United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Chattanooga
WALLACE M. STOKES, Petitioner,
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
L. COLLIER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
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”]. 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.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
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
STANDARD OF REVIEW
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).
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).
§ 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
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).
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.
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 ...