United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division
RECOMMENDATION OF THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE
RUSS WALKER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
the court is petitioner Wendy Latrice Huff's pro
se motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to vacate, set
aside, or correct sentence by a person in federal custody.
March 5, 2015, Huff pled guilty to a felony information
charging her with conspiracy to commit mail fraud, in
violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371, and aggravated identity
theft, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1028A. The plea
agreement contained an appeal/post-conviction waiver with
exceptions for claims of ineffective assistance of counsel
and prosecutorial misconduct. Following a sentencing hearing
on July 21, 2016, the district court sentenced Huff to 48
months in prison, consisting of 24 months on the conspiracy
count and 24 months on the identity theft count, with the
terms to run consecutively. Huff took no appeal.
January 2017 Huff filed this § 2255 motion asserting
that her counsel was ineffective for failing to (1) explain
to her the nature of the mail-fraud conspiracy charge to
which she pled, (2) explain to her why she was sentenced
based on the same loss amount as her coconspirator James
Battle, (3) request a “minor role” reduction at
sentencing, and (4) request a lower sentence where her
coconspirator Battle received the same sentence she received.
Doc. No. 1 at 4.
government filed a response arguing that all of Huff's
claims are without merit. Doc. No. 4. Huff filed a reply to
the government's response. Doc. No. 8. After considering
the parties' submissions, the record, and the applicable
law, the court finds that Huff's § 2255 motion
should be denied without an evidentiary hearing. Rule 8(a),
Rules Governing Section 2255 Proceedings in the United
States District Courts.
General Standard of Review
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 secure 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).
Ineffective Assistance of Counsel
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
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.
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.
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 required showings has not been made, it need
not decide whether the other one has been. Id. at
697; Duren v. Hopper, 161 F.3d 655, 660 (11th Cir.
Failure to Explain Mail-Fraud Conspiracy Charge
conclusory fashion, Huff claims that her counsel was
ineffective for failing to explain to her the nature of the
mail-fraud conspiracy charge to which she pled guilty. Doc.
No. 1 at 4. By this claim, Huff appears to contend that her
guilty plea was not entered knowingly and intelligently.
two-part standard of Strickland applies to
ineffective-assistance claims arising out of the guilty plea
process. Hill v. Lockhart, 474 U.S. 52');">474 U.S. 52, 57 (1985).
Where a petitioner challenges the validity of his guilty plea
based on the alleged ineffective assistance of counsel, the
petitioner must establish that counsel's performance was
deficient (i.e., was professionally unreasonable) and that
counsel's deficient performance “affected the
outcome of the plea process” (i.e., was prejudicial).
Id. at 58-59. To establish prejudice in this
context, a petitioner “must show that there is a
reasonable probability that, but for counsel's errors, he
would … have pleaded [not] guilty and would …
have insisted on going to trial.” Id. at
affidavit addressing Huff's claim, Huff's former
Ms. Huff was explained the factual basis for the charge of
conspiracy to commit mail fraud on numerous occasions. I
explained the basis for the mail fraud charge at the time she
agreed to plea to the information; at the time she entered
into the plea agreement; during the time we discussed the
presentence report; and in preparation for sentencing. I am
otherwise at a loss as to why Ms. ...