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Caramadre v. United States

United States District Court, D. Rhode Island

October 22, 2018




         Defendant/Movant Joseph A. Caramadre has filed a motion to vacate, set aside, or correct sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (“Mot. to Vacate, ” ECF No. 267), and supporting memorandum (“Caramadre Mem., ” ECF No. 267-1), in the above-captioned matter. The Government has objected to the Motion (“Gov't Obj., ” ECF No. 271). Caramadre thereafter filed a reply (“Caramadre Reply, ” ECF No. 273), to which the Government filed a sur-reply (“Gov't Sur-Reply, ” ECF No. 274). The Court has determined that no hearing is necessary. For the reasons that follow, the Motion to Vacate is DENIED.

         I. Background and Travel

         The background of the case is taken from the Court's Memorandum of Decision (ECF No. 181) explaining its denial of Caramadre's motion to withdraw guilty plea (“Mot. to Withdraw Plea, ” ECF No. 122). The travel is taken from the Court's Docket.

On November 17, 2011, after a lengthy investigation including pre-indictment depositions and Grand Jury proceedings, the Grand Jury returned a detailed indictment against Defendants Caramadre and Raymour Radhakrishnan. The Indictment charged both Defendants with sixty-five counts including wire fraud, mail fraud, conspiracy, identity fraud, aggravated identity theft, and money laundering. Caramadre was also charged with one count of witness tampering. At its core, the Indictment alleged that Caramadre devised a fraudulent scheme, later joined by Radhakrishnan, to secure the identities of terminally ill people through material misrepresentations and omissions. Caramadre and Radhakrishnan allegedly made millions of dollars by taking these fraudulently obtained identities, making additional misrepresentations to insurance carriers, and then purchasing variable annuities and corporate bonds with death-benefit features. Because of the vast scope of the Indictment and the number of government witnesses, trial was anticipated to last over three months. The jury empanelment process was lengthy as well, involving an extensive questionnaire and individual voir dire.
Trial began on Tuesday, November 13, 2012. After four days of trial, on Monday, November 19, 2012, Caramadre and Radhakrishnan entered guilty pleas pursuant to a package plea agreement (the “Plea Agreement”) in which they both pleaded guilty to Counts Nine (wire fraud) and Thirty-three (conspiracy to commit mail fraud, wire fraud, and identity theft). Sentencing was scheduled for March 2013 in anticipation of considerable disagreement over the loss amounts and restitution. All was quiet until January 2013, when Caramadre's attorneys moved to withdraw from the case and his new attorneys alerted the Court that Caramadre would be filing a motion to withdraw his plea. The Motion was eventually filed on February 28, 2013.

United States v. Caramadre, 957 F.Supp.2d 160, 165 (D.R.I. 2013) (internal citations omitted) (“Caramadre IV”); see also United States v. Caramadre, 807 F.3d 359, 364-65 (1st Cir. 2015) (denying Caramadre's direct appeal) (“Caramadre V”), cert. denied, Caramadre v. United States, 136 S.Ct. 2455 (2016) (“Caramadre VI”).[1] After an evidentiary hearing spanning four days, the Court denied Caramadre's Motion to Withdraw Plea from the bench on May 20, 2013. The Court issued a Memorandum of Decision on August 1, 2013.

         Caramadre was sentenced on December 16, 2013, to 72 months' incarceration as to Count Nine and a concurrent term of 60 months' incarceration as to Count Thirty-Three, to be followed by three years of supervised release on each Count, also to run concurrently, and a special assessment of $200. Restitution was to be determined at a later date. The Government moved to dismiss the remaining counts, and the Court granted the motion. Judgment issued on December 26, 2013, followed on February 25, 2014, by an Amended Judgment, which included the restitution amounts which had been determined.

         Caramadre filed Notices of Appeal of both the Judgment and the Amended Judgment. The Court of Appeals for the First Circuit denied Caramadre's appeal on December 7, 2015. The court's Mandate issued on January 20, 2016. On May 23, 2016, the Supreme Court denied further review.

         On May 15, 2017, Caramadre timely filed the instant Motion to Vacate.

         II. Law

         A. Section 2255

         Section 2255 provides in relevant part:

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).

         Generally, the grounds justifying relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a) 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. 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. (internal quotation marks omitted). Moreover, § 2255 is not a substitute for direct appeal. Knight v. United States, 37 F.3d 769, 772 (1st Cir. 1994)(citing cases).

         B. Strickland

         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)). 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, 466 U.S. at 687-88, 694. 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.'” United States v. Manon, 608 F.3d 126, 131 (1st Cir. 2010)(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, 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.

         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.

         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 Lee v. United States, 137 S.Ct. 1958, 1965 (2017)(quoting Hill); Padilla, 559 U.S. at 372 (noting that “to obtain relief on this type of claim, a petitioner must convince the court that a decision to reject the plea bargain would have been rational under the circumstances”); Lafler v. Cooper, 566 U.S. 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.”). However, “[c]ourts should not upset a plea solely because of post hoc assertions from a defendant about how he would have pleaded but for his attorney's deficiencies. Judges should instead look to contemporary evidence to substantiate a defendant's expressed preferences.” Lee, 137 S.Ct. at 1967.

         III. Discussion

         Caramadre presents one ground for relief: that, as a result of the ineffective assistance of his trial counsel, “his guilty plea was not knowing and voluntary and as a result, his 5th and 6th Amendment rights were abridged.” (Mot. to Vacate 5.) Specifically, Caramadre asserts that:

[H]e was deprived of his 5th Amendment rights to due process of law and his constitutional right to present a complete defense, including the right to present witnesses in his own defense, as well as his 6th Amendment right to the effective assistance of counsel, as a result of his trial counsels' failure to undertake the steps necessary to have determined that Petitioner's co-defendant, Raymour Radhakrishan, was willing to provide compelling exculpatory evidence on Petitioner's behalf if Mr. Radhakrishan was tried at a separate trial and further, that it constituted ineffective assistance of counsel for the failure of his trial counsel to move before the District Court for a severance pursuant to Rule 14 of the Fed. R. Crim. Pro., based upon Petitioner's need for the testimony of co-defendant, Raymour Radhakrishnan, and that as the result of Petitioner's counsels' ineffective assistance, Petitioner was induced to enter a guilty plea, which he would not have entered but rather would have insisted on going to trial. As a result, Petitioner's guilty plea was not a knowing and voluntary waiver of his right to a trial . . . .

(Id.) The Government counters that Caramadre's claim is procedurally barred (Gov't Obj. 3), and that, in any event, Caramadre has failed to meet his burden of demonstrating that counsels' performance was constitutionally deficient and that he suffered prejudice as a result (id. at 1).

         A. Procedural Default

         The Government contends that Caramadre's current claim is procedurally barred because:

Caramadre already thoroughly argued that his former attorneys were ineffective in the context of his motion to withdraw his guilty plea. In that motion, petitioner made every argument he could imagine in support of his assertion that his attorneys committed serious errors that caused him to enter a guilty plea .....

(Gov't Obj. 3-4; see also id. at 4 (“Petitioner is now simply recycling this same claim by finding a new spin on the same old argument - that his former counsel's ineffectiveness led him to plead guilty.”).) Thus, the Government concludes, Caramadre has already been “afforded the opportunity for full and fair litigation of his counsel's alleged ineffectiveness in the context of his decision to plead guilty, as required by the Supreme Court in Withrow, ”[2] (id. at 4), and is “barred from rehashing the same argument once again” (id. at 5).

         Caramadre responds that “the government's argument that Petitioner has somehow ‘waived' his right to bring the instant Petition, is without merit.” (Caramadre Reply 6.)[3]

The issue that forms the basis for the instant petition - failure to investigate whether Mr. Caramadre's co-defendant would provide meaningful exculpatory testimony at a separate trial, and/or failing to move the Court for a severance on that basis - is a free standing issue that has never been previously raised and has never been previously litigated or adjudicated either by this Court or in Petitioner's direct appeal to the First Circuit Court of Appeals. It is now ...

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