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Ridley v. United States

United States District Court, Third Circuit

August 27, 2013

LAMONT RIDLEY, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA Respondent.

OPINION

ROBERT B. KUGLER, District Judge.

This matter comes before the Court on the motion of Lamont Ridley ("Petitioner") under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to set aside, correct, or vacate his sentence. Petitioner, a federal inmate proceeding pro se, seeks relief based on two claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. For the reasons stated herein, the Court will deny Petitioner's motion.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Facts and Procedural History

Petitioner is currently incarcerated at the Federal Corrections Institution at Fairton, New Jersey. On August 3, 2007, he was served with a criminal complaint charging him with conspiracy to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), 841(b)(1)(A), 846. United States v. Lamont Ridley, Crim. No. 08-190 (RBK), Doc. No. 1.[1] He made an initial appearance before the Honorable Joel Schneider on August 13, 2007 at which point he was ordered remanded to custody of the United States Marshals (Doc. No. 4). Petitioner was represented by Assistant Federal Public Defender Lori Koch for the initial appearance only (Doc. No. 5) but as litigation in his case proceeded, Ms. Koch remained as Petitioner's counsel (Doc. No. 11). In this capacity, Ms. Koch made three joint applications along with the United States for orders of continuance. Judge Schneider signed each of these orders (Doc. Nos. 8, 12, 13). Each order acknowledged that Petitioner had the right under the Speedy Trial Act of 1974, 18 U.S.C. § 3161 et seq., to have the criminal matter against him submitted to a grand jury within thirty days of the date of his initial appearance. E.g., Doc. No. 8. It further stated that Petitioner and the United States were currently in the process of plea negotiations and, in order to serve the ends of justice, Petitioner, through counsel, had agreed to waive his thirty-day grand jury right under the Speedy Trial Act in order to engage further in the plea bargaining process. Id. Each of the three orders granted a sixty day continuance: first from August 20, 2007 until October 22, 2007 (Doc. No. 8); second from October 22, 2007 until December 21, 2007 (Doc. No. 12); finally from December 21, 2007 until February 21, 2008 (Doc. No. 13). Each time, Petitioner, through counsel, agreed to waive certain of his rights under the Speedy Trial Act in order to pursue plea negotiations. Then, on March 11, 2008, a grand jury sitting in Camden, New Jersey returned a one-count Indictment against Petitioner (Doc. No. 14).

One of Petitioner's alleged co-conspirators, Ralph Davis, also made an initial appearance before Judge Schneider in his related case on August 28, 2007. United States v. Ralph Davis, Crim. No. 08-377 (RBK), Doc. No. 5. At that proceeding, Judge Schneider entered an order appointing Assistant Federal Public Defender Thomas Young to represent Mr. Davis for purposes of the initial appearance only. No. 08-377, Doc. No. 6. Later that same day, however, an order went into effect appointing Jeremy D. Frey, of the law firm Pepper Hamilton, LLP, to replace Mr. Young as Mr. Davis's counsel. No. 08-377, Doc. No. 8. Finally, some months later, in February 2008, George H. Newman replaced Mr. Frey and proceeded to represented Mr. Davis for the remainder of the proceedings in that criminal case. No. 08-377, Doc. No. 16.

B. Petitioner's Claims for Relief

In support of his motion to set aside his sentence, Petitioner sets forth two arguments. First, he claims he was denied effective assistance of counsel in violation of his rights under the Sixth Amendment. Specifically, he claims his counsel was ineffective because she did not file a motion to dismiss his case under the Speedy Trial Act. Petitioner Br. 5. He further contends that he would never have pled guilty to the charges filed against him if he had known that they could simply have been dismissed by the filing of a simple pretrial motion. See id. at 7.

Petitioner's second argument in support of his motion is that he was denied effective assistance of counsel because of a conflict of interest. The first conflict of interest allegedly arose because both he and his co-conspirator Ralph Davis were represented at their initial appearance by attorneys at the Federal Public Defender's office. Id. at 8. There was a second conflict of interest, Petitioner continues, when his first attorney, Ms. Koch resigned from the case, and Mr. Young (who had represented Mr. Davis at his initial appearance) took over on December 19, 2008. Id. Petitioner claims that Mr. Young actively represented both him and Mr. Davis at the same time. Id. Finally, Petitioner asserts that alleged conflict of interest adversely impacted him because they resulted in no attorney filing a Speedy Trial Act dismissal motion on his behalf.

II. ANALYSIS

28 U.S.C. § 2255 allows a prisoner in federal custody to challenge the validity of his sentence. Accord Morelli v. United States, 285 F.Supp.2d 454, 458 (D.N.J. 2003). The prisoner has the right to be released if his sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution. See 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Such relief is generally available only if the petitioner can establish "a fundamental defect which inherently results in a complete miscarriage of justice or an omission inconsistent with the rudimentary demands of fair procedure." United States v. Deluca, 889 F.2d 503, 506 (3d Cir. 1989).

Petitioner here argues that his Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel was violated. To establish such a violation, a person must establish two things:

First, the defendant must show that counsel's performance was deficient. This requires showing that counsel made errors so serious that counsel was not functioning as the "counsel" guaranteed the defendant by the Sixth Amendment.
Second, the defendant must show that the deficient performance prejudiced the defense. This requires showing that counsel's errors were so serious as to deprive the defendant of a ...

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