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United States v. Alcantara

United States District Court, D. Rhode Island

October 22, 2018




         David Alcantara has petitioned this Court under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to vacate, set aside, or correct his judgment of conviction, entered after a jury found him guilty of conspiracy to commit bank fraud, conspiracy to pass counterfeit currency, and aggravated identity theft. He now claims that the Court should vacate his conviction because his trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance. The Court has determined that no hearing is necessary. The Court finds that Mr, Alcantara's Motion to Vacate (ECF No. 65) lacks merit and thus DISMISSES his petition.


         A federal grand jury sitting in the District of Rhode Island indicted Mr. Alcantara on charges of conspiracy to commit bank fraud (Count l), aggravated identity theft (Counts 2-3), and conspiracy to pass counterfeit obligations (Count 4). Mr. Alcantara was arrested and arraigned the next day. The grand jury subsequently returned a Superseding Indictment, including additional counts of aggravated identity theft.

         After a five-day jury trial, the jury found Mr. Alcantara guilty of both conspiracy counts and all but one count of aggravated identity theft, which the Court dismissed on the Government's motion. The Court sentenced him to an aggregate term of sixty months imprisonment and three years supervised release.

         Mr. Alcantara appealed his conviction, raising several evidentiary issues and an allegation of prosecutorial misconduct. The Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed the conviction, finding each of Mr. Alcantara's claims to be meritless. Mr. Alcantara did not seek further review.

         Mr. Alcantara timely filed this Motion to Vacate.


         A. Section 2255

         Section 2255 provides for post-conviction relief only 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, 422 U.S. 178, 185 (1979); David v. United States, 134 F.3d 470, 474 (1st Cir. 1998). In trying 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.

         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. l993)(citing Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984)). That said, "[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; 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] focus[es] on the fundamental fairness of the proceeding." Id. (internal citation omitted). Unless the petitioner makes both showings, the court cannot say 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 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, "[j]udcicial scrutiny of counsel's performance must be highly deferential." Id. at 689. 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.


         As noted above, Mr. Alcantara filed the Motion to Vacate (ECF No. 65), the Government filed an opposition (ECF No. 67), and ...

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