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United States v. Garst

United States District Court, D. Kansas

February 13, 2015

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff/Respondent,
DONALD GENE GARST, Defendant/Petitioner.


JULIE A. ROBINSON, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on Petitioner Donald Gene Garst's Motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to Vacate, Set Aside or Correct Sentence by a Person in Federal Custody (Doc. 57). In his motion, Petitioner seeks relief on grounds that he was denied effective assistance of counsel. The Government has responded (Doc. 60) and Garst has filed a reply (Doc. 61). After a careful review of the record and the arguments presented, the Court denies Garst's motion without further evidentiary hearing.

I. Legal Standards

A. General

Under § 2255(a):

A prisoner in custody under sentence of a court established by Act of Congress claiming the right to be released upon the ground 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, or is otherwise subject to collateral attack, may move the court which imposed the sentence to vacate, set aside or correct the sentence.

According to Rule 4(b) of the Rules Governing Section 2255 Proceedings for the United States District Courts:

The judge who receives the motion must promptly examine it. If it plainly appears from the motion, any attached exhibits, and the record of prior proceedings that the moving party is not entitled to relief, the judge must dismiss the motion....

An evidentiary hearing must be held on a § 2255 motion "unless the motion and files and records of the case conclusively show that the prisoner is entitled to no relief."[1] Petitioner must allege facts which, if proven, would warrant relief from his conviction or sentence.[2] An evidentiary hearing is not necessary where the factual allegations in a § 2255 motion are contradicted by the record, inherently incredible, or when they are conclusions rather than statements of fact.[3]

A district court may grant relief under § 2255 if it determines "that the judgment was rendered without jurisdiction, or that the sentence imposed was not authorized by law or otherwise open to collateral attack, or that there has been such a denial or infringement of the constitutional rights of the prisoner as to render the judgment vulnerable to collateral attack."[4] "Review under § 2255 is not an alternative to appellate review for claims that could have been presented on direct appeal but were not."[5] A movant may overcome this procedural bar by showing either of "two well recognized exceptions."[6] First, the movant must show good cause for not raising the issue earlier and actual prejudice to the movant's defense if the issue is not considered.[7] Cause may "be established by showing that counsel rendered constitutionally ineffective assistance."[8] Second, the movant must show that "failure to consider the federal claims will result in a fundamental miscarriage of justice."[9]

B. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

The Sixth Amendment guarantees that "[i]n all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right... to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence."[10] A successful claim of ineffective assistance of counsel must meet the two-pronged test set forth in Strickland v. Washington. [11] First, a defendant must show that his counsel's performance was deficient in that it "fell below an objective standard of reasonableness."[12] To meet this first prong, a defendant must demonstrate that the omissions of his counsel fell "outside the wide range of professionally competent assistance."[13] This standard is "highly demanding."[14] Strategic or tactical decisions on the part of counsel are presumed correct, unless they were "completely unreasonable, not merely wrong, so that [they] bear no relationship to a possible defense strategy."[15] In all events, judicial scrutiny of the adequacy of attorney performance must be strongly deferential: "[A] court must indulge a strong presumption that counsel's conduct falls within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance."[16] Moreover, the reasonableness of the challenged conduct must be evaluated from counsel's perspective at the time of the alleged error; "every effort should be made to eliminate the distorting effects of hindsight.'"[17]

Second, a defendant must also show that his counsel's deficient performance actually prejudiced his defense.[18] To prevail on this prong, a defendant "must show there is a reasonable probability that, but for his counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different."[19] A "reasonable probability" is a "probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome."[20] This, in turn, requires the court to focus on "the question whether counsel's deficient performance render[ed] the result of the trial unreliable or the proceeding fundamentally unfair."[21] A defendant must demonstrate both Strickland prongs to establish a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, and a failure to prove either one is dispositive.[22]

Finally, Garst appears pro se. Therefore, his pleadings are to be construed liberally and not to the standard applied to an attorney's pleadings.[23] If a petitioner's motion can be reasonably read to state a valid claim on which he could prevail, the court should do so despite a failure to cite proper legal authority or follow normal pleading requirements.[24] However, it is not "the proper function of the district court to assume the role of advocate for the pro se litigant."[25] For that reason, the ...

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