from the United States District Court for the Northern
District of Texas
HAYNES, HO, and DUNCAN, Circuit Judges.
C. HO, CIRCUIT JUDGE
established Supreme Court precedent, the Sixth Amendment
entitles the accused to the effective assistance of counsel.
That right is infringed if counsel simultaneously represents
more than one client in the same matter, and the multiple
representation results in an actual conflict of interest that
adversely affects the representation of the accused.
See, e.g., Cuyler v. Sullivan, 446
U.S. 335, 348 (1980).
precisely what Emanuel James Harrison alleges here. In
support of his 28 U.S.C. § 2255 motion seeking relief
from his federal conviction, Harrison presented evidence that
his counsel advised one of his co-defendants to plead guilty,
prior to his own plea agreement-and that his counsel did so
in a manner that prejudiced Harrison's defense.
sure, it may turn out that there is an innocent explanation
for what his counsel did. The decision of the district court
to deny relief to Harrison under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 may be
ultimately vindicated. But "a defendant who objects to
multiple representation must have the opportunity to show
that potential conflicts impermissibly imperil his right to a
fair trial." Id. And, we have repeatedly held
that "'[a] motion brought under 28 U.S.C. §
2255 can be denied without a hearing only if the motion,
files, and records of the case conclusively show that the
prisoner is entitled to no relief.'" United
States v. Cavitt, 550 F.3d 430, 442 (5th Cir. 2008)
(quoting United States v. Bartholomew, 974 F.2d 39,
41 (5th Cir. 1992)).
on established Supreme Court and circuit precedent, and the
evidence presented by Harrison, the magistrate judge should
have held an evidentiary hearing to give the parties the
opportunity to contest the merits of Harrison's claim of
an actual conflict of interest. Because no such hearing was
held, we reverse the judgment of the district court and
remand the case for further proceedings.
James Harrison pled guilty to conspiracy to defraud the
United States by filing false claims. His plea agreement
provided for an 84-month sentence. The district court
re-arraigned Harrison in the same proceeding as two of his
co-defendants, Jason Altman and Fread Jenkins. The three
co-defendants all agreed that they were pleading guilty
voluntarily and had not been threatened, forced, or coerced.
weeks later, Harrison filed a motion to withdraw his guilty
plea, asserting his innocence and arguing that his plea was
not entered knowingly and voluntarily due to pressure from
counsel. The district court denied Harrison's motion to
withdraw his plea, finding, in relevant part, that his
assertion of innocence "without more" was
insufficient to allow him to withdraw his plea, and that
Harrison had provided "no evidence as to the pressure,
threats, or intimidation."
sentencing hearing, Harrison argued that he received
ineffective assistance of counsel when counsel advised him to
enter the plea agreement despite his assertion of innocence
because counsel believed he would be prejudiced by a prior
sexual assault conviction. Harrison did not mention that one
of his attorneys was allegedly burdened by an actual conflict
of interest due to his advising Jenkins regarding the plea
agreements. The district court denied his request to withdraw
his guilty plea. With new counsel, Harrison appealed. This
court affirmed his sentence. See United States v.
Harrison, 777 F.3d 227, 233 (5th Cir. 2015).
subsequently filed a 28 U.S.C. § 2255 motion to vacate
his sentence on the grounds that he received ineffective
assistance of counsel because counsel pressured him to plead
guilty rather than investigate his case, and also because
counsel had a conflict of interest-specifically, because
counsel also represented one of Harrison's co-defendants,
Jenkins, during plea negotiations.
sworn affidavits from Jenkins support Harrison's claim of
multiple representation. But the magistrate judge found that
the record contradicted Harrison's allegations of a
conflict of interest, because Jenkins and his own attorney
signed Jenkins's plea agreement on the day Harrison and
Jenkins were rearraigned. The magistrate judge further
concluded that, even accepting his allegations, Harrison had
not demonstrated ineffective assistance of counsel, because
he provided no more than a conclusory assertion that counsel
failed to pursue a defense strategy due to divided loyalties
between Harrison and Jenkins. The district court accepted the
magistrate judge's findings and conclusions, denied the
§ 2255 motion, and denied the request for a certificate
filed motions in this court for a certificate of
appealability and for leave to appeal in forma pauperis. A
member of this court granted Harrison a certificate of
appealability on the issue whether the district court abused
its discretion by not holding an evidentiary hearing before
denying his claim that he received ineffective assistance of