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Wallace v. United States

United States District Court, Eastern District of Missouri, Eastern Division

February 2, 2015

WAQUITA WALLACE, Movant,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent.

MEMORANDUM

CAROL E. JACKSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

This matter is before the court on the motion of Waquita Wallace to vacate, set aside, or correct sentence, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. The United States has filed a response in opposition and Wallace has filed a reply.

I. Background

After entering into a written plea agreement with the government, Wallace pled guilty to one count of sex trafficking by fraud, force, or coercion, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1591. The statutory penalties for the offense included imprisonment for a term of not less than 15 years and not more than life. Among other things, the plea agreement contained the parties’ recommendations as to the sentencing guidelines and their estimate of a total offense level of 31. In both the plea agreement and at the change of plea hearing, Wallace was informed of the 15-year mandatory minimum sentence and that the court was not required to accept the parties’ sentencing guideline recommendations.

Before the sentencing hearing, counsel for Wallace filed a notice of her intent to call Octa Wallace to testify about Wallace’s childhood. At the hearing, however, the court would not permit Mr. Wallace to testify. Defense counsel then made a detailed proffer of what Mr. Wallace’s testimony would be. The details of his anticipated testimony were also included in the sentencing memorandum that defense counsel filed. Additionally, defense counsel submitted a copy of a letter Mr. Wallace had written to the court in support of movant.

At the sentencing hearing, defense counsel argued for a sentence of 180 months’ imprisonment. After taking into account the relevant sentencing factors and considering the extreme abuse Wallace perpetrated on the victim, the court imposed an upward departure, based on U.S.S.G. § 5K2.4 and § 5K2.8, and sentenced Wallace to a 240-month term of imprisonment. The judgment was affirmed on appeal. United States v. Wallace, 605 F.3d 477 (8th Cir. 2010).

II. Discussion

In the motion to vacate, Wallace asserts claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. To prevail on an ineffective assistance claim, a movant must show that her attorney’s performance fell below an objective standard of reasonableness and that she was prejudiced thereby. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984). With respect to the first Strickland prong, there exists a strong presumption that counsel’s conduct falls within the wide range of professionally reasonable assistance. Id. at 689. In Strickland, the Court described the standard for determining an ineffective assistance claim:

[A] court deciding an actual ineffectiveness claim must judge the reasonableness of counsel’s challenged conduct on the facts of the particular case, viewed as of the time of counsel’s conduct. A convicted defendant making a claim of ineffective assistance must identify the acts or omissions of counsel that are alleged not to have been the result of reasonable professional judgment. The court must then determine whether, in light of all the circumstances, the identified acts or omissions were outside the wide range of professionally competent assistance. in making that determination, the court should keep in mind that counsel’s function, as elaborated in prevailing professional norms, is to make the adversarial testing process work in the particular case. At the same time, the court should recognize that counsel is strongly presumed to have rendered adequate assistance and made all significant decisions in the exercise of reasonable professional judgment.

Strickland, 466 U.S. at 690.

To establish the “prejudice” prong, the movant must show “that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel’s unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different. A reasonable probability is a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome.” Id. at 694. The failure to show prejudice is dispositive, and a court need not address the reasonableness of counsel’s performance in the absence of prejudice. United States v. Apfel, 97 F.3d 1074, 1076 (8th Cir. 1996).

A. Ground One

The basis for Wallace’s first ineffective assistance claim is that defense counsel failed to call witnesses to testify at the sentencing hearing. The record of the criminal case clearly shows that defense counsel sought to present Octa Wallace’s testimony but the court refused to allow that or any other testimony. After the testimony was rejected, defense counsel did the next best thing-she made a detailed offer of proof. This was in addition to submitting a letter from Mr. Wallace. It cannot be disputed that defense counsel did all she ...


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