United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
MEMORANDUM OF OPINION
Scott Coogler United States District Judge
a motion to vacate, set aside, or correct a sentence pursuant
to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, filed by petitioner Damien Laron
McDaniel (“McDaniel”). (Docs. 1 & 2.) The
Government opposes the motion. (Doc. 5.) McDaniel has replied
in support. (Doc. 8.) For the reasons set forth below, the
motion is due to be denied.
October 2013, a six-count superseding indictment was issued
against McDaniel. Count One charged McDaniel with possession
with intent to distribute cocaine hydrochloride, in violation
of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(C); Count Two
charged McDaniel for using and carrying a firearm in relation
to the drug trafficking offense alleged in Count One, in
violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A)(i); Counts Three
and Six charged McDaniel with being a felon in possession of
a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g); Count
Four charged McDaniel with possession with intent to
distribute marijuana, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§
841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(D); and Count Five charged McDaniel with
possessing a firearm in furtherance of the drug trafficking
offense alleged in Count Four, in violation of 18 U.S.C.
December 6, 2013, this Court set a trial date of January 6,
2014. On December 17, 2013, McDaniel filed a pro se
motion requesting new counsel to be appointed. On January 6,
2014, McDaniel's appointed counsel was allowed to
withdraw, and McDaniel retained private counsel of his
choosing. The jury panel was cancelled, and the trial was
re-scheduled for February 7, 2014.
trial, McDaniel's new counsel negotiated a binding plea
agreement with the Government, whereby the Government agreed
to dismiss Count Five, saving McDaniel an additional 25
years' imprisonment. McDaniel agreed to plead guilty to
the remaining counts, and he stipulated to a total sentence
of 312 months' imprisonment, pursuant to the binding plea
February 7, 2014, after a hearing in which this Court fully
explained to McDaniel the binding aspect of his plea
agreement, McDaniel pleaded guilty to Counts One, Two, Three,
Four, and Six. As part of the plea agreement, the Government
agreed to dismiss Count Five at the sentencing hearing.
sentencing, McDaniel filed a pro se motion to
suppress evidence. At the sentencing hearing on May 27, 2014,
McDaniel made a pro se oral motion to withdraw his
guilty plea. After a full hearing on the reasons why he
wanted to withdraw his guilty plea, this Court denied the
motion. Abiding by the binding plea agreement, this Court
sentenced McDaniel to a total sentence of 312 months'
imprisonment and entered judgment on May 29, 2014.
appealed his conviction and sentence, raising the issue of
the denial of his motion to withdraw his guilty plea and
ineffective assistance of counsel. The Eleventh Circuit Court
of Appeals affirmed the conviction and sentence on March 11,
2015, finding that this Court did not abuse its discretion in
denying McDaniel's motion to withdraw his guilty plea.
The Eleventh Circuit did not entertain the ineffective
assistance of counsel claim on appeal. That decision was
issued as a mandate on April 9, 2015.
timely filed the instant motion on March 7, 2016, and it is
his first such motion.
raises three ineffective assistance of counsel claims in this
proceeding. To succeed on a claim of ineffective assistance
of counsel, a defendant must prove both that his
counsel's performance was deficient and that that
deficient performance prejudiced his case. Strickland v.
Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984). More specifically,
McDaniel must show that (1) identified acts or omissions of
counsel fell below an objective standard of reasonableness
and (2) that his counsel's alleged errors or omissions
resulted in prejudice to him to such an extent that, without
counsel's alleged errors or omissions, there is a
reasonable probability that the outcome of his trial would
have been different. Yordan v. Dugger, 909 F.2d 474,
477 (11th Cir. 1990).
analyzing counsel's performance under the performance
prong of Strickland, this Court must presume that
the conduct of counsel was reasonable. Id. A
“[d]efendant must prove deficient performance by a
preponderance of competent evidence, and the standard is
‘reasonableness under prevailing professional
norms.'” Gallo-Chamorro v. United States,
233 F.3d 1298, 1303-04 (11th Cir. 2000) (footnotes omitted).
Additionally, the Eleventh Circuit has described a
defendant's burden with regard to the deficient
performance prong of an ineffective assistance of counsel
claim as follows:
there is such a wide range of constitutionally acceptable
performance, a petitioner seeking to rebut the presumption of
adequate performance must bear a heavy burden:
The test has nothing to do with what the best lawyers would
have done. Nor is the test even what most good lawyers would
have done. We ask only whether some reasonable lawyer at the
trial could have acted, in the circumstances, as defense
counsel acted at trial. . . . We are not interested in
grading lawyers' performances; we are interested in
whether the adversarial process at trial, in fact, worked
Thus, in order to show that counsel's performance was
unreasonable, the petitioner must establish that no competent
counsel would have taken the action that his counsel did
Grayson v. Thompson, 257 F.3d 1194, 1216 (11th Cir.
2001) (internal citations omitted).
the Eleventh Circuit has described a defendant's burden
in demonstrating that his counsel's deficient performance
prejudiced his case as “high, ” noting that it is
not enough to show that any errors had some conceivable
effect on the outcome of the proceeding. Robinson v.
Moore, 300 F.3d 1320, 1343-44 (11th Cir. 2002).
“[i]t is well established that a habeas petitioner must
demonstrate both deficient performance and prejudice, and
that a failure to demonstrate either prong constitutes a
failure to demonstrate ineffective assistance of
counsel.” Bottoson v. Moore, 234 F.3d 526, 532
(11th Cir. 2000).
Counsel's Failure to Support McDaniel's Pro
Se Motion to Withdraw his Guilty Plea at his
to McDaniel's claim that counsel should have supported
his motion to withdraw his guilty plea, his (retained)
counsel actually negotiated a favorable deal for McDaniel by
convincing the Government to dismiss Count Five, which
carried a mandatory consecutive sentence of 25 years'
imprisonment. To the extent McDaniel is really arguing that
his guilty plea was not knowing and voluntary, such an
argument is not only procedurally barred because it has
already been rejected on direct appeal but it is also belied
by the record. McDaniel signed his name at the end of the
binding plea agreement itself, representing that he had
“read and underst[ood] the provisions” of the
agreement; he had “discussed the case and [his]
constitutional and other rights with [his] lawyer”; and
he was “satisfied” with his lawyer's
representation. (Crim. Doc. 25 at 15-16.) McDaniel further
represented that he had “read, underst[ood], and
approve[d] all of the provisions of [the] Agreement, both
individually and as a total binding agreement.”
(Id. at 16.) Similarly, counsel represented that he
discussed the case with McDaniel in detail, that he advised
McDaniel of all rights and all possible defenses, and that
McDaniel conveyed he “underst[ood] this
Agreement” and consented to all of its terms.
(Id. at 17.)
this Court conducted a thorough colloquy with McDaniel
pursuant to Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure
and determined that McDaniel's plea was knowing and
voluntary. McDaniel acknowledged under penalty of perjury
that: he read the guilty plea advice of rights certification
form and the plea agreement (Crim. Doc. 48 at 4, 18); his
attorney reviewed each document with him before he signed
them (id. at 5, 18); and he understood each document
(id. at 3-4, 5, 18). McDaniel stated that his
retained attorney was “great” and he had no
complaints with the representation he received. (Id.
at 4.) This Court then explained to McDaniel the elements of
the charged offenses, the possible penalties, and the
consequences of pleading guilty, and McDaniel acknowledged
that he understood. (Id. at 9-13, 14-18.) McDaniel
also acknowledged that the factual basis in the plea
agreement was substantially correct. (Id. at 19.) He
agreed that he had entered into a binding plea agreement with
the Government. Finally, McDaniel acknowledged that no one
coerced him in any way to plead guilty. (Id. at 20.)
He then entered guilty pleas to Counts One, Two, Three, Four,
and Six. (Id. at 21.) This Court accepted
McDaniel's guilty pleas, ...