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Hall v. United States

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

September 21, 2018

MYKAL HALL, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent.

          OPINION

          FREDA L. WOLFSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Petitioner, Mykal Hall (“Hall” or “Petitioner”), is a federal prisoner proceeding pro se with a motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. For the following reasons, Hall's § 2255 motion is denied.

         II. BACKGROUND AND PLEADINGS

         A. The Underlying Criminal Proceeding

         Hall was arrested on July 8, 2013, on a criminal complaint charging him with one count of assaulting a person having custody of United States property, with intent to rob, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2114. See United States v. Hall, Crim. No. 13-684 (FLW) (D.N.J.), Compl., ECF No. 1. The Complaint alleged that, between February and May of 2013, Hall sold to a confidential source seven firearms, including two sawed-off shotguns, one of which had a defaced serial number. Id., Attach. A, ¶ 1. It alleged that Hall and the confidential source agreed to meet on June 8, 2013 for another firearms sale and that Hall showed the confidential source a handgun before stating that he had to go get a bag containing other guns. Id. ¶¶ 3-4. The Complaint alleged that Hall returned, accompanied by another person, ultimately determined to be codefendant Lachtavo R. Nance (“Nance”), that Hall placed a bag in the trunk of the confidential source's vehicle, and that Nance then robbed the confidential source of the purchase money at gunpoint.[1] Id. ¶¶ 5-6.

         A grand jury returned a two-count indictment on October 17, 2013, charging Hall and Nance, in Count One, with assault with intent to rob property of the United States in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 2 and 2114 and, in Count Two, with use of a firearm in relation to a crime of violence in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 2 and 9 24(c)(1)(a)(ii). Crim. No. 13-684, ECF No. 12. The grand jury subsequently returned a superseding, three-count indictment, which added a charge of engaging in the business of dealing firearms without a license in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 2 and 922(a)(1)(A). Id., ECF No. 18. In May 2014, this Court dismissed without prejudice the assault charge against Hall based on a violation of the Speedy Trial Act. Id., ECF Nos. 34- 36. One week later, a grand jury returned a second superseding indictment, with nine counts against Hall, [2] for dealing firearms without a license under 18 U.S.C. §§ 2 and 922(a)(1)(A) (Count One), two counts of possession of an unregistered short-barreled shotgun under 18 U.S.C. § 2 and 26 U.S.C. §§ 5841, 5861(d), and 5871 (Counts Two and Four), two counts of delivery of an unregistered short-barreled shotgun under 18 U.S.C. § 2 and 26 U.S.C. §§ 5841, 5861(j), and 5871 (Counts Three and Six), possession of a firearm with a defaced serial number under 18 U.S.C. § 2 and 26 U.S.C. §§ 5842, 5861(h), and 5871 (Count Five), conspiracy to commit Hobbs Act robbery under 18 U.S.C. § 1951 (Count Seven), and, as in the first superseding indictment, assault with intent to rob property of the United States under 18 U.S.C. §§ 2 and 2114 and possession of a firearm in relation to a crime of violence in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 2 and 924(c)(1)(a)(ii) (Counts Eight and Nine). Id., ECF No. 38.

         On June 18, 2014, Hall pleaded guilty before this Court to Count Four of the Second Superseding Indictment, for possession of an unregistered, short-barreled shotgun.[3] Id., ECF Nos. 42-44, 49. As part of the plea agreement, Hall waived his right to file an appeal, collateral attack, or challenge to a sentence within the range set forth by the United States Sentencing Guidelines for an offense level of 29. Id., ECF No. 44 ¶¶ 12-13. On November 24, 2014, this Court sentenced Hall to 108 months of imprisonment, to be followed by three years of supervised release. Crim. No. 13-684, ECF Nos. 47-48, 56.

         B. The § 2255 Motion

         On June 25, 2015, Hall, acting pro se, filed a § 2255 motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence. (ECF No. 1.) The Court administratively terminated the petition as Hall's motion was not submitted on the proper form, as required by Local Civil Rule 81.2(a). (Order (July 8, 2015), ECF No. 2.) Hall shortly thereafter filed a new § 2255 motion, which asserts three grounds for relief, which are all based on a theory of ineffective assistance of counsel. (See ECF Nos. 3 & 3-1.) Hall contends that his counsel misinformed him regarding the potential for sentencing enhancements, allegedly leading Hall to believe he would receive a prison sentence of no more than 36 months if he accepted the plea deal, and Hall asserts that he would have gone to trial but for this advice. (Mem. of Points & Authorities, ECF No. 3-1, at 20-22.) Hall also alleges that his attorney was ineffective by failing to object to the government's use of “sentencing factor manipulation, ” by failing to argue that Hall's sentence was substantively unreasonable, and by failing to object to a sentence based on insufficiently established facts. (Id. at 23-26.)

         On April 7, 2016, Hall filed a “Motion to Amend and Supplement the Record, ” in which he seeks to add a claim that his sentencing enhancements violated the Supreme Court's holding in Johnson v. Untied States, 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015). (ECF No. 7.) In October 2017, Hall filed another motion seeking to amend his petition by alleging that his counsel provided ineffective assistance by failing to challenge the sentence under Rosemond v. United States, 572 U.S. 65 (2014). (ECF No. 10.)

         The government filed an Answer opposing Hall's § 2255 motion, which included an affidavit from the attorney who represented Hall during the plea and sentencing stage, Scott Krasny (“Krasny”), as well as copies of correspondence between Krasny and Hall. (ECF Nos. 11 through 11-3.)

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Legal Standards

         To grant relief on a federal prisoner's motion to vacate, set aside, or correct a sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, the Court must find that “there has been such a denial or infringement of the constitutional rights of the prisoner as to render the judgment vulnerable to collateral attack.” 28 U.S.C. § 2255(b). “In considering a motion to vacate a defendant's sentence, ‘the court must accept the truth of the movant's factual allegations unless they are clearly frivolous based on the existing record.'” United States v. Booth, 432 F.3d 542, 545 (3d Cir. 2005) (quoting Gov't of V.I. v. Forte, 865 F.2d 59, 62 (3d Cir. 1989)). A district court “is required to hold an evidentiary hearing ‘unless the motion and files and records of the case show conclusively that the movant is not entitled to relief.'” Id. (quoting Forte, 865 F.2d at 62).

         The bulk of Hall's arguments are framed as claims for ineffective assistance of trial counsel. (See ECF Nos. 3-1 & 10.) The Sixth Amendment guarantees defendants effective assistance of counsel during critical portions of a criminal proceeding. See Lafler v. Cooper, 566 U.S. 156, 165 (2012). The Supreme Court, in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984), articulated a two-prong burden for demonstrating the ineffectiveness of counsel: (1) that, considering all relevant circumstances, counsel's performance fell below an objective standard of reasonableness and (2) that the petitioner suffered prejudice as a result. Id. at 687-96; see also Preston v. Superintendent Graterford SCI, __ F.3d __, 2018 WL 4212055, at *9, *12 (3d Cir. Sept. 5, 2018); Grant v. Lockett, 709 F.3d 224, 232 (3d Cir. 2013).

         In addressing the first prong, the petitioner “must identify the acts or omissions of counsel that are alleged not to have been the result of reasonable professional judgment.” Strickland, 466 U.S. at 690. Judicial scrutiny of counsel's conduct must be “highly deferential.” See Id. at 689. “[C]ounsel is strongly presumed to have rendered adequate assistance and made all significant decisions in the exercise of reasonable professional judgment.” Id. at 690. The reviewing court must make every effort 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 time.” Id. at 689. Counsel's strategic choices made after thorough investigation of the relevant law and facts are “virtually unchallengeable, ” while choices made with less than entirely thorough investigation “are reasonable precisely to the extent that reasonable professional judgments support the limitations on investigation.” Id. at 690-91; see also Rolan v. Vaughn, 445 F.3d 671, 682 (3d Cir. 2006); Gov't of V.I. v. Weatherwax, 77 F.3d 1425, 1432 (3d Cir. 1996). Whether counsel acted in a manner that was deficient is measured by a standard of “reasonableness under prevailing professional norms.” Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687-88; see also Wiggins v. Smith, 539 U.S. 510, 521 (2003).

         The second prong of the Strickland test requires the petitioner to affirmatively prove resulting prejudice. See 466 U.S at 693. Prejudice is generally found where “there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different.” Id. at 694. A reasonable probability is “a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome.” Id.; see also McBride v. Superintendent, SCI Houtzdale,687 F.3d 92, 102 n.11 (3d Cir. 2012). “This does not require that counsel's actions more likely than not altered the outcome, but the difference between Strickland's prejudice standard and a more-probable-than-not standard is slight and matters only in ...


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