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Ingalls v. United States

January 10, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wolfson, District Judge



Presently before the Court is a Motion to Vacate, Set Aside or Correct a Sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 by Petitioner, Sabena Ingalls ("Ingalls"). Petitioner alleges: (1) that her trial counsel, Joseph S. Caruso ("Caruso"), was ineffective for failing to investigate relevant factors underlying Ingalls' mental capacity including physical abuse and alcohol dependency; (2) that the sentence imposed by this Court is disparate and excessive in relation to similarly situated defendants; and (3) that following her incarceration, Ingalls has undertaken significant post-conviction rehabilitative efforts requiring this Court to grant a downward departure in Petitioner's sentence. The Court has considered the moving and opposition papers and for the reasons set forth below, the Court denies Petitioner's motion.


On October 28, 2003, a federal grand jury returned a 37 count Indictment charging Ingalls and her co-defendants with a variety of counts related to a scheme to use proceeds from an illegal drug trafficking operation to acquire residential properties in and around Camden County, New Jersey. The counts included conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, conspiracy to distribute crack and powder cocaine, and conspiracy to commit money laundering as well as the substantive charges of wire fraud, mail fraud and money laundering. Specifically, between October 1996 and April 2003, the government alleged that Ingalls, a licensed real estate agent, used money from a cocaine business to purchase properties and to have cosmetic repairs performed upon the properties. Subsequently, the properties would be sold at substantial profits to unqualified buyers who had obtained mortgage loans insured by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development ("HUD"), contract loans administered by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and conventional mortgage loans administered by private lending institutions.

On May 10, 2004, Ingalls entered a plea of guilty to count 24 of the Indictment charging her with engaging in a money laundering conspiracy in violation of 18 U.S.C. §1956(h). Pursuant to the terms of the plea agreement, Ingalls agreed to cooperate with the government and waived her right to appeal or collaterally attack the resulting conviction under certain circumstances. In return, the government agreed to dismiss the remaining counts against her and to file a motion for downward departure, in its discretion, if Ingalls provided substantial assistance.

On June 13, 2005, Ingalls appeared before this Court for sentencing. Ingalls faced a maximum statutory prison sentence of ten years for violating 18 U.S.C. § 1956(h) with a Sentencing Guidelines range of 70 to 87 months. In addition, as a result of her cooperation, which included testifying at the trial of co-Defendant, Kenneth Jenkins, the government filed a downward departure motion on April 22, 2005. At the close of the sentencing hearing, I sentenced Ingalls to a 60 month term of imprisonment to be followed by a three year term of supervised release and ordered Ingalls to pay restitution in the amount of $290,769.32.

Thereafter, on September 25, 2006, Ingalls filed the instant petition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Petitioner contends that she was denied the effective assistance of counsel when Caruso failed to investigate relevant factors related to her mental capacity including physical abuse and alcohol dependency. In addition, petitioner argues that the sentenced imposed by this court is excessive related to similarly situated defendants. Finally, petitioner contends that she has undertaken significant post-conviction rehabilitative efforts and is therefore entitled to a downward departure.


1. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 a petitioner may move to vacate, set aside or correct a sentence on the grounds "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. Thus, Petitioner is entitled to relief only if she can establish that she is in custody in violation of federal law or the Constitution.

Initially, the Court must consider whether Ingalls is entitled to an evidentiary hearing. A district court is given discretion to determine whether to hold an evidentiary hearing on a habeas petition under Section 2255. See Government of the Virgin Islands v. Forte, 865 F.2d 59, 62 (3d Cir.1989). In exercising that discretion, a court must first determine whether the petitioner's claims, if proven, would entitle her to relief, and then consider whether an evidentiary hearing is needed to determine the truth of the allegations. See Government of the Virgin Islands v. Weatherwax, 20 F.3d 572, 574 (3d Cir.1994). Accordingly, a court may dismiss a motion brought under Section 2255 without a hearing if the "motion, files, and records, 'show conclusively that the movant is not entitled to relief.' " United States v. Nahodil, 36 F.3d 323, 326 (3d Cir.1994). Where the record affirmatively indicates that a petitioner's claim for relief is without merit, the claim may be decided on the record without a hearing. See Government of Virgin Islands v. Nicholas, 759 F.2d 1073, 1075 (3d Cir.1985). Thus, if the record, supplemented by the trial judge's personal knowledge, conclusively negates the factual predicates asserted in support of a § 2255 motion, or if the movant would not be entitled to relief as a matter of law even if the factual predicates as alleged in the motion are true, it is not an abuse of discretion to elect not to conduct an evidentiary hearing. See Nicholas, 759 F.2d at 1075

In the instant matter, Ingalls alleges that she was provided ineffective assistance by her trial counsel, Caruso, in violation of the Sixth Amendment. Specifically, Ingalls contends that Caruso failed to conduct any investigation into her mental capacity including allegations of physical abuse by her co-defendant and boyfriend, Kenneth Jenkins, and an alcohol dependency problem. For the reasons set forth below, the Court finds that an evidentiary hearing is not necessary because the record demonstrates that Ingalls is not entitled to the relief requested.

The Sixth Amendment right to counsel protects a defendant's fundamental right to a fair trial. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 684-85 (1984). This right to counsel includes the right to effective assistance of counsel. Id. at 686; McMann v. Richardson, 397 U.S. 759, 771 n. 14 (1970). In Strickland, the Court held that "[t]he benchmark for judging any claim of ineffectiveness must be whether counsel's conduct so undermined the proper functioning of the adversarial process that the trial cannot be relied on as having produced a just result." 466 U.S. at 686. Thus, to prevail on a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, a petitioner must satisfy a stringent two part test establishing that: (1) counsel's performance was deficient; and (2) the deficient performance prejudiced the defense. Strickland, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984). To prevail under the first prong, petitioner must show that defense counsel "made errors so serious that counsel was not functioning as the 'counsel' guaranteed the defendant by the Sixth Amendment." Id. Morever, under the second prong, petitioner must ...

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