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United States v. Brown

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

April 30, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
CHRISTOPHER BROWN

         SECTION I

          ORDER & REASONS

          LANCE M. AFRICK UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Christopher Brown (“Brown”) has filed a motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. For the following reasons, the motion is denied.

         I.

         On September 8, 2015, Brown pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine base, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and 846. Because the conspiracy involved 280 grams or more of cocaine base, Brown was subject to a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years imprisonment. See 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(A). On January 21, 2016, the Court sentenced Brown to a term of imprisonment of 132 months. Brown appealed his conviction and sentence. Both were affirmed.[1] Brown now moves to vacate his conviction and sentence, alleging various claims of ineffective assistance of counsel.

         II.

         Ineffective assistance of counsel claims are governed by the standard established in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984). Strickland's two-part test requires a petitioner to prove both deficient performance and resulting prejudice. Id. at 687.

         Deficient performance is established by “show[ing] that counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness.” Id. at 688. In applying this standard, a “court must indulge a ‘strong presumption' that counsel's conduct falls within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance because it is all too easy to conclude that a particular act or omission of counsel was unreasonable in the harsh light of hindsight.” Bell v. Cone, 535 U.S. 685, 702 (2002) (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 689). In other words, “judicial scrutiny of counsel's performance must be highly deferential.” Strickland, 466 U.S. at 689.

         A showing of prejudice requires “a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different.” Id. at 694. With respect to guilty pleas, the prejudice requirement “focuses on whether counsel's constitutionally ineffective performance affected the outcome of the plea process.” Hill v. Lockhart, 474 U.S. 52, 59 (1985). Thus, in challenging a guilty plea on grounds of ineffective assistance, a petitioner must show “that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's errors, he would not have pleaded guilty and would have insisted on going to trial.” Id.

         A petitioner must satisfy both prongs of the Strickland test in order to be successful on an ineffective assistance claim. See Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687. A court is not required to address these prongs in any particular order. Id. at 697. If it is possible to dispose of an ineffective assistance of counsel claim without addressing both prongs, “that course should be followed.” Id.

         III.

         A.

         At the outset, the Court rejects Brown's contention that it erred in explaining to Brown the ten-year statutory minimum sentence applicable to his case.[2] As the Fifth Circuit observed on appeal,

Brown argues that the district court failed to inform him of, and to ensure that he understood, that he faced this mandatory minimum penalty if convicted. In fact, the district court repeatedly advised Brown of the mandatory minimum. It first informed Brown that his guilty plea would result in a mandatory minimum sentence of ten years and a maximum sentence of life. The district court then twice asked Brown whether his attorney had explained to him that he faced a mandatory minimum of ...

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