United States District Court, District of Columbia
B. Walton United States District Judge
February 2014, this Court sentenced the defendant to a term
of 120 months of incarceration followed by five years of
supervised release. See generally Judgment in a
Criminal Case ("Judgment") (Feb. 5, 2014).
Currently before the Court is the defendant's pro
se petition to vacate the Court's sentence pursuant
to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (2012), in which he asserts several
claims of alleged ineffective assistance of counsel and
requests an evidentiary hearing. See generally
Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence
("Def.'s Mot."). The government opposes the
request for a hearing, noting the Court's familiarity
with the case, and further argues that the defendant has not
met his burden of establishing ineffective assistance of
counsel. Government's Opposition to Defendant's 28
U.S.C. § 2255 Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, Or Correct
Sentence ("Gov't Opp'n") at 1. Upon careful
consideration of the parties' submissions, the Court will
deny the defendant's motion in its
entirety. However, because one of the
defendant's arguments raises a question regarding the
adequacy of the Court's pre-plea competency
determination, the Court will order additional briefing on
that issue, as discussed hereafter.
defendant has a history of mental illness, including
diagnoses of undifferentiated schizophrenia and antisocial
personality disorder. PSI Report ¶¶ 69, 72. On May
1, 2012, the defendant was indicted on one count of unlawful
possession with intent to distribute 28 grams or more of
cocaine base in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and
(b)(l)(B)(iii) (2012),  Gov't Opp'n at 2-3, and
Assistant Federal Public Defender Jonathan Jeffress
("Jeffress") was appointed to represent him,
Id. at 3. When the defendant was brought before the
Court for his arraignment on May 16, 2012, he was committed
to the Federal Medical Center in Butner, North Carolina (the
"Medical Center"), pursuant to 18 U.S.C. §
4241(d) (2012), for treatment and further evaluation
following a finding of mental incompetency. Id. On
August 14, 2012, the Medical Center submitted a report to
this Court stating that the defendant remained incompetent to
stand trial, but that his competency may be restored with
treatment. Id The August 14, 2012 Medical Center
report indicated also that the defendant's condition was
improving, see Def.'s Sentencing Mem. at 7; however, the
report also noted that the defendant was increasingly
"awar[e] that he was going to have to return to Court to
face charges, [which] may have led [the defendant] to 
exaggerate his symptoms, " Id. (citing Aug. 14,
2012 Medical Center report at 9). On September 6, 2012, the
Court ordered the defendant to remain at the Medical Center
for an additional ninety days for continued treatment. See
Order at 1 (Sept. 11, 2012).
December 4, 2012, the Medical Center submitted its final
report to the Court, certifying that the defendant was now
competent to stand trial, see Def.'s Sentencing Mem. at
8, but also noting that the defendant's competency was
"contingent upon consistent and effective treatment with
psychotropic medication[, ]" Id. (quoting Dec.
4, 2012 Medical Center report at 7). The Court then conducted
a status conference on December 14, 2012, and ordered that
the defendant be returned to a District of Columbia detention
facility and maintained on his medication and treatment
regimen. See Order (Dec. 18, 2012).
subsequent status conferences, the parties represented that
they were negotiating a plea agreement. See
Gov't Opp'n at 4. A hearing was then initiated on May
1, 2013, for the purpose of the defendant entering a guilty
plea, but the Court aborted the hearing when the
defendant's demeanor demonstrated that he was unable to
understand the Court's questioning. Id. Despite
the Court's prior December 18, 2012 order, the defendant
was not moved to a District of Columbia detention facility,
prompting Jeffress to file a motion to transfer the defendant
to a District of Columbia detention facility for mental and
physical evaluations, and so Jeffress could spend additional
time with the defendant to "ensure that [the defendant]
[was] competent to enter his plea (or go to trial) and that
[the defendant] was making his decision knowingly and
voluntarily." See Unopposed Motion to Return Defendant
to This Jurisdiction ("Def.'s Return Mot.") at
2. At some point after the defendant was transferred to the
District of Columbia jail, his medication regimen was
changed. See Def.'s Sentencing Mem. at 9. According to
Jeffress, the defendant had "'decompensated'
since his return to the [District of Columbia] and his
corresponding change in medications." Id.
Nonetheless, thereafter, at a June 28, 2013 status
conference, Jeffress represented that the defendant was
prepared to enter his guilty plea. Gov't Opp'n at 4.
Court held the defendant's guilty plea hearing on July 9,
2013. See generally Plea Tr. When asked at the plea
hearing whether he understood that the crime he committed was
wrong, the defendant replied, "[n]ot at the time."
See Plea Tr. at 6:21-23. He also indicated that he wanted to
plead not guilty by reason of insanity. See Id. at
8:20-25. But after consulting with Jeffress, the defendant
changed course, see Id. at 9:1-5, indicating that he
was guilty, see Id. at 11:11, and that he knew when
the crime was committed that what he was doing was wrong, see
id at 11:19.
to the imposition of the defendant's sentence, he
requested that he receive a sixty-month period of of
incarceration (the statutory mandatory minimum), Def.'s
Sentencing Mem. at 1; see also 21 U.S.C. §
841(b)(1)(B), while the government recommended a 188-month
prison sentence (the bottom of the United States Sentencing
Guidelines sentence), see Gov't Sentencing Mem. at 1. The
Court ultimately sentenced the defendant to a 120-month term
of incarceration, followed by five years of supervised
release. Judgment at 2, 4.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
28 U.S.C. § 2255 (2012), a person in custody pursuant to
a federal court sentence may "move the court which
imposed the sentence to vacate, set aside[, ] or correct the
sentence, " on grounds that "the sentence was
imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the
United States, ... 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(a). A district
court must grant an evidentiary hearing to conduct additional
fact-finding necessary to resolve the motion "[u]nless
the motion[s, ] the files[, ] and the records of the case
conclusively show that the prisoner is entitled to no
relief." Id. However, "[e]ven if the files
and records of the case do not clearly rebut the allegations
of the prisoner, no hearing is required where [the
prisoner's] claims are 'vague, conclusory, or
palpably incredible.'" United States v.
Pollard, 959 F.2d 1011, 1031 (D.C. Cir. 1992) (quoting
Machibroda v. United States. 368 U.S. 487, 495
(1962)). In making this assessment, the Court must construe
the defendant's pro se filings liberally.
Toolasprashad v. Bureau of Prisons, 286 F.3d 576,
583 (D.C. Cir. 2002) (citing Richardson v. United
States, 193 F.3d 545, 548 (D.C. Cir. 1999)). In any
event, if the reviewing court finds that any grounds
requiring relief under § 2255(a) are satisfied, it
"shall vacate and set the judgment aside[, ] and [it]
shall [also] discharge the prisoner[, ] resentence him[, ]
grant a new trial[, ] or correct the sentence as may appear
appropriate." 28 U.S.C. § 2255(b).
[guilty] plea is not voluntary or intelligent if the advice
given by defense counsel on which the defendant relied in
entering the plea falls below the level of reasonable
competence such that the defendant does not receive effective
assistance of counsel." United States v.
Loughery, 908 F.2d 1014, 1018 (D.C. Cir. 1990) (citing
Hill v. Lockhart, 474 U.S. 52, 56-60 (1985);
Tollett v. Henderson, 411 U.S. 258, 267 (1973)).
"In Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668
(1984), the Supreme Court adopted a two-prong objective test
for determining whether a defendant's constitutional
right to the effective assistance of counsel has been
violated, " United States v. Abney, 812 F.3d
1079, 1082 (D.C. Cir. 2016), and clarified in Hill that the
Strickland standard "applies to challenges to
guilty pleas based on ineffective assistance of counsel,
" 474 U.S. at 58.
prevail on an ineffective assistance of counsel claim, a
defendant must demonstrate both deficient performance by his
counsel and prejudice to him because of counsel's
deficient performance. United States v. Williams,
488 F.3d 1004, 1010 (D.C. Cir. 2007) (citing
Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687
(1984)). Counsel's performance is deficient only where
counsel "made errors so serious that [he] was not
functioning as the 'counsel' guaranteed the defendant
by the Sixth Amendment." Strickland, 466 U.S.
at 687; see also Abney, 812 F.3d at 1086
("Counsel's performance is 'deficient' when
his representation falls below an objective standard of
reasonableness." (citing United States v.
Rodriguez, 676 F.3d 183, 189 (D.C. Cir. 2012))). In
other words, counsel must provide "reasonably effective
assistance, " Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687,
measured by "prevailing professional norms, "
Id. at 688; see also Massaro v. United
States, 538 U.S. 500, 505 (2003) ("A defendant
claiming ineffective counsel must show that counsel's
actions were not supported by a reasonable strategy . . .
."). When entertaining claims of ineffective assistance
of counsel, "(j)udicial scrutiny of counsel's
performance must be highly deferential, "
Strickland. 466 U.S. at 689, and courts "must
indulge a strong presumption that counsel's conduct falls
within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance,
challenge to a guilty plea based on ineffective assistance of
counsel, the defendant must show that "counsel's
constitutionally ineffective performance affected the outcome
of the plea process." Hill, 474 U.S. at 59.
"In other words, in order to satisfy the
'prejudice' requirement, the defendant must show that
there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's
errors, he would not have pleaded guilty and would have
insisted on going to trial." Id. A
"reasonable probability is a probability sufficient to
undermine confidence in the outcome."
Strickland, 446 U.S. at 694. And, while the
defendant may seek an evidentiary hearing to develop his
claims, a court need not hold ...