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Reddick v. United States

United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Brunswick Division

November 1, 2019




         Movant Qaaid Reddick (“Reddick”), who is currently housed at the Danbury Low Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury, Connecticut, filed a 28 U.S.C. § 2255 Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence. Doc. 1. The Government filed a Response. Doc. 7. Reddick filed a Reply and “Addendum, ” docs. 13, 21. The Government responded to these filings, doc. 24, and Reddick filed another Reply, doc. 25. For the reasons which follow, I RECOMMEND the Court DENY Reddick's Motion, DIRECT the Clerk of Court to enter the appropriate judgment of dismissal and CLOSE this case, and DENY Reddick in forma pauperis status on appeal and a Certificate of Appealability.


         Reddick and Brandon Conway were indicted and charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute heroin and cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846; possession of heroin and cocaine with intent to distribute, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1); and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A). United States v. Reddick, 2:15-cr-38 (“Crim. Case”), Doc. 1 at 1-4. Reddick was also charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). Id. at 5. After Reddick's appointed attorney, James Wrixam McIlvaine, filed several pre-trial motions on his behalf, the Government filed a notice of plea agreement. Crim. Case, Doc. 82. Reddick filed a change of plea. Crim. Case, Doc. 88. Reddick agreed to plead guilty to counts 1 and 4 of the indictment-the conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and felon in possession charges. Crim. Case, Doc. 89 at 1, 3. In return, the Government agreed to move to dismiss the other two charges alleged in the indictment. Id. at 3. The Honorable Lisa Godbey Wood held a change of plea, or Rule 11, hearing, during which Special Agent Todd Kennedy provided the factual basis for the plea, Judge Wood accepted Reddick's plea, and Judge Wood directed the United States Probation Office to prepare a pre-sentence investigation report (“PSR”). Crim. Case, Doc. 90. Judge Wood sentenced Reddick to 82 months' imprisonment as to each count, to be served concurrently. Doc. 114.

         Reddick filed a notice of appeal. Doc. 117. Mr. McIlvaine filed an Anders brief and a motion to withdraw from further representation of Reddick with the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals.[1] The Eleventh Circuit found Mr. McIlvaine's “assessment of the relative merits of the appeal is correct” and that an examination of “the entire record reveals no arguable issues of merit . . . .” Doc. 136 at 2. The Eleventh Circuit granted Mr. McIlvaine's motion to withdraw and affirmed Reddick's convictions and sentences. Id.

         Reddick has now filed his § 2255 Motion to challenge his sentence and conviction. Doc. 1. The Government filed a Response. Doc. 7. Reddick filed a Reply and an amendment, the Government filed a Response to the amendment, and Reddick filed an additional Reply. Docs. 13, 21, 24, 25. Reddick's § 2255 Motion is now ripe for review.


         I. Whether Reddick's Appointed Counsel Rendered Ineffective Assistance

         Criminal defendants have a right to effective assistance of counsel at all critical stages of the proceedings. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984). This right extends to the right to proceed to trial, see Carver v. United States, 722 Fed.Appx. 906 (11th Cir. 2018), and during sentencing proceedings, Glover v. United States, 531 U.S. 198, 202 (2001). This right also extends to the entry of a guilty plea, Hill v. Lockhart, 474 U.S. 52, 58 (1985), and on appeal, Philmore v. McNeil, 575 F.3d 1251, 1264 (11th Cir. 2009).

         To prevail on a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, the defendant must demonstrate: (1) his counsel's performance was deficient, i.e., the performance fell below an objective standard of reasonableness, and (2) he suffered prejudice as a result of that deficient performance. Id. at 685-86. The deficient performance requirement concerns “whether counsel's advice was within the range of competence demanded of attorneys in criminal cases.” Hill v. Lockhart, 474 U.S. 52, 56 (1985). There is a strong presumption that counsel's conduct fell within the range of reasonable professional assistance. Davis v. United States, 404 Fed.Appx. 336, 337 (11th Cir. 2010) (citing Strickland, 466 U.S. at 686). “It is petitioner's burden to ‘establish that counsel preformed outside the wide range of reasonable professional assistance' by making ‘errors so serious that [counsel] failed to function as the kind of counsel guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment.'” LeCroy v. United States, 739 F.3d 1297, 1312 (11th Cir. 2014) (quoting Butcher v. United States, 368 F.3d 1290, 1293 (11th Cir. 2004) (alteration in original)). “Showing prejudice requires petitioner to establish a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different.” Id. (internal citation omitted). “The prejudice prong requires a petitioner to demonstrate that seriously deficient performance of his attorney prejudiced the defense.” Id. at 1312-13. “The likelihood of a different result must be substantial, not just conceivable.” Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 112 (2011). “In evaluating performance, ‘counsel is strongly presumed to have rendered adequate assistance and made all significant decisions in the exercise of reasonable professional judgment.'” LeCroy, 739 F.3d at 1312 (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 690). “If a petitioner cannot satisfy one prong, [a court] need not review the other prong.” Duhart v. United States, 556 Fed.Appx. 897, 898 (11th Cir. 2014). “The burden of persuasion is on a section 2255 petitioner to prove, by a preponderance of the competent evidence, both that counsel's performance was unreasonable, and that []he was prejudiced by that performance.” Demar v. United States, 228 Fed.Appx. 940, 950 (11th Cir. 2007).

         “[A] court deciding an actual ineffectiveness claim must judge the reasonableness of counsel's challenged conduct on the facts of the particular case, viewed as of the time of counsel's conduct.” Strickland, 466 U.S. at 690. “The cases in which habeas petitioners can properly prevail on the ground of ineffective assistance of counsel are few and far between.” James v. Sec'y, Dep't of Corr., No. 8:12-CV-1363, 2013 WL 5596800, at *3 (M.D. Fla. Oct. 11, 2013) (citing Waters v. Thomas, 46 F.3d 1506, 1511 (11th Cir. 1995)); Body v. United States, Crim. Action No. 10-0232, 2013 WL 2470660, at *20 (S.D. Ala. June 6, 2013) (citing Johnson v. Alabama, 256 F.3d 1156, 1176 (11th Cir. 2001)).

         Even if counsel made an error so egregious as to be outside the broad scope of competence expected of attorneys, a movant can obtain relief only if the error caused actual prejudice. Strickland, 466 U.S. at 691-92. In order to establish actual prejudice, a petitioner must show that “there is a reasonable probability that but for the attorney's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different.” Armstead v. Scott, 37 F.3d 202, 207 (5th Cir. 1994). A reasonable probability is a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome of the proceedings. Strickland, 466 U.S. at 694. “The likelihood of a different result must be substantial, not just conceivable.” Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 112 (2011).

         A. During Plea Negotiations

         Reddick contends his counsel did not advise him as to the dangers and disadvantages of pleading guilty. Doc. 1 at 4. Reddick also contends Mr. McIlvaine did not investigate the facts in this case, which led to counsel overlooking “the key fact” that the evidence could not support Reddick's § 992(g)(1) conviction and that counsel knew or should have known Reddick could not have conspired with federal agents.[2] Id.; Doc. 1-1 at 3. Specifically, Reddick asserts the informant only had toy or “prop” guns, which could not have risen to the level of “weapons” within the meaning of § 922(g)(1). Doc. 1-1 at 4. Instead, Reddick argues that, had Mr. McIlvaine investigated the facts of this case regarding the “prop” guns and “the scam to beat Reddick out of his spoils, ” he would have advised Reddick not to plead guilty. Id. at 6. Reddick maintains there is a reasonable probability he would have rejected the plea agreement and proceeded to trial had Mr. McIlvaine advised him on the Government's burden of proof. Doc. 1 at 4.

         The Government asserts Reddick was depicted on tape committing the crimes charged, confessed to those crimes, and admitted all of the facts contained in his plea agreement. Doc. 7 at 14.[3] The Government notes Reddick testified during the Rule 11 proceeding that he understood the purpose of the hearing and his rights and that he wanted to plead guilty because he was guilty of the offenses to which he was pleading guilty. Id. The Government also notes Reddick stated at the hearing that Mr. McIlvaine reviewed the possible punishment and advisory Guidelines range. Id. at 15. In addition, the Government states Reddick did not hesitate in answering questions or express a desire to proceed to trial, and Reddick stated no one had pressured him into pleading guilty. Id. at 15-16. The Government alleges Reddick's current assertions regarding the § 922(g)(1) offense are contradicted by the record in this case. Id. at 16. Had Reddick gone to trial, the Government contends he would have received a much higher sentence than he did, unless the Court found a reason to depart from the Guidelines range, which is not apparent and which has not been suggested. Id.

         When a defendant enters a guilty plea pursuant to Rule 11 proceedings, “there is a strong presumption that the statements made during the colloquy are true” and his plea is knowing and voluntary. United States v. Gonzalez-Mercado, 808 F.2d 796, 800 n.8 (11th Cir. 1987). “However, a defendant's guilty plea is not knowing and voluntary if he pled guilty on the advice of counsel and that counsel rendered ineffective assistance because his advice was outside of the range of competence demanded of attorneys in criminal cases.” United States v. Munguia-Ramirez, 267 Fed.Appx. 894, 897 (11th Cir. 2008) (internal citation omitted). The standard for determining the validity of a guilty plea is “whether the plea represents a voluntary[, ] intelligent choice among the alternative courses open to the defendant.” North Carolina v. Alford, 400 U.S. 25, 31 (1970); Boykin v. Alabama, 395 U.S. 238, 242 (1969). The assistance of counsel received by a defendant is relevant to the question of whether a defendant's guilty plea was knowing and intelligent insofar as it affects the defendant's knowledge and understanding. Cannon v. Jones, No. 3:15CV213, 2017 WL 990583, at *6 (N.D. Fla. Feb. 7, 2017), report and recommendation adopted, 2017 WL 988663 (N.D. Fla. Mar. 13, 2017) (citing McMann v. Richardson, 397 U.S. 759, 770-71 (1970)).

         In addition, a defendant's sworn testimony to the trial judge in open court is presumed to be truthful. In the context of a plea hearing, the United States Supreme Court has stated that “the representations of the defendant . . . at such a hearing, as well as any findings made by the judge accepting the plea, constitute a formidable barrier in any subsequent collateral proceedings. Solemn declarations in open court carry a strong presumption of verity.” Blackledge v. Allison, 431 U.S. 63, 73-74 (1977). The defendant's representations are presumptively trustworthy and are considered conclusive absent compelling evidence showing otherwise. Id.

         When “a defendant alleges his counsel's deficient performance led him to accept a guilty plea rather than go to trial, we do not ask whether, had he gone to trial, the result of that trial ‘would have been different' than the result of the plea bargain.” Lee v. United States, __U.S.__, 137 S.Ct. 1958, 1965 (June 23, 2017). “Instead, when a defendant claims that his counsel's deficient performance deprived him of a trial by causing him to accept a plea, the defendant can show prejudice by demonstrating a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's errors, he would not have pleaded guilty and would have insisted on going to trial.” Spriggs v. United States, 703 Fed.Appx. 888, 890 (11th Cir. 2017) (internal citation and punctuation omitted). A movant “alleging prejudice with respect to the plea process must demonstrate a reasonable probability that he would have gone to trial rather than enter the plea, but for counsel's errors.” Martinez v. Sec'y, Fla. Dep't of Corr., 684 Fed.Appx. 915, 922 (11th Cir. 2017) (citing Lafler v. Cooper, 566 U.S. 156, 163 (2012)). “Further, the decision to reject the plea must have been ‘rational under the circumstances.'” Id. (quoting Padilla v. Kentucky, 559 U.S. 356, 372 (2010)). In a plea situation, the focus of inquiry under the performance prong of Strickland is “whether counsel's advice ‘was within the range of competence demanded of attorneys in criminal cases.'” Hill, 474 U.S. at 56-57 (quoting McMann v. Richardson, 397 U.S. 759, 771 (1970)). “Judicial scrutiny of counsel's performance must be highly deferential, ” and courts should make every effort to “eliminate the distorting effects of hindsight, to reconstruct the circumstances of counsel's challenged conduct, and to evaluate the conduct from counsel's perspective at the time.” Cannon, 2017 WL 990583, at *10 (citing Strickland, 466 U.S. at 689).

         Reddick and his attorney, Mr. McIlvaine, were able to negotiate a plea agreement with the Government whereby Reddick agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy to distribute heroin and cocaine and being a felon in possession of a firearm. Crim. Case, Doc. 89 at 1, 4-5. In exchange, the Government agreed to move the Court to dismiss the remaining two counts of the indictment. Id. at 3. Reddick faced a statutory sentence of not more than 20 years' imprisonment on the conspiracy charge and not more than 10 years' imprisonment on the felon in possession charge. Id. at 2. The plea agreement set forth the statutory elements and factual bases of the offenses to which Reddick was pleading guilty. Id. at 5-7. Reddick agreed that he was guilty of the offenses. Id. at 5. In addition, ...

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