United States District Court, D. Connecticut
RULING AND ORDER
N. CHATIGNY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Charles Handy, a federal inmate, brings this action pro
se under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 challenging his
convictions and sentence on charges of drug conspiracy and
distribution. Mr. Handy argues that his convictions were
imposed in violation of his Sixth Amendment right to
effective assistance of counsel, and that his sentence of 150
months’ imprisonment is not valid in light of an
intervening change in the law. For reasons that follow, the
petition is denied.
Handy was convicted after a jury trial on three counts of the
Superseding Indictment: conspiracy to distribute and to
possess with intent to distribute fifty grams or more of
crack cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§
841(a)(1), 841(b)(1)(A), and 846 (Count 2); possession with
intent to distribute five grams or more of crack cocaine, in
violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and
841(b)(1)(B) (Count 3); and possession with intent to
distribute crack cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C.
§§ 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(C) (Count 5). The
evidence at trial showed that Mr. Handy was involved in a
drug distribution organization led by co-defendant Gavin
Hammett. Mr. Handy regularly purchased crack cocaine from Mr.
Hammett and was one of Mr. Hammett’s largest volume
customers. The government’s evidence at trial included
recorded telephone calls, text messages, the testimony of
co-defendant Massiel Vargas (Mr. Hammett’s girlfriend)
and video surveillance, along with crack cocaine and a
digital scale that police had seized from Mr. Handy.
wiretap investigation conducted from April to May 2010
resulted in 35 recorded calls in which Mr. Handy spoke to Mr.
Hammett about obtaining crack cocaine. Mr. Handy typically
purchased 28 grams at a time, but by June 2010, he was buying
40 grams per transaction. Ms. Vargas testified that Mr. Handy
purchased crack cocaine from Mr. Hammett at least once per
2010, after Mr. Handy and co-defendant Frank Green were seen
arriving at Ms. Vargas’s apartment then leaving in the
same car minutes later, police conducted a traffic stop and
recovered 26.9 grams of crack cocaine and 3.9 grams of powder
cocaine. When Mr. Handy was arrested in June 2010, police
seized approximately $1, 500 in cash, two cell phones, 3.7
grams of crack cocaine, and a digital scale. A search warrant
on one of the phones resulted in several text messages
between Mr. Handy and his narcotics customers.
Handy claims that he is entitled to relief under 28 U.S.C.
§ 2255 because his counsel provided ineffective
assistance in failing to renew a motion for acquittal under
Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29; and because the Court
applied incorrect statutory penalties at sentencing. Neither
claim provides a basis for relief.
Ineffective Assistance of Counsel
prevail on a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, a
petitioner must establish that (1) his counsel’s
performance fell below an objective standard of
reasonableness, and (2) but for his counsel’s errors,
there is a reasonable probability the result of the
proceeding would have been different. Strickland v.
Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984); Bennett v. United
States, 663 F.3d 71, 84-85 (2d Cir. 2011). This is a
"highly demanding" and "rigorous"
standard. Bennett, 663 F.3d at 85. When evaluating
claims of ineffective assistance, courts apply a "strong
presumption that counsel’s conduct falls within the
wide range of reasonable professional assistance."
United States v. Cohen, 427 F.3d 164, 167 (2d Cir.
2005) (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 689).
Handy’s counsel filed a motion for acquittal pursuant
to Rule 29 at the close of the government’s case.
See 3:10-cr-128(RNC), ECF Nos. 553, 554. Counsel did
not renew this motion after the close of all evidence or
after the verdict was returned. On direct appeal, the Second
Circuit summarily affirmed Mr. Handy’s convictions,
applying a "plain error or manifest injustice"
standard to his sufficiency challenge because the motion for
acquittal had not been renewed below. United States v.
Hammett, 555 F. App’x 108, 109 (2d Cir. 2014).
Handy argues that his counsel’s failure to renew the
motion constituted ineffective assistance because it resulted
in the Court of Appeals applying a less demanding standard of
review on direct appeal. This claim fails both prongs of the
standard set forth in Strickland, as counsel’s
performance was not deficient and petitioner suffered no
defendant’s motion for a judgment of acquittal is
governed by a "stern" standard that looks to
whether, "viewing the evidence in the light most
favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact
could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a
reasonable doubt." United States v. MacPherson,
424 F.3d 183, 187 (2d Cir. 2005). The abundant evidence
presented against Mr. Handy at trial, viewed most favorably
to the government, easily permitted a rational jury to find
him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and, accordingly, a
renewal of the Rule 29 motion would have been futile. Given
the weight of the evidence against Mr. Handy, his counsel
acted within "the wide range of reasonable professional
assistance" when he did not renew the Rule 29 motion
later in the proceedings. Cohen, 427 F.3d at 167;
see also Aparicio v. Artuz, 269 F.3d 78, 99 (2d Cir.
2001) (failure to make "meritless argument" does
not constitute deficient performance); Baxter v. United
States, No. 3:09CV368 SRU, 2010 WL 4823241, at *2 (D.
Conn. Nov. 18, 2010) (courts are "reluctant" to
require counsel to routinely "file boilerplate motions
merely to vindicate their professional competence without
regard for the grounds supporting such motions").
Mr. Handy suffered no prejudice as a result of the
non-renewal of the motion. Though the Court of Appeals stated
that Mr. Handy’s convictions were reviewed under a
"plain error or manifest injustice" standard, the
summary order goes on to hold that the evidence was
sufficient to support the convictions. Hammett, 555
F. App’x at 109. Specifically, the Court held that
"the jury could rationally infer that Handy had a stake
in promoting the illegal distribution of crack cocaine"
and thereby participated in a drug conspiracy in violation of
21 U.S.C. § 846. Id. Similarly, the Court held
that it was not "irrational for the jury to find Handy
guilty of possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine,
" in violation of 21 U.S.C. ...