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Jefferies v. United States

United States District Court, D. Maryland

September 13, 2016



          DEBORAH K. CHASANOW United States District Judge.

         Presently pending and ready for resolution is the motion of Petitioner Reginald Jefferies, Jr. (“Petitioner”) to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. (ECF No. 45).[1] The issues have been briefed, and the court now rules, no hearing being deemed necessary. Local Rule 105.6. For the following reasons, Petitioner's motion will be denied.

         I. Background

         On April 4, 2012, Petitioner was charged by criminal complaint with multiple counts of fraud in connection with access devices and with causing interstate transportation of goods obtained by fraud. (ECF No. 1). The Federal Public Defender was appointed to represent Petitioner, with Assistant Federal Public Defender LaKeytria Felder appearing as counsel. (ECF Nos. 5, 7). On May 18, Petitioner agreed to waive indictment and plead guilty to one count of fraud in connection with access devices (ECF No. 16 ¶ 1), and the government filed an Information charging Petitioner with one count of fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1029(a)(2) on May 23 (ECF No. 14). When Petitioner appeared for arraignment on July 19, the court suspended proceedings because it was not clear Petitioner was prepared to accept the plea. (ECF No. 18). Subsequently, Petitioner wrote a letter to the court requesting new counsel (ECF No. 19), and Joseph J. McCarthy was appointed to represent Petitioner (ECF Nos. 21, 23). Petitioner's arraignment was rescheduled and the speedy trial clock was tolled. (ECF No. 22).

         On August 23, Petitioner waived indictment and pleaded guilty to the Information. (ECF No. 24). During the Rule 11 hearing, Petitioner was placed under oath, stated his desire to plead guilty, and confirmed his understanding of the litany of rights he would be required to waive. (ECF No. 49-3, at 3-4, 7-10). Petitioner stipulated that beginning on or about February 20, 2008, and continuing through on or about April 2, 2010, he obtained credit cards in his own name, added fictitious names as secondary users on the accounts, and then used the credit cards to order items from various merchants on installment payment plans. After Petitioner received the items, he reported the credit cards as lost or stolen. As a result, the credit card companies closed the accounts and issued new account numbers, preventing the merchants from charging the cards for the subsequent installment payments that were due. Petitioner then sold the items he had purchased on installment plans on eBay. (ECF No. 26-1, at 1-3).

         On October 31, Petitioner moved to withdraw his guilty plea. (ECF No. 29). At a motions hearing on November 29, Petitioner orally moved to withdraw the motion, and then requested additional time to reflect on his motion. (ECF No. 35). The hearing was continued until December 3, Petitioner's scheduled sentencing. (Id.). On December 3, the court denied Petitioner's motion to withdraw his guilty plea after hearing from the parties and sentenced Petitioner to 18 months imprisonment and three years of supervised release. (ECF Nos. 36, 39). The court ordered Petitioner to pay restitution of $187, 881.88 and a special assessment of $100. (ECF No. 39).

         Petitioner moved to correct his sentence on December 6, arguing that the amount of restitution due was incorrectly fixed. (ECF No. 41). The motion was denied following a hearing. (ECF No. 43).

         Petitioner did not appeal. On June 24, 2013, he timely filed the pending motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. (ECF No. 45). The government opposed (ECF No. 49), and Petitioner filed a reply (ECF No. 50).

         II. Standard of Review

         Section 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[.]” 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a). If the § 2255 motion, along with the files and records of the case, conclusively shows that the 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 Id. § 2255(b).

         III. Analysis

         Petitioner asserts claims for ineffective assistance of counsel based on nine grounds. These are, briefly: (1) the alleged failure of both his attorneys to review and investigate his case before recommending that he enter a guilty plea; (2) his second attorney's alleged failure to argue for withdrawal of the plea or for probation; (3) his second attorney's failure to file a motion to reconsider; (4)-(5) the alleged failure of both his attorneys to investigate the grounds of the search warrant; (6) the alleged failure of both his attorneys to advise him of the rights he would give up by pleading guilty; (7) the alleged failure of his first attorney to inform Petitioner that the judgment would be a matter of public record; (8) the alleged failure of the police department to return items seized in the search of his residence; and (9) the alleged failure of both his attorneys to inform him of his right to a grand jury indictment. (ECF No. 45, at 6-11). In his reply, Petitioner additionally asserts that there was not a factual basis for the plea. (See ECF No. 50, at 2-7, 9-11).

         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 Strickland claim, 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.

         There is 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. 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.

         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, 562 U.S. 115, 132 (2011). Thus, a petitioner alleging ineffective assistance in the context of a guilty plea must meet a “substantial burden . . . to avoid the plea[.]” Id.

         A. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel Prior to the Plea

         Petitioner raises a number of grounds for his ineffective assistance of counsel claim that were apparent at the time he entered his plea. Petitioner argues that both of his attorneys failed to review the discovery in his case sufficiently and inquire into the probable cause for the search of his home. (ECF No. 45, at 6-10 (Grounds 1, 4-5)). He also alleges that Ms. Felder gave him incomplete advice when he asked if his guilty plea would be a matter of public record. (Id. at 11 (Ground 7)). Finally, Petitioner states that his attorneys failed to inform him of the rights he would give up by pleading guilty, including specifically the right to a grand jury indictment. (Id. at 10-11 (Grounds 6, 9)). The government argues that these issues were known before ...

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