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Lanier v. United States

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Eastern Division

July 6, 2018

KESHIA LANIER, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent.

          RECOMMENDATION OF THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          Susan Russ Walker, United States Magistrate Judge

         Before the court is petitioner Keshia Lanier's (“Lanier”) pro se motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to vacate, set aside, or correct sentence by a person in federal custody. Doc. No. 1.[1]

         I. INTRODUCTION

         On March 5, 2015, Lanier pleaded guilty under a plea agreement to one count of wire fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1343, and one count of aggravated identity theft, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1028A.[2] Doc. No. 12-3. The plea agreement contained an appeal/post-conviction waiver with exceptions for claims of ineffective assistance of counsel and prosecutorial misconduct. Doc. No. 12-3 at 7-8. Following a sentencing hearing on September 25, 2015, the district court sentenced Lanier to 180 months in prison, consisting of 156 months on the wire fraud count and 24 months on the identity theft count, the terms to run consecutively. Doc. No. 12-4; Doc. No. 12-5 at 2. In addition, the court ordered Lanier to pay restitution in the amount of $5, 811, 406. Doc. No. 12-5 at 5.

         Lanier appealed, arguing that the district court erred in ordering restitution, failing to give her a downward departure for acceptance of responsibility, and finding that the number of victims of her criminal activity exceeded 250. Doc. No. 12-7. On March 31, 2016, the Eleventh Circuit dismissed Lanier's appeal based on the appeal waiver in her plea agreement. Doc. No. 12-8. Lanier did not seek certiorari review with the United States Supreme Court.

         On April 14, 2106, Lanier filed this § 2255 motion asserting the following claims:

1. Her lawyers rendered ineffective assistance of counsel on appeal by failing to file a petition for writ of certiorari with the Supreme Court after she asked them to do so.
2. Her lawyers rendered ineffective assistance by failing to advise her of her right to file a petition for writ of certiorari with the Supreme Court.
3. Her lawyers rendered ineffective assistance at sentencing by failing to request a restitution hearing.
4. Her guilty plea was entered involuntarily and without an understanding of the nature of the charges and the consequences of the plea.

Doc. No. 1 at 4-5.

         Lanier later amended her § 2255 motion to add a new claim for relief that her lawyers rendered infective assistance of counsel by failing to offer into evidence or provide to the U.S. Probation Officer her records from the mental health facilities she checked into after pleading guilty. Doc. No. 23.

         The government argues that all of Lanier's claims are without merit and should be rejected as grounds for relief. Doc. Nos. 12 & 29.

         After considering the parties' submissions, the record, and the applicable law, the court finds that Lanier's § 2255 motion should be denied without an evidentiary hearing. Rule 8(a), Rules Governing Section 2255 Proceedings in the United States District Courts.

         II. DISCUSSION

         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 may have 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 have been raised in direct appeal and would, if condoned, result in a complete miscarriage of justice.'” Lynn v. United States, 365 F.3d 1225, 1232 (11th Cir. 2004) (citations omitted).

         B. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

         A claim of ineffective assistance of counsel is evaluated against the two-part test announced in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984). First, a petitioner must show that “counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness.” Id. at 689. Second, the petitioner must show that “there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different.” Id. at 694. See Chandler v. United States, 218 F.3d 1305, 1313 (11th Cir. 2000).

         Scrutiny of counsel's performance is “highly deferential, ” and the court indulges a “strong presumption” that counsel's performance was reasonable. Chandler, 218 F.3d at 1314 (internal quotation marks omitted). The court will “avoid second-guessing counsel's performance: It does not follow that any counsel who takes an approach [the court] would not have chosen is guilty of rendering ineffective assistance.” Id. (internal quotation marks and brackets omitted). “Given the strong presumption in favor of competence, the petitioner's burden of persuasion-though the presumption is not insurmountable-is a heavy one.” Id.

         As noted, under the prejudice component of Strickland, a petitioner must show that “there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different.” Strickland, 466 U.S. at 694. A “reasonable probability is a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome.” Id. The prejudice prong does not focus only on the outcome; rather, to establish prejudice, the petitioner must show that counsel's deficient representation rendered the result of the trial fundamentally unfair or unreliable. See Lockhart v. Fretwell, 506 U.S. 364, 369 (1993) (“[A]n analysis focusing solely on mere outcome determination, without attention to whether the result of the proceeding was fundamentally unfair or unreliable, is defective.”). “Unreliability or unfairness does not result if the ineffectiveness of counsel does not deprive the defendant of any substantive or procedural right to which the law entitles him.” Id. at 372.

         Unless a petitioner satisfies the showings required on both prongs of the Strickland inquiry, relief should be denied. Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687. Once a court decides that one of the requisite showings has not been made, it need not decide whether the other one ...


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