United States District Court, D. Connecticut
RULING AND ORDER ON PETITIONER'S MOTION TO
VACATE, CORRECT OR SET ASIDE SENTENCE
R. Underhill, United States District Judge
October 31, 2016, pro se petitioner Landers Wilson,
currently imprisoned at Federal Correctional Institution Fort
Dix in Fort Dix, New Jersey, filed a motion to vacate, set
aside, or correct his sentence (“habeas
petition”), pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
2255. Petition (doc. 1). Wilson challenges his
conviction and sentence, arguing that: (1) there was no
factual basis for his guilty plea in violation of Rule
11(b)(3) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure; (2) the
court improperly failed to evaluate Wilson's competence
to plead, and accordingly failed to grant Wilson a downward
departure for diminished capacity in his Sentencing
Guidelines calculations, see U.S.S.G. § 5K2.13;
and (3) Wilson's counsel provided him with ineffective
assistance of counsel for failing to raise either of those
two arguments in the plea colloquy and at sentencing.
government asserts that Wilson's arguments are foreclosed
by his valid appeal waiver, and moreover that his claims
would nevertheless fail on the merits. I agree-based on the
entire record and for the reasons set forth in this ruling,
there is no need to hold a hearing in this case and
Wilson's petition is denied.
Standard of Review
2255 provides a prisoner in federal custody an opportunity to
challenge the legality of his or her sentence. To obtain
relief under section 2255, the petitioner must show that his
or her prior sentence was invalid because: (1) it was imposed
in violation of the Constitution or the laws of the United
States; (2) the court lacked jurisdiction to impose the
sentence; (3) it exceeded the maximum detention authorized by
law; or (4) it is otherwise subject to collateral attack. 28
U.S.C. § 2255(a). The standard is a high one; even
constitutional errors will not be redressed through a section
2255 petition unless they have had a “substantial and
injurious effect” that results in “actual
prejudice” to the petitioner. Brecht v.
Abrahamson, 507 U.S. 619, 623 (1993) (internal citations
omitted); Underwood v. United States, 166 F.3d 84,
87 (2d Cir. 1999) (applying Brecht's harmless
error standard to section 2255 petition).
federal prisoner may not use a section 2255 petition to
relitigate questions that were expressly or impliedly
resolved during a direct appeal, absent “an intervening
change of controlling law, the availability of new evidence,
or the need to correct a clear error or prevent manifest
injustice.” United States v. Becker, 502 F.3d
122, 127 (2d Cir. 2013) (internal citations omitted); see
also United States v. Sanin, 252 F.3d 79, 83 (2d Cir.
2001); United States v. Munoz, 143 F.3d 632, 637 (2d
Cir. 1998) (“A motion under § 2255 is not a
substitute for an appeal.”). A petitioner is also
barred from bringing a claim on habeas review that was not
properly raised on direct review unless the petitioner is
able to show “cause and actual prejudice” or
“actual innocence.” See Bousley v. United
States, 523 U.S. 614, 622 (1998); Reed v.
Farley, 512 U.S. 339, 354 (1994).
petitioner may raise a claim of ineffective assistance of
counsel that was not raised previously at trial or on appeal.
Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984);
see also Massaro v. United States, 538 U.S. 500, 504
(2003). A petitioner claiming ineffective assistance of
counsel “must show that (1) counsel's performance
was objectively deficient, and (2) petitioner was actually
prejudiced as a result.” Harrington v. United
States, 689 F.3d 124, 129 (2d Cir. 2012) (citing
Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687-88 (1984)). That does
not mean, however, that every perceived error or questionable
decision by counsel entitles a petitioner to relief. There is
a “strong presumption that counsel's conduct falls
within the wide range of reasonably professional
assistance.” Strickland, 466 U.S. at 689. The
threshold for an ineffective assistance claim is high, and
courts have “declined to deem counsel ineffective
notwithstanding a course of action (or inaction) that seems
risky, unorthodox, or downright ill-advised.”
Tippins v. Walker, 77 F.3d 682, 686 (2d Cir. 1996).
“The question is whether an attorney's
representation amounted to incompetence under
‘prevailing professional norms, ' not whether it
deviated from best practices or most common custom.”
Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 88 (2011)
(citing Strickland, 466 U.S. at 690).
section 2255, a petitioner is entitled to a hearing
“[u]nless the motion and the files and records of the
case conclusively show that the prisoner is entitled to no
relief.” 28 U.S.C. § 2255(b). “Mere
generalities or hearsay statements will not normally entitle
the applicant to a hearing . . . . The petitioner must set
forth specific facts which he is in a position to establish
by competent evidence.” Dalli v. United
States, 491 F.2d 758, 760-61 (2d Cir. 1974) (citations
omitted). In the absence of supporting facts, the court may
resolve a petitioner's claims without a hearing. See
January 25, 2013, a grand jury returned an indictment
charging Wilson with a single count of conspiracy to possess
with intent to distribute, and conspiracy to distribute 280
grams or more of a mixture and substance containing a
detectable amount of cocaine base in violation of 21 U.S.C.
§§ 841(a)(1), 841(b)(1)(A), and 846. See United
States v. Wooten, et al., No. 3:13-cv-18 (SRU) (D. Conn.
Jan. 25, 2013) (doc. 14). Thirteen other co-defendants were
named in the same indictment on various other counts. On July
9, 2013, Wilson was released on bond with special conditions
that he participate in a residential substance abuse
treatment program operated by the Salvation Army. At the bond
hearing, Wilson's counsel noted that Wilson had a mental
heath diagnosis that “basically” amounted to
depression, for which he had previously self-medicated with
substantial substance abuse, and which was then being treated
by physicians at his pretrial detention facility with a
combination of Zoloft and “Xylo.” Bond Tr.
(3:13-cr-18, doc. 510).
16, 2013, pursuant to a written plea agreement, Wilson
pleaded guilty to a lesser-included offense: conspiracy to
possess with intent to distribute 28 grams or more of cocaine
base in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1),
841(b)(1)(B), and 846. (3:13-cr-18, doc. 174). The plea
agreement contained an appeal waiver in which Wilson agreed
not to collaterally challenge his sentence or conviction if
his sentence did not exceed 108 months' imprisonment, a
four-year term of supervised release, and a fine of $15,
Plea Agreement (3:13-cr-00018, doc. 453). Although the plea
agreement included a paragraph referring to written
stipulation, no such attachment was included.
plea colloquy, in response to my questions, Wilson stated
that his mind was clear, that he understood the proceedings,
and that he understood the implications of entering a guilty
plea. Plea Tr. at 5-11 (3:13-cr-18, doc. 35). Wilson's
counsel also stated that he had no concerns regarding
Wilson's competence to plead. Id. at 6.
parties noted the omission of the written stipulation
referred to in the written plea agreement, and agreed to
cross out the paragraph referring to that stipulation in
order to avoid confusion. Id. at 26-27. The
government subsequently described the evidence on which it
would have relied to prove that Wilson had committed the
offense of conviction at trial. Id. at 34-37.
Wilson's counsel made a minor correction to that account,
and Wilson confirmed that the government's account was
accurate “for the most part.” Id. at 37.
I then discussed the elements of the offense of conviction
with Wilson in further detail as follows:
The Court: . . . Did you agree with at least one other person
that you would be involved with possession with intent to
distribute at least 28 grams of crack cocaine?
The Defendant: Yes.
The Court: All right. So you knowingly and voluntarily did
The Defendant: Yes.
The Court: And you understand that the goal of that agreement
or conspiracy was to possess with intent to ...