United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northeastern Division
OWEN BOWDRE CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
31, 2017, the court held an evidentiary hearing to expand the
record on Petitioner Cameron Byrd's claim that his trial
counsel, Frederic Washington, provided him ineffective
assistance during plea negotiations with the government.
Because the record reflects that Mr. Byrd received
ineffective counsel that prejudiced him, the court will grant
Mr. Byrd's petition.
FINDINGS OF FACT
court has previously laid out the procedural history of Mr.
Byrd's crimes and prosecution. See (Doc. 27 at
1-9). Two disputed questions remained. First, what advice did
Mr. Washington give Mr. Byrd about the government's
proposed plea agreement? Second, if that advice was
insufficient, would Mr. Byrd have accepted the
government's plea agreement but-for Mr. Washington's
setting out the particular factual findings, the court notes
that this case, like many collateral challenges involving
advice given during criminal cases, ultimately comes down to
a credibility contest between the attorney and the
petitioner. This case turns on whether a preponderance of the
evidence supports Mr. Washington's or Mr. Byrd's
narrative of events. Other witnesses may bolster or undermine
one of the accounts. But the critical question is what Mr.
Washington told Mr. Byrd about the proposed plea agreement
and whether Mr. Byrd would have accepted it if he had been
given adequate counsel. The best evidence to answer those
questions comes from Mr. Byrd's and Mr. Washington's
court has reservations about the credibility of Mr.
Washington's testimony, which was unaided by any file on
the case. Mr. Washington testified at the hearing that he
does not currently possess a file for Mr. Byrd's case,
though one existed at some point. Mr. Washington's
testimony at the hearing was based entirely on his memory of
events over five years ago. From merely the undisputed facts
in the record, serious questions arise about his
representation of Mr. Byrd during this matter. While these
facts do not by themselves support habeas relief, they bear
on Mr. Washington's credibility.
Washington undertook the representation of Mr. Byrd in
violation of his terms of employment with the Legal Aid
Society. Legal Aid's employment manual prohibits the
private practice of law. At the hearing, however, Mr.
Washington testified that separate private practice is
“not encouraged.” Mr. Washington's
representation of Mr. Byrd was impermissible, and yet Mr.
Washington downplayed that fact at the hearing, seeming to
insist that, merely because no one (except the employment
manual) had explicitly told him he could not engage in the
private practice of law, he was permitted-or at least only
innocently mistaken-in doing so. Such testimony calls into
question Mr. Washington's professional judgment, if not
further doubt on Mr. Washington's judgment is his
testimony that he told Mr. Byrd that he had a “50-50
shot at trial” because that was what he told all his
clients about their chances at trial. Such routine practice
ignored that in this case the government's strong case
against Mr. Byrd included video evidence and testimony of two
cooperating witnesses. By Mr. Washington's own testimony,
he failed to offer Mr. Byrd an individualized assessment of
Washington also failed to follow through on commitments made
to the court. At the pretrial conference held a week before
trial, Mr. Washington told the court that he was hoping to
meet Mr. Byrd that afternoon to communicate a plea offer made
by the government. The court asked Mr. Washington to let it
know as soon as possible if Mr. Byrd intended to accept the
offer.Mr. Washington said he would do so and that he
generally did not like for a plea to be accepted the day of
trial. See (Cr. Doc 87 at 16-17). However, at the
hearing, Mr. Washington testified that he did not meet with
Mr. Byrd at all during the week between the conference and
the trial.Mr. Washington only met with Mr. Byrd the morning
of the trial. Mr. Washington offered no explanation for the
delay in carrying out his commitment to promptly discuss the
government's offer with his client.
of these troubling facts, the court accords little weight to
Mr. Washington's testimony. Therefore, upon full
consideration of the evidence, the court makes the following
findings of material fact:
1. Before this matter, Mr. Byrd had no previous experience
with the criminal justice system in general or the Federal
Criminal Justice System in particular.
2. A CM-ECF search indicates Mr. Washington had never
represented an individual with multiples charges under 18
U.S.C. § 924(c) in the United States District Court for
the Northern District of Alabama.
3. On the day of his arraignment, Mr. Byrd and Mr. Washington
met with the FBI Agent Jonathan Sumner and Assistant United
States Attorney Terrence O'Rourke in a Kastigar
meeting where Mr. Byrd indicated a willingness to cooperate.
4. Mr. Washington met with Mr. Byrd on two occasions between
arraignment and trial while he was detained in the Cullman
County Jail. These meetings occurred on November 25, 2011,
and December 24, 2011. Each of the meetings lasted
approximately 15-20 minutes.
5. Mr. Washington and Mr. Byrd discussed a plea agreement
offered by the government at the December meeting.
6. Mr. Washington told Mr. Byrd that he faced a sentence of
up to ten years if he proceeded to trial and was
7. Mr. Washington told Mr. Byrd that he had a “50-50
shot” of ...