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United States v. Robinson

United States District Court, D. Rhode Island

February 28, 2017



          Mary M. Lisi Senior United States District Judge

         Pending before the Court is a Motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence by a Person in Federal Custody (Doc. #188) (“Motion”) and amendment thereto (Doc. #189) (“Amended Motion”) filed by Petitioner Robert O. Robinson (“Petitioner” or “Robinson”). The Government has filed an objection to the Motion (Doc. #190) (“Objection”), to which Robinson filed a reply (Doc. #191) (“Reply”). No hearing is necessary.


         On August 17, 2011, a grand jury sitting in the District of Rhode Island returned an indictment charging Robinson with one count of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute 280 grams or more of cocaine base and ten counts of possession with intent to distribute cocaine base, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), 841(b)(1), and 846. After a jury trial, Robinson was convicted on June 20, 2012, of each count. He was sentenced on October 31, 2012, to a term of 240 months imprisonment. Judgment entered on November 7, 2012. Robinson appealed, and the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed Robinson's convictions in their entirety. United States v. Robinson, 753 F.3d 31 (1st Cir. 2014). On October 6, 2014, the United States Supreme Court denied Robinson's petition for writ of certiorari. Robinson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 313 (2014).

         Robinson timely filed the instant Motion on September 23, 2015, [1] followed by the Amended Motion.[2] He alleges ineffective assistance of both plea and appellate counsel.


          I. Section 2255 and AEDPA

          Generally, the grounds justifying relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 are limited. A court may grant such relief only if it 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.”)(internal quotation marks omitted).

         Section 2255 states that:

(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.

28 U.S.C. § 2255(a).

         In 1996, Congress enacted the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (“AEDPA”), which “imposed significant new constraints on proceedings under section 2255.” Trenkler v. United States, 536 F.3d 85, 96 (1st Cir. 2008)(footnote omitted). “Some of these constraints were temporal; for example, AEDPA established a one-year statute of limitations for filing a section 2255 petition.” Id. (citing 28 U.S.C. § 2255(f)). Others were numerical, requiring a petitioner to obtain preclearance from the circuit court before filing a second or successive petition. Id. (citing 28 U.S. § 2255(h)).

         II. Strickland

         A defendant who claims that he was deprived of his Sixth Amendment right to the 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. 668, 687-88 (1984); United States v. Manon, 608 F.3d 126, 131 (1st Cir. 2010)(same). 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); see also Strickland, 466 U.S. at 689 (noting that the court “must indulge a strong presumption that counsel's conduct falls within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance ...”). To show prejudice under Strickland, the defendant must demonstrate that “there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different.” Strickland, 466 U.S. at 694. A reasonable probability is one “sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome.” Id. In making the prejudice assessment, the court focuses on the “fundamental fairness of the proceeding.” Manon, 608 F.3d at 131; see also Strickland, 466 U.S. at 696. “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, 106 (D.P.R. 2000)(“The petitioner has the burden of proving both prongs of this test, and the burden is a heavy one.”). “The benchmark for judging any claim of ineffectiveness must be whether counsel's conduct so undermined the proper functioning of the adversarial process that the trial cannot be relied on as having produced a just result.” Strickland, 466 U.S. at 686.

         The same principles apply in the context of guilty pleas. See Hill v. Lockhart, 474 U.S. 52, 57 (1985). The Hill Court held that “the two-part Strickland v. Washington test applies to challenges to guilty pleas based on ineffective assistance of counsel.” Id. at 58; see also Padilla v. Kentucky, 559 U.S. 356, 371 n.12 (2010)(“In Hill, the Court recognized-for the first time-that Strickland applies to advice respecting a guilty plea.”). The first prong of the Strickland test is nothing more than a restatement of the standard of attorney competence described above. Hill, 474 U.S. at 58.

The second, or “prejudice” requirement, on the other hand, focuses on whether counsel's constitutionally ineffective performance affected the outcome of the plea process. In other words, in order to satisfy the “prejudice” requirement, the defendant 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.

Id. at 59, ; see also Lafler v. Cooper, 156, 163 (2012)(“In the context of pleas a defendant must show the outcome of the plea process would have been different with competent advice.”); id. at 164 (“In these circumstances 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.”). The Hill Court reiterated that, as stated in Strickland, “these predictions of the outcome at a possible trial, where necessary, should be made objectively ....” 474 U.S. at 59-60; see ...

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