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Henderson v. United States

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

February 6, 2015



CAROL E. JACKSON, District Judge.

This matter is before the court on the motion of Larry Lee Henderson to vacate, set aside, or correct sentence, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. The United States has filed responses in opposition, and the issues are fully briefed.

I. Background

Following a jury trial, Henderson was found guilty of uttering counterfeit securities, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 513. He was sentenced to a 63-month term of imprisonment followed by a 24-month term of supervised release.

On December 31, 2009, Henderson appeared before the court for a final supervised release revocation hearing. At the hearing, Henderson admitted that he violated a condition of supervised release by leaving the judicial district without permission. Also, the court took judicial notice of its own records which revealed that Henderson had been indicted again for passing counterfeit checks and that he had failed to pay any of the previously-ordered restitution or special assessment. The court revoked Henderson's term of supervised release and sentenced him to a term of 24 months' imprisonment; no further term of supervised release was imposed.[1] The judgment was affirmed on appeal. United States v. Henderson, 381 Fed.Appx. 620 (8th Cir. 2010).

II. Discussion

In the motion to vacate, Henderson asserts three claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. To prevail on an ineffective assistance claim, a movant must show that his attorney's performance fell below an objective standard of reasonableness and that he 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. Conflict of interest

While he was on supervised release, Henderson was again indicted for passing counterfeit checks. United States v. Larry Lee Henderson, Case No. 4:09CR658 (CAS). One of the victims named in the original indictment was Auffenberg Chevrolet, an automobile dealership in St. Louis.[2]

Henderson was represented by attorney JoAnn Trog in the revocation proceedings and on the new criminal charges. Several months after the supervised release revocation hearing but while the new indictment was still pending, Ms. Trog learned that her law partner had once represented two members of the Auffenberg family in connection with tax and real estate matters. The time period of the Auffenberg family representation overlapped with a portion of the time that the indictment was pending. Ms. Trog had not participated in the representation of the Auffenberg family and had had no dealings with them. Nevertheless, she disclosed the matter to Henderson in a letter dated March 6, 2010, and informed him that she would file a motion to withdraw if he wanted her to do so. Id., Doc. # 46-2. Three days later, Ms. Trog filed a motion asking the court to hold a hearing to determine whether a conflict of interest existed. Id., Doc. # 46. At the hearing, Ms. Trog made an oral motion to withdraw that was granted by the court. Id., Doc. # 51.

In the motion to vacate, Henderson asserts that he was denied effective assistance of counsel in the revocation proceedings because a conflict of interest arose from Ms. Trog's representation of one of his alleged victims. The Sixth Amendment guarantees a defendant the right to counsel "free from conflicts of interest or divided loyalties." United States v. Acty, 77 F.3d 1054, 1056 (8th Cir. 1996). ...

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