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Barnes v. United States

United States District Court, D. Delaware

April 23, 2018

KEVIN BARNES, Movant/Defendant,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent/Plaintiff.

          Kevin Barnes. Pro se Movant.

          Shawn Weede, Assistant United States Attorney, United States Department of Justice, Wilmington, Delaware. Attorney for respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          ANDREWS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Pending before the Court is Movant Kevin Barnes' pro se Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. (D.I. 65) The Government filed an Answer in Opposition. (D.I. 84) For the reasons that follow, the Court will deny Movant's § 2255 Motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On May 28, 2015, Movant pled guilty to: (1) possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute, in violation of 18 U.S. §§ 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(B); (2) use of firearms in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A)(iii); and (3) possession of a firearm by a felon, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g). (D.I. 25) The Court sentenced him to a total of eighty months of incarceration and four years of supervised release. (D.I. 39)

         Movant appealed, asserting that he was improperly denied a sentencing departure and that defense counsel should have raised a self-defense/justification defense. See United States v. Barnes, 677 Fed.Appx. 786, 787-88 (3d Cir. 2017). The Third Circuit affirmed Movant's conviction and sentence after concluding that: (1) the appellate waiver in Movant's plea agreement was enforceable and precluded him from challenging his sentence on appeal; and (2) Movant's ineffective assistance of counsel claim was not cognizable on direct appeal and had to be asserted in a collateral proceeding. Id. at 788-89.

         On March 30, 2017, Movant filed a § 2255 Motion. (D.I. 65) The Government filed an Answer in Opposition (D.I. 84), to which Movant filed a Response. (D.I. 86)

         II. DISCUSSION

         Movant's timely filed § 2255 Motion asserts the following two grounds for relief: (1) defense counsel provided ineffective assistance during the plea process by failing to determine that there were sufficient facts to support a justification defense and/or an affirmative self-defense argument; and (2) defense counsel provided ineffective assistance during the sentencing phase by waiting until the morning of the sentencing hearing to provide Movant with a copy of the presentence report ("PSR"), by failing to notify the Court about Movant's mental health issues that were caused by the home invasion on the night of his arrest, and by failing to submit any mitigating argument pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 5K2.12 - Coercion and Duress (Policy Statement).

         Movant has properly raised his ineffective assistance of counsel allegations in a § 2255 motion. See Massaro v. United States, 538 U.S. 500 (2003). As a general rule, ineffective assistance of counsel claims are reviewed pursuant to the two-pronged standard established in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984). Under the first ("performance") prong of the Strickland standard, Movant must demonstrate that "counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness, " with reasonableness being judged under professional norms prevailing at the time counsel rendered assistance. Id. at 688. Under the second ("prejudice") prong of the Strickland standard, Movant must demonstrate a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's error, the outcome of the proceeding would have been different. Id. at 694. In the context of a guilty plea, a movant satisfies Strickland's prejudice prong by demonstrating that, but for counsel's error, there is a reasonable probability he would have insisted on proceeding to trial instead of pleading guilty. See Hill v. Lockhart, 474 U.S. 52, 59 (1985); United States v. Nahodil, 36 F.3d 323, 326 (3d Cir. 1994). A court can choose to address the prejudice prong before the performance prong, and reject an ineffectiveness claim solely on the ground that the defendant was not prejudiced. See Strickland, 466 U.S. at 696. Finally, although not insurmountable, the Strickland standard is highly demanding and leads to a strong presumption that counsel's representation was professionally reasonable. Id. at 689.

         A. Claim One: Ineffective Assistance During Plea Process

         In Claim One, Movant contends that defense counsel provided ineffective assistance during the plea process by failing to adequately investigate the case and determine that Movant could have presented a justification/self-defense argument showing that Movant only possessed the guns because he had received serious threats to his life from his girlfriend's ex-boyfriend. Movant states he would have proceeded to trial had he known he could have raised such a defense. (D.I. 65 at 5) For the following reasons, the Court concludes that Claim One does not warrant relief.

         It is well-settled that "[s]olemn declarations in open court carry a strong presumption of verity" that creates a "formidable barrier in any subsequent collateral proceedings." Blackledge v. Allison, 431 U.S. 63, 74 (1977). Here, the transcript of the plea colloquy contains Movant's clear and explicit statements that he had discussed his case with defense counsel, he was fully satisfied with counsel's advice, he had a full opportunity to review the Plea Agreement with counsel, there were no promises other than those contained in the Plea Agreement, and he was not forced to enter the Plea Agreement. (D.I. 53 at 5:20-7:13, 12:25-15:1) The Court also had the prosecutor summarize the Plea Agreement for Movant to ensure that he understood its terms, and asked various follow-up questions to confirm that Movant understood its effect on the balance of the criminal proceedings. (D.I. 53 at 8:2-13:8; 15:3-17:6) Movant indicated that he understood the factual basis for his guilty plea, that he understood he had a right to proceed to trial, that he was pleading guilty of his own free will because he was guilty, and that he understood the sentencing process and the applicability of the sentencing guidelines. (D.I. 53 at ...


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