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Owolabi v. United States

United States District Court, N.D. Georgia, Atlanta Division

November 14, 2018

BOLAJI OWOLABI, BOP Reg. # 70187-019, Movant,
UNITED STATES, Respondent.

         MOTION TO VACATE 28 U.S.C. § 2255



         Movant has filed a 28 U.S.C. § 2255 motion to vacate his sentence. (Doc. 88). IT IS RECOMMENDED that the motion be DENIED.

         I. Background

         In July 2016, Movant was indicted in this Court on two counts of access device fraud (Counts 1 & 3) and two related counts of aggravated identity theft (Counts 2 & 4) based on events that occurred on June 9 & 23, 2016. (Doc. 14). Movant signed a Guilty Plea and Plea Agreement (Doc. 45-1) and entered a plea of guilty to Counts 1 and 2 only. (Doc. 82 (Plea Hr'g Tr.)). He was sentenced to a one-year term of imprisonment for access device fraud and to a mandatory consecutive two-year term for aggravated identity theft. (Doc. 53; see Doc. 83 (Sentencing Hr'g Tr.)).

         II. Standard of Review

         A federal prisoner may file a motion to vacate his sentence “upon the ground 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(a). But it is well-settled that “to obtain collateral relief, a prisoner must clear a significantly higher hurdle than would exist on direct appeal.” United States v. Frady, 456 U.S. 152, 166 (1982).

         III. Movant's Grounds For Relief: Ineffective Assistance Of Counsel

         Movant alleges that he received ineffective assistance of counsel from Donnell Holiday, his defense attorney, who failed to (1) ensure that he understood all the consequences of his guilty plea; (2) subject the prosecution's case to meaningful adversarial testing during the plea phase; and (3) ensure that his appellate rights were preserved. (Doc. 88 at 4-7; see Doc. 88-1 (Supp. Mem.) at 7-12).

         The Supreme Court set forth the standard for evaluating claims of ineffective assistance of counsel in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984); see Dell v. United States, 710 F.3d 1267, 1272 (11th Cir. 2013) (applying Strickland standard of review to ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim raised in § 2255 motion). “An ineffectiveness claim . . . is an attack on the fundamental fairness of the proceeding whose result is challenged.” Strickland, 466 U.S. at 697. The analysis involves two components, but a court need not address both if the petitioner “makes an insufficient showing on one.” Id.

         First, a federal court determines “whether, in light of all the circumstances, the identified acts or omissions [of counsel] were outside the wide range of professionally competent assistance.” Id. at 690. The court “must be highly deferential” in scrutinizing counsel's performance and “must indulge a strong presumption that counsel's conduct falls within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance.” Id. at 689. In other words, the petitioner “must overcome the presumption that, under the circumstances, the challenged action might be considered sound trial strategy.” Id. (Internal quotations 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.” Chandler v. United States, 218 F.3d 1305, 1314 (11th Cir. 2000) (en banc). Second, a federal court determines whether counsel's challenged acts or omissions prejudiced the petitioner, i.e., whether “there is a reasonable probability”-one “sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome”-that “but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different.” Strickland, 466 U.S. at 694.

To prevail on a claim of ineffective assistance, a defendant must establish two things: (1) “counsel's performance was deficient, ” meaning it “fell below an objective standard of reasonableness, ” and (2) “the deficient performance prejudiced the defense.” Strickland[], 466 U.S. [at] 687-88 []. To satisfy the deficient-performance prong, the defendant must show that counsel made errors so serious that he was not functioning as the counsel guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment. Id. at 687. The defendant must rebut the strong presumption that his counsel's conduct fell within the range of reasonable professional assistance. Id. at 689.

Connolly v. United States, 568 Fed.Appx. 770, 770-71 (11th Cir. 2014).

         A. Movant's Plea Not Knowing and Voluntary

         Movant first claims that “Donnell Holiday ‘coerced' [him] into agreeing to the government's plea offer, for fear of the enormous sentence” he would receive if he lost at trial, but actually because of counsel's “inexperience, incompetence, laziness, etc.”─and therefore Movant “did not voluntarily sign the plea agreement.” (Doc. 88-1 at 7). Movant also claims that he “did not fully understand or accept the agreement he signed, ” “despite the questioning by the district judge to ostensibly establish that [he] understood all the terms and conditions of the plea agreement.” (Id.). He “admitted to what was in his indictment, [but] he did not fully understand or accept all the ramifications of his plea.” (Id. at 8).

         The undisputed evidence before the Court reveals otherwise. At his guilty plea hearing, Movant ...

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