United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division
RECOMMENDATION OF THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE
SUSAN RUSS WALKER, Chief Magistrate Judge.
This 28 U.S.C. § 2255 motion is submitted on the pleadings, written submissions, and an evidentiary hearing.
On January 11, 2012, Yumeitrius Manuel ("Manuel") appeared before this court and pled guilty under a plea agreement to one count of conspiracy to file false claims, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 286, and one count of aggravated identity theft, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1028A. As consideration for Manuel's guilty plea, the Government agreed to dismiss three counts of the indictment charging him with false claims ( see 18 U.S.C. § 287), five counts charging him with wire fraud ( see 18 U.S.C. § 1343), and four other counts charging him with aggravated identity theft. In addition, the Government agreed to recommend at sentencing that Manuel receive a two-level reduction in his offense level for acceptance of responsibility and an additional one-level reduction for timely notifying authorities of his intention to plead guilty. See U.S.S.G. § 3E1.1(a) & (b). The Government also agreed that a sentence at the bottom of the applicable guideline range was appropriate for the conspiracy count. The plea agreement contained a waiver provision whereby Manuel relinquished his right to appeal and collaterally attack his conviction and sentence except on grounds of ineffective assistance of counsel and prosecutorial misconduct.
On August 8, 2012, before sentencing, the parties amended the plea agreement. The sole change was that the appropriate sentence for the conspiracy count would be the top, not the bottom, of the applicable guideline range. The district court sentenced Manuel to 81 months in prison, comprising 57 months for the conspiracy count and a mandatory consecutive term of 24 months for the aggravated-identity-theft count. Manuel took no direct appeal.
On May 14, 2013, Manuel, proceeding pro se, filed this § 2255 motion. In it, he claims that his counsel rendered ineffective assistance by:
(1) failing to file a notice of appeal after he asked counsel to do so;
(2) failing to object to the district court's imposition of an obstruction-of-justice enhancement at sentencing; and
(3) failing to seek recusal of the Office of the United States Attorney for the Middle District of Alabama because the U.S. Attorney for that office previously served as his counsel.
Doc. No. 1 at 4-7; see Doc. No. 9 at 6-16.
This court set an evidentiary hearing on the issue of whether Manuel's former counsel, Laronda Renee Martin, rendered ineffective assistance by failing to file an appeal despite being asked to do so. The court appointed new counsel to represent Manuel at the evidentiary hearing, which was held on March 5, 2015. Both Manuel and Martin testified. Based on the evidence presented at the evidentiary hearing and the court's consideration of the parties' submissions and the record, the court concludes that Manuel's § 2255 motion should be denied.
A. General Standard of Review
Because collateral review is not a substitute for direct appeal, the grounds for collateral attack on final judgments under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 are limited. A prisoner is entitled to relief under § 2255 if the court imposed a sentence that (1) violated the Constitution or laws of the United States, (2) exceeded its jurisdiction, (3) exceeded the maximum authorized by law, or (4) is otherwise subject to collateral attack. See 28 U.S.C. § 2255; United States v. Phillips, 225 F.3d 1198, 1199 (11th Cir. 2000); United States v. Walker, 198 F.3d 811, 813 n.5 (11th Cir. 1999). "Relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 is reserved for transgressions of constitutional rights and for that narrow compass of other injury that could not ...