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Sills v. United States

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

August 24, 2017

ROBERT MONTELL SILLS, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent.

          OPINION, MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          HENRY EDWARD AUTREY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on the limited remand of Robert Montell Sills' Motion to Vacate, Set Aside or Correct Sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, [Doc. No. 1]. The United States of America has responded to the motion. For the reasons set forth below, the Motion is denied.

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On May 7, 2015, the Court entered its Opinion, Memorandum and Order denying Movant's Motion. Movant filed a timely notice of appeal and request for Certificate of Appealability. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals granted the request on March 10, 2016. On June 27, 2017, Respondent filed a Motion for Remand in the Circuit Court for the purpose of conducting a hearing on Movant's Motion. Remand was granted and a hearing was held by this Court on November 29, 2016.

         At the hearing, the parties agreed that the sole issue for consideration was whether counsel was ineffective.

And the parties have talked this morning and just wanted to provide clarification to the Court that our agreement with regard to the scope of the hearing, that all that Mr. Sills is asserting and seeking a hearing on is whether or not ineffective assistance of counsel occurred, and he is attempting to establish that but-for the plea to the witness tampering case in the Judge Hamilton matter, he would not have pleaded guilty, and, therefore, he is seeking new trial on the drug charges before this Court and that the hearing will be limited to that issue of whether it's reasonable to believe that the defendant would have gone to trial.

Hearing Transcript, page 4.

         STANDARD FOR RELIEF UNDER 28 U.S.C. 2255

         A federal prisoner seeking relief from a sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 on 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. In order to obtain relief under § 2255, the movant must allege a violation constituting “‘a fundamental defect which inherently results in a complete miscarriage of justice.'” United States v. Gomez, 326 F.3d 971, 974 (8th Cir. 2003) (quoting United States v. Boone, 869 F.2d 1089, 1091 n.4 (8th Cir. 1989)).

         DISCUSSION

         Standard for Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

         It is well-established that a petitioner's ineffective assistance of counsel claim is properly raised under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 rather than on direct appeal. United States v. Davis, 452 F.3d 991, 994 (8th Cir.2006); United States v. Cordy, 560 F.3d 808, 817 (8th Cir. 2009). The burden of demonstrating ineffective assistance of counsel is on a defendant. United States v. Cronic, 466 U.S. 648, 658 (1984); United States v. White, 341 F.3d 673, 678 (8th Cir.2003). To prevail on an ineffective assistance of counsel claim, a convicted defendant must first show counsel's performance “fell below an objective standard of reasonableness." Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687-88 (1984). The defendant must also establish prejudice by showing Athere is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different. Id., at 694.

         Both parts of the Strickland test must be met in order for an ineffective assistance of counsel claim to succeed. Anderson v. United States, 393 F.3d 749, 753 (8th Cir.), cert. denied, 546 U.S. 882 (2005). The first part of the test requires a “showing that counsel made errors so serious that counsel was not functioning as the 'counsel' guaranteed the defendant by the Sixth “mendment." Id. Review of counsel's performance by the court is “highly deferential, " and the Court presumes “counsel's conduct falls within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance." Id. The court does not “second-guess" trial strategy or rely on the benefit of hindsight, id., and the attorney's conduct must fall below an objective standard of reasonableness to be found ineffective, United States v. Ledezma-Rodriguez, 423 F.3d 830, 836 (2005). If the underlying claim (i.e., the alleged deficient performance) would have been rejected, counsel's performance is not deficient. Carter v. Hopkins, 92 F.3d 666, 671 (8th Cir.1996). Courts seek to “eliminate the distorting effects of hindsight" by examining counsel's performance from counsel's perspective at the time of the alleged error. Id.

         The second part of the Strickland test requires that the movant show that he was prejudiced by counsel's error, and “that 'there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different.' " Anderson, 393 F.3d at 753-54 (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 694). “A reasonable probability is a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome." Strickland, 466 U.S. at 694. When determining if prejudice exists, the court ...


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