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United States v. Henderson

United States District Court, D. Kansas

April 4, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
CHARLES HENDERSON, JR., Defendant. Civil No. 15-9197

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          CARLOS MURGUIA United States District Judge.

         This case is before the court on defendant Charles Henderson Jr.'s Motion Under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence by a Person in Federal Custody (Doc. 99). Defendant alleges that his original defense counsel, Mr. Spies, failed to investigate the government's evidence and was ineffective at defendant's plea hearing. The government responds that defendant cannot prove his ineffective assistance of counsel claims, and the court should deny defendant's motion (Doc. 112). For the reasons set forth below, the court denies defendant's § 2255 motion.

         I. Factual Background

         Defendant pleaded guilty, without a written plea agreement, to: (1) conspiring, between June 1, 2009 and May 6, 2013, to distribute and possess with intent to distribute more than one kilogram of heroin, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846; (2) two counts of distribution of heroin within 1, 000 feet of a playground, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), 841(b)(1)(C), and 860(a); (3) possession with intent to distribute heroin within 1, 000 feet of a playground, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), 841(b)(1)(B), and 860(a); and (4) possession of a firearm by an unlawful user of a controlled substance, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(3). Mr. Spies reserved the right to challenge the drug quantity and other applications of the sentencing guidelines at sentencing.

         After the Presentence Investigation Report (“PSR”) was prepared, but prior to sentencing, Mr. Spies filed a motion to withdraw as counsel. The court granted his request and appointed new counsel for defendant.

         Defendant subsequently filed a motion to withdraw his guilty plea claiming actual innocence on two counts and ineffective assistance of counsel against Mr. Spies. Following a hearing, the court denied defendant's motion. Specifically, the court found that defendant's guilty plea was voluntarily and knowingly made, and defendant failed to show that Mr. Spies was ineffective.

         At sentencing, the court found that defendant's total offense level of 34 and criminal history category of I gave him a guideline range of 151 to 188 months. However, the court granted a variance based on the parties' sentencing agreement and imposed a 129-month sentence. No direct appeal was filed, and defendant timely filed his § 2255 motion on August 5, 2015.

         II. Legal Standards

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a), a prisoner in custody has the right to challenge a sentence imposed by the district court if it is in violation of the Constitution or other law of the United States, or if the sentence imposed was in excess of the maximum authorized by law. If the court finds that defendant is being held in violation of federal law, the court “shall vacate and set the judgment aside and shall discharge the [defendant] or resentence him or grant a new trial or correct the sentence . . . .” 28 U.S.C. § 2255(b).

         The Sixth Amendment provides defendants a right to effective assistance of counsel, and this right “extends to the plea-bargaining process.” United States v. Watson, 766 F.3d 1219, 1225 (10th Cir. 2014) (quoting Lafler v. Cooper, 566 U.S. 156, 162 (2012)). The court applies the standard identified in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687-88, 694 (1984), when determining whether a habeas petitioner's counsel provided ineffective assistance. See Romano v. Gibson, 278 F.3d 1145, 1151 (10th Cir. 2002) (applying Strickland ).

         Under Strickland, a defendant bears the burden of satisfying a two-pronged test. First, he must show that his attorney's “performance was deficient” and “fell below an objective standard of reasonableness.” Id. at 687-88. The court affords considerable deference to an attorney's strategic decisions and “recognize[s] that counsel is strongly presumed to have rendered adequate assistance and made all significant decisions in the exercise of reasonable professional judgment.” Id. at 690.

         Second, a defendant must demonstrate prejudice, which requires a showing 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; see also Lafler, 566 U.S. at 163. Specifically, a defendant must show “that but for the ineffective advice of counsel there is a reasonable probability that the plea offer would have been presented to the court (i.e., that the defendant would have accepted the plea and the prosecution would not have withdrawn it in light of intervening circumstances), that the court would have accepted its terms, and that the conviction or sentence, or both, under the offer's terms would have been less severe than under the judgment and sentence that in fact were imposed.” Lafler, 566 U.S. at 163-64.

         There is no reason for a court deciding an ineffective assistance claim to address both components of the inquiry if the defendant makes an insufficient showing on one. If it is easier to dispose of an ineffectiveness claim on the lack of prejudice ground, then that course should be followed. Strickland, 466 U.S. at 697.

         III. ...


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