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United States v. Straw

United States District Court, D. Rhode Island

October 16, 2018

MARLON STRAW, Defendant.



         Claiming ineffective assistance of counsel, Marlon Straw has moved to Vacate or Set Aside His Conviction under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. ECF No. 59. The government objects to the motion (ECF No. 67) to which Mr. Straw replies. ECF No. 68, Mr. Straw makes two arguments, his counsel failed to investigate properly his case, and that counsel failed to file an appeal. Finding no merit in either of Mr. Straw's claims, the Court DENIES his Motion to Vacate.


         Marlon Straw was the passenger in a car that the state police pulled over for speeding-79 miles-per-hour in a 65 mile-per-hour zone. After making the stop, the state troopers asked the driver and the passenger for identification. When the passenger was unable to provide an ID, the police officers asked him to step out of the car, and frisked him with his permission. Mr. Straw gave the police a false name and date of birth. The driver, whom the police also asked about the passenger's identity, gave the police a different name for him. When confronted with this conflicting information, Mr. Straw admitted that he lied about his name, and gave the officers yet another false name. The police then arrested Mr. Straw for obstructing an officer in the execution of duty under R.I. Gen. Laws § 11-32-1. They handcuffed him and transported him to the police barracks. At the station, the police searched Mr. Straw again, and found a gun in his sock. After running a fingerprint check, the police discovered that the passenger's real name was Marlon Straw.

         Mr. Straw filed a Motion to Suppress. ECF No. 21. The Court held an evidentiary hearing followed by a hearing for legal arguments. See Transcripts of the hearings at ECF Nos. 28 and 39. The Court ruled that the police acted properly in their stop, interrogation, and arrest of Mr. Straw and so denied his Motion to Suppress the gun found on him at the police station. See Bench Decision at ECF No. 39 at 53-57.

         A few weeks after the denial of his Motion to Suppress, Mr. Straw plead guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1) and 924(a)(2) and illegal reentry in violation of 8 U.S.C. §§ 1326(a) and 1326(b)(2). See Transcript of Change of Plea Hearing at ECF No. 49. The Court subsequently sentenced Mr. Straw to 46 months of incarceration. The Clerk of Court entered the Judgment of Conviction, ECF No. 53, Mr. Straw did not file an appeal.

         A year after his conviction, Mr, Straw moved for post-conviction relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 claiming ineffective assistance of counsel. ECF No. 59.


         Section 2255 provides for post-conviction relief if the court sentenced a petitioner in violation of the Constitution or lacked jurisdiction to impose the sentence, if the sentence exceeded the statutory maximum, or if the sentence is otherwise subject to collateral attack. United States v. Addonizio, 442 U.S. 178, 185 (1979); David v. United States, 134 F.3d 470, 474 (1st Cir. 1998). In seeking to collaterally attack his sentence, the petitioner bears the burden of proving "exceptional circumstances" that warrant redress under § 2255. See Hill v. United States, 368 U.S. 424, 428 (1962); Mack v. United States, 635 F.2d 20, 26-27 (1st Cir. 1980). For example, an error of law must constitute a "fundamental defect which inherently results in a complete miscarriage of justice." Hill, 368 U.S. at 428; accord David, 134 F.3d at 474.

         The Sixth Amendment guarantees 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)). Even so, "[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 prove:

(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, 466 U.S. at 687-88, 694; see also 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). As for the second prong, or the prejudice requirement, under Strickland, a "reasonable probability is one sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome...In making the prejudice assessment, [the court] focuses on the fundamental fairness of the proceeding." Id. Unless the petitioner 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."). In sum, "[t]he ...

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