defendant's rights regarding his constitutionally protected right to a speedy trial. The extraordinary delay and oppressive incarceration of [D]efendant in this matter has prejudiced Defendant and permitted the [G]overnment to strengthen their case." Id. at 5. I will read Palmer as making two claims of ineffective assistance of counsel: (A) with respect to the voluntariness of his guilty plea and (B) with respect to the protection of his right to a speedy trial.

         A. Voluntariness of the Plea

         Palmer alleges that his guilty plea was made involuntarily and "without sufficient awareness of the relevant circumstances." Id. at 1. His three bases for this allegation are that Szekely (1) failed to present Palmer with legal options and notify Palmer of prosecutorial defects; (2) was unfamiliar with the facts of Palmer's case and coerced his acceptance of the plea agreement; and (3) did not advise Palmer of his right to a speedy trial or of the Sixth Amendment rights he would surrender with the ...


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