United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Harrisonburg Division
GLEN E. CONRAD, Chief District Judge.
James Richard Hackley, IV, a federal inmate proceeding pro se, has moved to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence, under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. The government has filed a motion to dismiss, and Hackley has responded, making this matter ripe for consideration. Upon review of the record, the court concludes that Hackley has not stated any claim for relief under § 2255 and that the government's motion to dismiss must be granted.
On June 18, 2009, a federal grand jury sitting in Harrisonburg, Virginia charged Hackley in an eleven-count superseding indictment with conspiracy to distribute cocaine base, distribution of cocaine base, solicitation to commit murder for hire, murder for hire, obstruction of justice, and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. On September 20, 2009, Hackley entered into a plea agreement, whereby he would plead guilty to Counts One, Nine and Eleven. (Plea Agreement at 1, ECF No. 32). The plea agreement included an agreed upon sentence of 240-months incarceration. (Id. at 3). However, on October 6, 2009, Hackley announced that he would not plead guilty pursuant to the plea agreement. On October 21, 2009, following a three-day trial, a jury found Hackley guilty of all counts.
At the sentencing hearing on January 7, 2010, the court accepted the presentence investigation report ("PSR") without objection from either party. (Tr. Sent. Hr'g at 4, ECF No. 86). The PSR found that Hackley had a total offense level of 37 and a criminal history category of IV. The advisory guideline range for imprisonment was 292 to 365 months. United States Sentencing Guidelines Chapter 5, Part A. The court sentenced Hackley to 306-months incarceration for Counts One through Seven, and 120-months incarceration for Counts Eight through Eleven, to run concurrently. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed Hackley's convictions, and the Supreme Court of the United States denied certiorari review.
In his § 2255 motion, Hackley claims that counsel provided ineffective assistance by failing to (1) conduct adequate pre-trial investigation; (2) negotiate a favorable plea agreement; and (3) argue effectively for a downward departure from the sentencing guidelines. Hackley further claims that (4) the prosecution threatened witnesses during trial.
Criminal defendants have a Sixth Amendment right to "reasonably effective" legal assistance. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984). To demonstrate ineffective assistance of counsel, a convicted defendant must show that counsel's representation was deficient and that the deficient performance prejudiced the defense. Icl. at 687. Courts adopt a "strong presumption" that a counsel's actions fall within the "wide range of reasonable professional assistance." M. at 689. Further, a convicted defendant must show that his counsel's performance was so prejudicial as to "deprive the defendant of a fair trial." M. at 687. To establish this level of prejudice, Hackley must demonstrate a "reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different." Id. at 694. In analyzing ineffective assistance of counsel claims, the court need not determine whether counsel performed deficiently if the claim is readily dismissed for lack of prejudice. Id. at 697.
A. Pre-trial Investigation
Hackley claims that defense counsel failed to conduct adequate pre-trial investigation regarding Irvette Reaves' motive for testifying. Hackley asserts that Reaves only testified against him "to ensure that [Hackley] would not be able to engage in another romantic relationship after breaking off his relationship with Reaves." (Mot. to Vacate at 15, ECF No. 151-1). As evidence of this claim, Hackley references a letter from his mother, which states "Ms. Irvette Re[a]ves testified negative because my son, James R. Hackley was leaving her and she wanted to make sure no one else could get him." (Ex. F to Mot. to Vacate, ECF No. 151-7). Hackley asserts that "had counsel conducted adequate investigation, it is more likely than not that the firearm would not have been attributed to [him]" because Reaves' testimony would have been discredited. (Mot. to Vacate at 16, ECF No. 151-1.)
This claim fails because Hackley has not shown prejudice from counsel's allegedly deficient performance. Counsel subjected Reaves to cross-examination regarding her romantic relationship with Hackley, as follows:
Q:... You testified that you had known him since 1995 or '96. Have you sort of been dating each other on and off since 1995 or '96.
A: A couple times, twice through that time, yes.
Q: Do you remember when the first time that you were dating was and ...