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Stokes v. United States

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Chattanooga

September 1, 2017

WALLACE M. STOKES, Petitioner,



         This matter comes before the Court on the motion of pro se petitioner Wallace M. Stokes, Jr. (“Petitioner”) to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 [Doc. 387, “Petition”].[1] Petitioner filed a Memorandum [Doc. 388] with his Petition and attached his Affidavit [Doc. 388-1] to his Memorandum. The Government has responded [Doc. 399] in opposition. The Government has also provided the Affidavit [Doc. 399-1] of Petitioner's counsel Attorney Russell L. Leonard. The Court concludes an evidentiary hearing is necessary to rule on the Petition in this case.


         From January 2009 to October 2012, Petitioner conspired with others to manufacture methamphetamine in Monroe County, Tennessee. [Doc. 130, Plea Agreement at ¶ 3(a)] On July 10, 2013, Petitioner entered a plea of guilty, pursuant to a written plea agreement [Doc. 130], to conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, before United States Magistrate Judge Susan K. Lee [Docs. 208 & 215]. On July 31, 2013, the undersigned accepted the Defendant's guilty plea [Doc. 232]. On November 7, 2013, the Court sentenced Stokes to three hundred (300) months of imprisonment [Doc. 341]. The Judgment of conviction [Doc. 343] was entered on November 19, 2013. Petitioner did not file a notice of direct appeal. Petitioner was represented by attorney Russell L. Leonard (“Counsel”) at all stages of the proceedings. Petitioner now contends he received ineffective assistance of counsel [Doc. 387]. For the reasons stated below, the Court concludes an evidentiary hearing is necessary to resolve Petitioner's claims.


         Section 2255 of Title 28 of the United States Code permits a prisoner in custody under sentence of a federal court to move the court that imposed the sentence to vacate, correct, or set aside that sentence, on the grounds that

the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States, or that the court was without jurisdiction to impose such sentence, or that the sentence was in excess of the maximum authorized by law, or is otherwise subject to collateral attack . . . .

28 U.S.C. § 2255. This Court has jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Petitioner has the burden of establishing any claim asserted in the petition. See Bowers v. Battles, 568 F.2d 1, 5 (6th Cir. 1977); Mayes v. United States, 93 F.Supp.2d 882, 886 (E.D. Tenn. 2000).

         To obtain relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, a petitioner must demonstrate “(1) an error of constitutional magnitude; (2) a sentence imposed outside the statutory limits; or (3) an error of fact or law that was so fundamental as to render the entire proceeding invalid.” Short v. United States, 471 F.3d 686, 691 (6th Cir. 2006) (quoting Mallett v. United States, 334 F.3d 491, 496- 97 (6th Cir. 2003)). He “must clear a significantly higher hurdle than would exist on direct appeal” and establish a “fundamental defect in the proceedings which necessarily results in a complete miscarriage of justice or an egregious error violative of due process.” Fair v. United States, 157 F.3d 427, 430 (6th Cir. 1998).

         In his § 2255 motion, Petitioner contends he received the ineffective assistance of counsel. The Sixth Amendment provides, in pertinent part, “[i]n all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right . . . to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.” U.S. Const. amend. VI. A defendant has a Sixth Amendment right not just to counsel, but to “reasonably effective assistance” of counsel. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984). A petitioner alleging ineffective assistance of counsel must satisfy the two-part test set forth in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1987); see also Huff v. United States, 734 F.3d 600, 606 (6th Cir. 2013). First, the petitioner must establish, by identifying specific acts or omissions, that counsel's performance was deficient and that counsel did not provide “reasonably effective assistance, ” id., as measured by “prevailing professional norms.” Rompilla v. Beard, 545 U.S. 374, 380 (2005). Counsel is presumed to have provided effective assistance, and the petitioner bears the burden of showing otherwise. Mason v. Mitchell, 320 F.3d 604, 616-17 (6th Cir. 2003); see also Strickland, 466 U.S. at 689 (a reviewing court “must indulge a strong presumption that counsel's conduct falls within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance; that is, the defendant must overcome the presumption that . . . the challenged action might be considered sound . . . strategy”) (internal citation omitted).

         Second, the petitioner must demonstrate “a reasonable probability that, but for [counsel's acts or omissions], the result of the proceedings would have been different.” Strickland, 466 U.S. at 694. “An error by counsel, even if professionally unreasonable, does not warrant setting aside the judgment of a criminal proceeding if the error had no effect on the judgment.” Id. at 691; see also Smith v. Robbins, 528 U.S. 259, 285-86 (2000). If a petitioner fails to prove he sustained prejudice, the Court need not decide whether counsel's performance was deficient. See United States v. Hynes, 467 F.3d 951, 970 (6th Cir. 2006) (holding that alleged “flaws” in trial counsel's representation did not warrant new trial where the claims, even if true, did not show the jury would have reached a different conclusion).


         Petitioner asserts three ways in which he contends Counsel was ineffective: (1) Counsel failed to investigate whether Petitioner's confession was coerced or to challenge the confession; (2) Counsel failed to object at sentencing or to challenge on appeal a judicially-determined fact, which triggered a higher mandatory sentence; and (3) Counsel did not consult with him about filing a direct appeal and did not file a direct appeal at the Petitioner's request.

         Petitioner contends that, at his November 7, 2013 sentencing hearing, the Court informed him that he had a right to file a direct appeal and that he had ten days in which to file a notice of appeal. Petitioner alleges Counsel “left immediately after sentencing and would not consult with petitioner about an appeal” [Doc. 388 at 2]. Petitioner also alleges he “wrote [C]ounsel two days later to inform him to file an appeal” and Counsel “would never respond to his letter or consult with him about the appeal” [Id.]. According to Petitioner, after he arrived at the Federal Correctional Center in Forrest City, Arkansas, he asked his sister to obtain a docket sheet and learned that no notice of appeal appeared on the docket sheet [Id. at 3]. Petitioner states he then contacted Counsel and the Clerk of the Court of Appeals for ...

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