United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Lexington
A. Ingram, United States Magistrate Judge
Taniesha C. Strickland has filed a motion under 28 U.S.C.
§ 2255, alleging 38 grounds for relief. D.E. 114. The
government responded, and filed an affidavit from
Strickland's trial attorney along with a series of
letters. D.E. 125. Strickland did not file a reply within the
time allotted to do so. Thus, the motion is ripe for review.
28 U.S.C. § 2255, a federal prisoner may seek habeas
relief because a sentence violates the Constitution or
federal law, the federal court lacked jurisdiction to impose
such a sentence, or the sentence exceeds the maximum
authorized by law. 28 U.S.C. § 2255. To prevail on a
§ 2255 motion alleging constitutional error, a defendant
must establish that the error had a “substantial and
injurious effect or influence on the proceedings.”
Watson v. United States, 165 F.3d 486, 488 (6th Cir.
1999) (citing Brecht v. Abrahamson, 507 U.S. 619,
637 (1993)). A § 2255 movant bears the burden of proving
his or her allegations by a preponderance of the evidence.
McQueen v. United States, 58 F. App'x 73, 76
(6th Cir. 2003) (per curiam).
Court recognizes that Strickland is proceeding pro
se, without the assistance of an attorney (although her
motion was prepared by a prisoner providing legal aid). The
Court construes pro se motions more leniently than
other motions. Castro v. United States, 540 U.S.
375, 381-83 (2003); Franklin v. Rose, 765 F.2d 82,
85 (6th Cir. 1985). A document filed pro se is to be
liberally construed. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S.
89, 94 (2007).
Strickland's claims raise issues of ineffective
assistance of counsel. To successfully assert an
ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim, a defendant must
prove both deficient performance and prejudice.
Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984);
Pough v. United States, 442 F.3d 959, 964 (6th Cir.
2006). To prove deficient performance, a defendant must show
that “counsel made errors so serious that counsel was
not functioning as the ‘counsel' guaranteed the
defendant by the Sixth Amendment.” Strickland,
466 U.S. at 687. A defendant meets this burden by showing
“that counsel's representation fell below an
objective standard of reasonableness” as measured under
“prevailing professional norms” and evaluated
“considering all the circumstances.” Id.
a reviewing court may not second-guess trial counsel's
strategic decisions. Moss v. Hofbauer, 286 F.3d 851,
859 (6th Cir. 2002). Thus, “a court must indulge a
strong presumption that counsel's conduct falls within
the wide range of reasonable professional assistance; that
is, the defendant must overcome the presumption that, under
the circumstances, the challenged action might be considered
sound trial strategy.” Strickland, 466 U.S. at
689 (internal quotations omitted). “A fair assessment
of attorney performance requires that every effort be made 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
order to prove prejudice, a movant “must show that
there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's
unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would
have been different.” Strickland, 466 U.S. at
694. Thus, “[a]n error by counsel, even if
professionally unreasonable, does not warrant setting aside
the judgment of a criminal proceeding if the error had no
effect on the judgment.” Id. at 691. When
evaluating prejudice, courts generally must consider the
“totality of the evidence.” Strickland,
466 U.S. at 695. Courts may approach the Strickland
analysis in any order, and an insufficient showing on either
prong ends the inquiry. Id. at 697.
prejudice in the guilty-plea context, a movant
“‘must show that there is a reasonable
probability that, but for counsel's errors, he would not
have pleaded guilty and instead would have insisted on going
to trial.'” Hodges v. Colson, 727 F.3d
517, 534 (6th Cir. 2013) (quoting Hill v. Lockhart,
474 U.S. 52, 59 (1985)), cert. denied sub nom. Hodges v.
Carpenter, 135 S.Ct. 1545 (2015), reh'g
denied, 135 S.Ct. 2345 (2015).
prejudice in the sentencing context, a movant must establish
that his “sentence was increased by the deficient
performance of his attorney.” Spencer v.
Booker, 254 F. App'x 520, 525 (6th Cir. 2007)
(citing Glover v. United States, 531 U.S. 198, 200
numerous grounds are often repetitive, overlapping, and
contain multiple theories. They have been sorted and analyzed
on the basis of subject matter instead of in the order that
they are raised by Strickland.
described in Strickland's plea agreement, in July 2015,
Lexington police officers conducted controlled purchases of
small amounts of heroin from Strickland and her codefendant
Antonio Rosebur. D.E. 95 at 2. On July 29, officers received
and executed a state search warrant on an apartment that was
occupied by Strickland and Rosebur. Officers conducting the
search found heroin, pain pills, and cocaine, some of which
was in Strickland's wallet and shoe. Id.
Strickland told the officers she had only been in Lexington a
couple of days, but she admitted occasionally selling heroin
“down the street.” Id. at 3.
September 10, 2015, Strickland was indicted for one count of
conspiracy to distribute 100 grams or more of heroin, one
count of possessing with intent to distribute 100 grams or
more of heroin, and one count of possessing with intent to
distribute cocaine, crack, oxycodone, and hydrocodone. D.E.
1. Antonio Rosebur was also charged in all three counts, plus
a fourth count of being a felon in possession of a firearm,
based on a pistol that was found in the apartment bedroom.
Id. On September 21, after being arrested,
Strickland appeared in Court with retained counsel Benjamin
Hicks (D.E. 8), and was released on conditions (D.E. 9).
November 22, 2015, the government moved to revoke
Strickland's release (D.E. 32), and the Court issued an
arrest warrant (D.E. 35). Strickland's probation officer
alleged that Strickland had submitted a urine sample that
tested positive for marijuana. D.E. 51. She was arrested in
Michigan and again released on bond. D.E. 36. Shortly
thereafter, Strickland moved for rearraignment (D.E. 39). Her
rearraignment was set for December 23, 2015 (D.E. 41), but
she failed to appear, and the Court issued an arrest warrant
(D.E. 43). Antonio Rosebur did appear at that hearing, and
pleaded guilty. See D.E. 54 at 2. In January, Mr.
Hicks moved to withdraw as Strickland's counsel. D.E. 52.
Strickland was again arrested in Michigan for failure to
appear at the December 23 hearing, but this time she was not
released. D.E. 54 at 2. Judge Reeves granted Mr. Hicks's
motion to withdraw and ordered Strickland to appear on the
additional bond violation charge that she violated her terms
of release by failing to appear at the December 23 hearing.
Id. at 3.
Court then appointed Thomas C. Lyons to represent Strickland
(D.E. 55), and her release was revoked on February 26, 2016
(D.E. 59). On March 9, 2016, Strickland again moved to plead
guilty subject to an agreement with the government. D.E. 62.
She appeared at her April 8, 2016 rearraignment hearing, but
she did not enter a plea. D.E. 72. According to Mr. Lyons, on
that date “Strickland would not sign the plea agreement
and appeared upset.” D.E. 125-1 at 6. The Court took a
two-hour break, but, after further discussion, Strickland was
“more emotional and was having difficulty deciding how
to proceed.” Id.
days later, Strickland moved for rearraignment a third time
(D.E. 74), and pleaded guilty on April 15 to a
lesser-included offense of Count One, i.e.,
conspiracy to distribute heroin with no quantity specified
(D.E. 77; D.E. 124 (transcript)).
plea agreement, Strickland admitted that, prior to the search
of the apartment, she and Rosebur sold “small amounts
of heroin” during “controlled purchases.”
D.E. 95 at 2. She admitted that she was in the apartment when
the search was conducted and that officers found large
quantities of narcotics, including “a small bag”
of heroin in her wallet and 44 grams of cocaine in a
“woman's shoe” that Strickland admitted
belonged to her. Id. Also, according to the factual
summary, Strickland “claimed that she had only been in
Lexington for a couple of days” and she admitted she
would “occasionally” take small quantities of
heroin “down the street to sell to someone.”
Id. at 3. She admitted that her relevant conduct
included 13.4 grams of cocaine, 23.2 grams of crack, 1.2
grams of hydrocodone, 1.18 grams of oxycodone, and 20-40
grams of heroin. Id. at 3-4. Pursuant to the plea
agreement, the government recommended a 2-level increase in
her base offense level because a firearm was possessed.
Id. at 4. The agreement also recognized that the
government was opposed to a credit for acceptance of
responsibility on account of the violations of her bond
plea agreement also contained a waiver provision at paragraph
8: “The Defendant waives the right to appeal the guilty
plea and conviction. Except for claims of ineffective
assistance of counsel, the Defendant also waives the right to
attack collaterally the guilty plea, conviction, and
sentence.” Id. at 5.
August 15, 2016, Strickland was sentenced to 57 months of
imprisonment, followed by three years of supervised release.
D.E. 98. She did not appeal. The current motion under 28
U.S.C. § 2255 was timely placed in the prison mail on
August 14, 2017 (although it erroneously states it was 2016).
D.E. 114 at 54.
argues in Ground One that her plea was not
knowing and voluntary on account of her “mental health
deficits.” Id. at 4. She argues in
Ground Four that her plea was not voluntary
because her attorney pressured her into it. Id. at
8. She also argues in Grounds 37 and 38 that
she was actually innocent of the heroin conspiracy.
Id. at 49-52. She also raises numerous other
allegations of ineffective assistance of trial counsel
(“IAC”). The non-IAC claims will be considered
Validity of the Plea Agreement
the existence of a valid plea agreement undermines many of
Strickland's claims, the validity of her plea is a
pivotal issue that warrants the Court's full attention.
If done knowingly and voluntarily, a criminal defendant may,
by the terms of the plea agreement, waive her right to file a
direct appeal and her right to collaterally attack her
conviction and sentence under § 2255. Davila v.
United States, 258 F.3d 448, 450-51 (6th Cir. 2001).
“[A] defendant in a criminal case may waive any right,
even a constitutional right, by means of a plea
agreement.” United States v. Griffin, 854 F.3d
911, 914 (6th Cir. 2017).
a petitioner may challenge the validity of such a waiver on
the basis that the plea “was not knowing or voluntary,
or was the product of ineffective assistance of
counsel.” In re Acosta, 480 F.3d 421, 422 (6th
Cir. 2007). Strickland raises both of these challenges.
of Strickland's grounds for relief concern her mental
competency. If, at the time of her rearraignment, she was
mentally incompetent to stand trial, her plea would be
invalid. To enter a valid plea, a defendant must possess
“the sufficient present ability to consult his lawyer
with a reasonable degree of rational understanding, as well
as having a rational and factual understanding of the
proceedings against him.” United States v.
Calvin, 20 F. App'x 452, 453 (6th Cir. 2001). But
not every manifestation of mental illness demonstrates
incompetency to stand trial. For example, “Neither low
intelligence, mental deficiency, nor the fact that a
defendant has been treated with anti-psychotic drugs can
automatically be equated with incompetence.”
Hastings v. Yukins, 194 F.Supp.2d 659, 671-72 (E.D.
Mich. 2002) (citing Burket v. Angelone, 208 F.3d
172, 192 (4th Cir. 2000); Miles v. Dorsey, 61 F.3d
1459, 1474 (10th Cir. 1995)).
alleges in Ground One that her plea was not knowing or
voluntary. D.E. 114 at 4. She also appears to argue
throughout her motion that her plea was the product of
ineffective assistance of counsel. Among other allegations,
Strickland claims her counsel failed to appreciate her
psychological handicaps. Id. She argues that her
“mental health deficits” affected her ability to
make “a knowledgeable plea.” Id. She
says she “did not understand what a plea agreement is,
” and that counsel did not explain the agreement and
its related risks “in a culturally sensitive” or
“primarily English language” format. Id.
She states in Ground Two that she suffered
from “lead intoxication and PTSD in elementary school,
” and that she had “attention deficit disorder
with hyperactivity, behavioral manifestations, and dyslexia
(written and spoken word deficits).” Id. at 5.
She argues that counsel failed to investigate her competency
issues prior to her plea. Id. In Ground Sixteen, she
alleges that counsel should have requested what the Court
construes to be a competency determination. Id. at
24. In Ground Eighteen she alleges that her repeatedly
displayed “emotional disturbances” and lack of
comprehension should have triggered competency proceedings,
and that her signature on the plea agreement was void because
counsel did not read the plea agreement to her or discuss it
with her. Id. at 26. Part of Ground Twenty argues
that counsel should have raised defenses of insanity, lack of
intent, and extreme emotional disturbance. Id. at
Ground Four, Strickland repeats her allegation that counsel
failed to explain the agreement and its associated risks and
argues that she was “improperly pressured” into
accepting the plea. D.E. 114 at 8. She argues that counsel
wanted her to plead guilty “for the sake of his
relationship with the ‘federal people, '” and
avers that counsel had reason to initiate competency
proceedings. Id. Ground Fourteen alleges that
counsel coerced Strickland to enter the guilty plea against
her wishes, even after she “burst into emotional
distress” during a private meeting in which she stated
“she did not want or agree with the plea offer.”
Id. at 21. She claims she was “pressured into
a guilty plea” and “not offered information on
consequences of withdrawing a plea.” Id. She
claims counsel “never discussed . . . the risk and
benefit of the plea offer in the beginning of his
representation.” Id. Federal Rule of Criminal
Procedure 11 governs plea colloquies. The Rule is meant to
ensure that the district court is satisfied that a guilty
plea is made knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently.
United States v. Webb, 403 F.3d 373, 378 (6th Cir.
2005). Rule 11 requires the Court to verify “that the
defendant understands his or her applicable constitutional
rights, the nature of the crime charged, the consequences of
the guilty plea, and the factual basis for concluding that
the defendant committed the crime charged.”
Id. at 378-79. When the District Court “has
scrupulously followed the required procedure” during a
plea colloquy, “the defendant is bound by his
statements in response to that court's inquiry.”
Ramos v. ...