United States District Court, D. Rhode Island
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
WILLIAM E. SMITH, Chief Judge.
Domingo Gonzales has filed a Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence by a Person in Federal Custody (the "Motion") (ECF No. 203) pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. No hearing is necessary. For the reasons stated below, the Motion is DENIED and DISMISSED.
This case arises out of a drug transaction involving Gonzalez and five other men. On December 14, 2005, after a drug-trafficking investigation jointly conducted by the United States Drug Enforcement Agency ("DEA") and various Rhode Island law enforcement agencies, Gonzalez and five co-defendants were indicted for a number of drug-related offenses. Specifically, Gonzalez was charged with conspiracy to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of cocaine (Count I); possession with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of cocaine (Count II); possession with intent to distribute an unspecified quantity of cocaine (Count IV); and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime (Count V). He was not charged in Count III.
Gonzalez's co-defendants pled guilty before trial. On April 24, 2006, after a four-day jury trial, Gonzalez was convicted on Counts I and II, but acquitted on Counts IV and V. On March 6, 2007, Gonzalez was sentenced to 121 months incarceration on each count, to be served concurrently, followed by five years of supervised release.
Gonzalez appealed his conviction to the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. The First Circuit affirmed the conviction in an opinion dated June 24, 2009. United States v. Gonzalez , 570 F.3d 16 (1st Cir. 2009). Thereafter, Gonzalez timely filed the instant Motion.
Generally, the grounds justifying relief under § 2255 are limited. A court may grant relief pursuant to § 2255 in instances where the court finds a lack of jurisdiction, a constitutional error, or a fundamental error of law. See United States v. Addonizio , 442 U.S. 178, 185 (1979). "[A]n error of law does not provide a basis for collateral attack unless the claimed error constituted a fundamental defect which inherently results in a complete miscarriage of justice." Id. at 185 (internal citation omitted).
Gonzalez raises four grounds for relief under § 2255. First, he alleges that his trial counsel was ineffective because counsel had an undisclosed conflict of interest, thereby violating Gonzalez's Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel. Second, Gonzalez contends that the Government knowingly or unknowingly used false evidence at his trial, in violation of his due process rights. Third, Gonzalez again claims that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to investigate the allegedly false evidence and certain wiretaps and phone calls. Finally, Gonzalez asserts that there was insufficient evidence presented at trial to convict him.
A. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel Claims
"The Sixth Amendment guarantees criminal defendants the right to effective assistance of counsel." Lema v. United States , 987 F.2d 48, 51 (1st Cir. 1993) (citing Strickland v. Washington , 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984)). However, "[t]he Constitution does not guarantee a defendant a letter-perfect defense or a successful defense; rather, the performance standard is that of reasonably effective assistance under the circumstances then obtaining." United States v. Natanel , 938 F.2d 302, 309-10 (1st Cir. 1991).
A defendant who claims that he was deprived of his Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel must demonstrate:
(1) that his counsel's performance fell below an objective standard of reasonableness; and
(2) a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different.
Strickland v. Washington , 466 U.S. at 687-88, 694; accord United States v. Manon , 608 F.3d 126, 131 (1st Cir. 2010). In assessing the adequacy of counsel's performance, a defendant "must identify the acts or omissions of counsel that are alleged not to have been the result of reasonable professional judgment, ' and the court then determines whether, in the particular context, the identified conduct or inaction was outside the wide range of professionally competent assistance.'" Manon , 608 F.3d at 131 (quoting Strickland , 466 U.S. at 690). With respect to the prejudice requirement under Strickland, a "reasonable probability is one sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome.... In making the prejudice assessment, [the court] focus[es] on the fundamental fairness of the proceeding." Id . (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). "Unless a defendant makes both showings, it cannot be said that the conviction... resulted from a breakdown in the adversary process that renders the result unreliable." Strickland , 466 U.S. at 687; see also Reyes-Vejerano v. United States , 117 F.Supp.2d 103, 107 (D.P.R. 2000) ("The petitioner has the burden of proving both prongs of this test, and the burden is a heavy one.").
Strickland instructs that "[j]udicial scrutiny of counsel's performance must be highly deferential." Id. at 689; see also id. ("It is all too tempting for a defendant to second-guess counsel's assistance after conviction or adverse sentence, and it is all too easy for a court, examining counsel's defense after it has proved unsuccessful, to conclude that a particular act or omission of counsel was unreasonable."). The court "must indulge a strong presumption that counsel's conduct falls within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance; that is, the defendant must overcome the presumption that, under the circumstances, the challenged action might be considered sound trial strategy.'" Id . (quoting Michel v. Louisiana , 350 U.S. 91, 101 (1955)). Moreover, "[a]n error by counsel, even if professionally unreasonable, does not warrant setting aside the judgment of a criminal proceeding if the error had no effect on the judgment." Id. at 691. Finally, "[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." Id. at 689.
Gonzalez makes essentially two arguments in support of his claim that his trial counsel, Robert B. Mann, provided ineffective assistance. First, he alleges that counsel had an undisclosed actual conflict of interest which prejudiced Gonzalez's case. (Mot. 5.) Second, he asserts that counsel ...