United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Western Division
TRAVIS D. YBARRA, Movant,
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent. Crim. No. 4:12-cr-00268-DGK-3
ORDER DENYING MOTION TO VACATE, SET ASIDE, OR CORRECT
KAYS, JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
convicted Movant Travis D. Ybarra of two crimes arising out
of his involvement in distributing methamphetamine in the
Kansas City, Missouri, area. He now moves pro se to vacate,
set aside, or correct his sentence under 28 U.S.C. §
2255 (Doc. 2), arguing that the plea advice of his former
counsel, Byron Woehlecke, was constitutionally ineffective.
As set forth below, the motion is DENIED.
jury returned a superseding indictment charging Movant and
sixteen other individuals for their involvement in a
methamphetamine-trafficking organization. Movant was charged
with conspiracy to distribute 500 grams or more of
methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§
841(a)(1), (b)(1)(A), and 846, and conspiracy to commit money
laundering, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1956(a)(1)(A)(i)
and (h). Sometime before trial, the Government offered Movant
a plea deal of fifteen years' imprisonment, which Movant
rejected. He instructed Mr. Woehlecke to negotiate a
twelve-year offer, but Mr. Woehlecke was unable to do so.
Then, immediately before trial, the Government offered Movant
a plea deal of twenty-one to twenty-five years. Although Mr.
Woehlecke did not inform Movant of this offer in time to
accept it, Movant affirmed on the morning of his trial that
he would have rejected it even had he known about it.
convicted Movant of both offenses, and the Court sentenced
him to thirty years' imprisonment and five years'
supervised release. He appealed, and the Eighth Circuit
affirmed his conviction, noting that “there was
substantial evidence of [Movant's] guilt.”
Ybarra v. United States, 700 Fed.Appx. 543, 546 (8th
Cir. 2017). Movant then filed the pending motion to vacate
his sentence based on the alleged ineffective
assistance of his trial counsel. Among other things, he
argues that he turned down the plea offer and unsuccessfully
tried his case on Mr. Woehlecke's advice. The Court
appointed counsel to represent movant and held an evidentiary
hearing to address this argument. See Witthar v. United
States, 793 F.3d 920, 923 (8th Cir. 2015) (“When a
district court receives conflicting statements-one from a
§ 2255 petitioner and one from her former counsel-the
court cannot make a factual determination based on the
relative credibility of these individuals without the benefit
of an evidentiary hearing.” (internal quotations,
alterations, and citation omitted)). Movant appeared and
testified, as did Mr. Woehlecke.
obtain relief for the ineffective assistance of counsel, the
movant must make two showings. Strickland v.
Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984). He must first show
that his counsel “made errors so serious that counsel
was not functioning as the ‘counsel' guaranteed the
defendant by the Sixth Amendment.” Id. He must
also show a reasonable probability that, but for these
errors, “the result of the proceeding would have been
different.” Id. at 694. This is a “heavy
burden, ” United States v. Apfel, 97 F.3d
1074, 1076 (8th Cir. 1996), especially since courts indulge a
“strong presumption that counsel's conduct falls
within the wide range of reasonable professional
assistance.” Strickland, 466 U.S. at 689.
crux of Movant's petition is that he rejected two plea
offers based on the ineffective advice of his counsel. In
this context, Strickland requires a movant to show
but for the ineffective assistance of counsel there is a
reasonable probability that the plea offer would have been
presented to the court (i.e., that the defendant
would have accepted the plea and the prosecution would not
have withdrawn it in light of intervening circumstances),
that the court would have accepted its terms, and that the
conviction or sentence, or both, under the offer's terms
would have been less severe than under the judgment and
sentence that were in fact imposed.
Lafler v. Cooper, 566 U.S. 156, 164 (2012) (citation
alleges that Mr. Woehlecke downplayed the strength of the
Government's case and advised him to proceed to trial.
Mr. Woehlecke refuted these claims in both an affidavit filed
in response to Movant's petition and his hearing
testimony. He stated that he presented the fifteen-year plea
offer to Movant and advised him that it would be in his best
interest to accept it. He claimed that Movant found the offer
unfair and insisted that he would accept only a plea of
twelve years or fewer, since such an offer was extended to
one of his co-conspirators. Mr. Woehlecke stated that, having
failed to secure a shorter offer, he again informed Movant
that it would be in his best interest to take the plea. He
added that Movant had been made fully aware of the potential
consequences of proceeding to trial and that Movant is
incorrect in claiming that he was ignorant of the evidence
Court finds Mr. Woehlecke credible based on the consistency
of his account and his demeanor at the evidentiary hearing.
The Court finds Movant not credible. For one, he admitted
receiving more evidence from his attorney than he
acknowledged in his motion, including numerous proffers from
co-conspirators. And although he claims that Mr. Woehlecke
told him that the only evidence against him was ambiguous
phone recordings and eighty-one grams of methamphetamine
found at his house, he testified that Mr. Woehlecke said that
his provable drug quantity would be between 500 and 1500
grams. Movant, furthermore, did not testify that Mr.
Woehlecke advised him to proceed to trial. Nor did he state
that he was unaware of his possible sentence if found guilty.
In light of these and other factors, the Court finds that
Movant has failed to show that Mr. Woehlecke committed any
constitutionally deficient errors with respect to his plea
advice. Even if he had, the Court finds that Movant would not
have accepted the Government's plea offers in any event.
also faults Mr. Woehlecke for not filing substantive pretrial
motions. He states that such motions presented a
“golden opportunity” to subject the
Government's case to meaningful adversarial testing. But
an attorney's effectiveness is not gauged by whether he
files meritless motions. See Kim v. United States,
No. 3:07-cr-31, 2009 WL 2151124, at *2 (D.N.D. July 15, 2019)
(citing Kimmelman v. Morrison, 477 U.S. 265, 384
(1986)). Although Movant names several motions that counsel
could have filed, including a motion to suppress and a motion
to compel the production of wrongfully withheld evidence, he
does not explain specifically what these motions would have
entailed, how they would have succeeded, or how they would
have resulted in him ...