Jeffers v. United States of America
MEMORANDUM Opinion and Order granting 3 Motion to Dismiss; denying in its entirety 1 Pro Se Motion to Vacate/Set Aside/Correct Sentence (2255) (Criminal Action CR13-3033-MWB). This case is dismissed. No certificate of appealability will issue for any claim or contention in this case. Signed by Judge Mark W Bennett on 2/15/2017. (copy w/nef to non-ecf Petitioner) (des)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF IOWA
BRUCE KENTON JEFFERS,
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND
RESPONDENT’S MOTION TO
DISMISS PETITIONER’S § 2255
MOTION TO VACATE
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
TABLE OF CONTENTS
INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND ............................................................. 2
Criminal Case Proceedings .......................................................................... 2
Jeffers’s § 2255 Proceeding ......................................................................... 5
LEGAL ANALYSIS ................................................................................................. 5
Standards for § 2255 Motion ....................................................................... 5
Standards for Motions to Dismiss ................................................................ 7
Procedural Default ....................................................................................... 9
Ineffective Assistance of Counsel ................................................................ 9
Applicable standards ......................................................................... 9
Strickland’s “deficient performance” prong.................................. 11
Strickland’s “prejudice” prong ....................................................... 13
Analysis of Jeffers’s Claims ....................................................................... 14
Certificate of Appealability ........................................................................ 16
CONCLUSION ...................................................................................................... 17
Respondent’s Motion to Dismiss Petitioner’s Motion Under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to
Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence by a Person in Federal Custody (docket no. 3), in
which respondent seeks dismissal of petitioner Bruce Jeffers’s § 2255 motion because
Jeffers’s claims are procedurally defaulted, is before me for decision. Jeffers’s appointed
counsel filed a brief in accordance with Anders v. California, 386 U.S. 738 (1967),
asserting there are no meritorious issues concerning Jeffers’s procedural default. Jeffers,
in turn, filed a pro se brief in resistance to respondent’s Motion to Dismiss.
INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND
Criminal Case Proceedings
Jeffers was arrested on August 5, 2013, and charged with state offenses. He was
also charged in a federal Indictment, in this court, on September 19, 2013. The charges
against Jeffers are separate counts of being a felon in possession of a firearm (Count 1) and
being a felon in possession of ammunition (Count 2), in violation of 18 U.S.C.
§§ 922(g)(1), 924(a)(2), and 924(e)(1).
On July 7, 2014, Jeffers pleaded guilty to both counts before United States
Magistrate Judge Leonard T. Strand.1 In a Report And Recommendation Concerning
Guilty Plea, filed that same day, Judge Strand recommended that I accept Jeffers’s plea.
After the parties filed Waivers of any objections to the Report And Recommendation, I
accepted Jeffers’s guilty plea by Order, also filed July 7, 2014.
According to the Second Amended And Final Presentence Investigation Report
(Second Amended PSIR) (docket no. 80), the offense conduct leading to Jeffers’s guilty
plea in this case is the following:
On August 5, 2013, Fort Dodge, Iowa, police officers were
dispatched to a domestic disturbance involving a firearm.
They were advised that [Jeffers] had entered the residence of
his estranged girlfriend and mother of his children, Julie
Jensen, at [*******************], Fort Dodge, Iowa. Jensen
advised that she was asleep on the couch with her daughter
Magistrate Judge Strand was confirmed as a U.S. District Court Judge on February
12, 2016, and is now Chief Judge in the Northern District of Iowa.
when [Jeffers] held her with one hand and put a gun in her face
with the other. [Jeffers] threatened Jensen and told her not to
call the police. Jensen advised the officers that she and
[Jeffers] had been together since 1999 and that they separated
in November 2012. She stated the defendant now had his own
residence. [Jeffers] was located by officers as he was pulling
into the garage at his residence located at 716 South 20th Street
Fort Dodge, Iowa. Located in plain view on the front seat of
[Jeffers’s] truck were live rounds of .380 caliber ammunition.
A loaded black Kel Tec .380 pistol with serial number L3U38
was located several feet from [Jeffers’s] driveway behind a
wire fence in the adjoining neighbor’s yard. During his arrest
and booking, [Jeffers] attempted to conceal and discard
additional .380 caliber rounds of ammunition in the booking
area of the jail.
Second Amended PSIR at ¶ 4. Jeffers, who was then 52 years old, was initially charged
with first-degree burglary in the Iowa District Court for Webster County and, on October
11, 2013, he pleaded guilty to a lesser offense of second-degree burglary, and was
sentenced to ten years in prison. Id. at ¶ 35.2
His arrest and conviction in this case were the latest in a long list of arrests and
convictions for various kinds of criminal conduct by Jeffers over the last 36 years,
beginning when Jeffers was 18 years old. The Second Amended PSIR identifies Jeffers’s
adult criminal convictions as follows: a September 19, 1981, conviction (on his April 7,
1981, arrest) for voluntary manslaughter in Brazoria County, Texas; a November 16, 1987,
conviction (on his September 4, 1987, arrest) for arson of an inhabited structure or property
in Orange County, California; a May 7, 1991, conviction (on his January 15, 1991, arrest)
for felon in possession of a firearm in Riverside County, California; a September 10, 1991,
conviction for evading an officer, willful disregard, in Orange County, California, and an
At the time of the state sentencing, additional counts charging dominion or control
of a firearm or offensive weapon by a felon and domestic abuse assault with intent to inflict
bodily injury or displaying a weapon were dismissed. Second Amended PSIR at ¶ 35.
April 15, 2011, conviction (on his April 27, 2010, arrest) for possession of drug
paraphernalia in Gila County, Arizona.
At the time of Jeffers’s Indictment and guilty plea, the prior convictions listed in the
Indictment would likely have qualified as predicate “violent felony” offenses for an Armed
Career Criminal penalty pursuant to the “residual clause” of 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2)(B)(ii).
Thus, Jeffers potentially faced a mandatory minimum sentence of fifteen years. 18 U.S.C.
§ 924(e)(1). Early drafts of the PSIR scored Jeffers as an “armed career criminal,”
calculated his mandatory minimum sentence as fifteen years and his maximum sentence as
life imprisonment, his offense level as 31, his criminal history category as VI, and his
advisory sentencing guidelines range as 188 to 235 months.
On June 26, 2015, however, the United States Supreme Court handed down its
decision in Johnson v. United States, ___ U.S. ___, 135 S. Ct. 2551 (2015), in which it
held that the “residual clause” of the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), violates the
Constitution’s guarantee of due process. Consequently, the Second Amended PSIR, filed
on June 29, 2015, calculated Jeffers’s statutory maximum sentence as ten years, with no
mandatory minimum sentence, his offense level as 15, his criminal history category as I
(with only one criminal history point), and his advisory sentencing guidelines range as 18
to 24 months, a dramatic difference from the prior calculations.
Jeffers’s sentencing hearing was reset and the prosecution filed a Motion For
Upward Departure And/Or Upward Variance.
Jeffers filed a timely Resistance To
Government’s Motion For Upward Departure Or Variance.
At sentencing, I found that a substantial upward variance was compelled in this case.
See Gall, 552 U.S. at 46. Accordingly, I imposed a substantial upward variance from
Jeffers’s advisory guidelines sentencing range to 108 months of incarceration on each of
the Counts, with those sentences to run concurrently, and concurrently with Jeffers’s
remaining sentence on the state conviction, followed by the maximum term of 3 years of
supervised release. Jeffers did not appeal his conviction or sentence.
Jeffers’s § 2255 Proceeding
On May 20, 2016, Jeffers filed a Motion to Rescind Upward Variance. I denied
Jeffers’s motion. On May 31, 2016, Jeffers filed a Motion to Reconsider Denial of Motion
to Rescind Upward Variance. I granted Jeffers’s Motion for Reconsideration and directed
the Clerk of Court to file it as a Motion Under § 2255 To Vacate, Set Aside, Or Correct
Sentence By A Person In Federal Custody (docket no. 1). In his § 2255 motion, Jeffers
seeks rescindment of the upward variance he received in his sentence.
Respondent filed a Motion to Dismiss in which it argues that Jeffers’s § 2255
motion should be dismissed as procedurally barred or not cognizable under § 2255.
Jeffers’s counsel filed a brief asserting the absence of merited issues and seeking to
withdraw as counsel, pursuant to Anders v. California, 386 U.S. 738 (1967).3 Counsel has
served Jeffers with his Anders brief, in accordance with Anders, 386 U.S. at 744, to permit
Jeffers an opportunity to independently point the court to any issues he deems meritorious.
Jeffers filed a pro se brief in resistance to respondent’s motion and contends that his § 2255
motion is not procedurally barred because his counsel was ineffective.
Standards for § 2255 Motion
Section 2255 of Title 28 of the United States Code provides as follows:
A prisoner in custody under sentence of a court established by
Act of Congress claiming the right to be released upon the
ground  that the sentence was imposed in violation of the
Constitution or laws of the United States, or  that the court
was without jurisdiction to impose such sentence, or  that
the sentence was in excess of the maximum authorized by law,
or  is otherwise subject to collateral attack, may move the
Jeffers’s counsel’s Motion to Withdraw is granted (docket no. 10).
court which imposed the sentence to vacate, set aside or correct
28 U.S.C. § 2255; see Watson v. United States, 493 F.3d 960, 963 (8th Cir. 2007) (“Under
28 U.S.C. § 2255 a defendant in federal custody may seek post conviction relief on the
ground that his sentence was imposed in the absence of jurisdiction or in violation of the
Constitution or laws of the United States, was in excess of the maximum authorized by
law, or is otherwise subject to collateral attack.”); Bear Stops v. United States, 339 F.3d
Cir. 2003) (“To prevail on a § 2255 motion, the petitioner must demonstrate a violation of
the Constitution or the laws of the United States.”). Thus, a motion pursuant to § 2255 “is
‘intended to afford federal prisoners a remedy identical in scope to federal Habeas
corpus.’” United States v. Wilson, 997 F.2d 429, 431 (8th Cir. 1993) (quoting Davis v.
United States, 417 U.S. 333, 343 (1974)); accord Auman v. United States, 67 F.3d 157,
161 (8th Cir. 1995) (quoting Wilson).
One “well established principle” of § 2255 law is that “‘[i]ssues raised and decided
on direct appeal cannot ordinarily be relitigated in a collateral proceeding based on 28
U.S.C. § 2255.’” Theus v. United States, 611 F.3d 441, 449 (8th Cir. 2010) (quoting United
States v. Wiley, 245 F.3d 750, 752 (8th Cir. 2001)); Bear Stops, 339 F.3d at 780. One
exception to that principle arises when there is a “miscarriage of justice,” although the
Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has “recognized such an exception only when petitioners
have produced convincing new evidence of actual innocence,” and the Supreme Court has
not extended the exception beyond situations involving actual innocence. Wiley, 245 F.3d
at 752 (citing cases, and also noting that “the Court has emphasized the narrowness of the
exception and has expressed its desire that it remain ‘rare’ and available only in the
‘extraordinary case.’” (citations omitted)). Just as § 2255 may not be used to relitigate
issues raised and decided on direct appeal, it also ordinarily “is not available to correct
errors which could have been raised at trial or on direct appeal.” Ramey v. United States,
8 F.3d 1313, 1314 (8th Cir. 1993) (per curiam). “Where a defendant has procedurally
defaulted a claim by failing to raise it on direct review, the claim may be raised in habeas
only if the defendant can first demonstrate either cause and actual prejudice, or that he is
actually innocent.” Bousley v. United States, 523 U.S. 614, 622 (1998) (internal quotations
and citations omitted).
“Cause and prejudice” to resuscitate a procedurally defaulted claim may include
ineffective assistance of counsel, as defined by the Strickland test, discussed below. Theus,
611 F.3d at 449. Indeed, Strickland claims are not procedurally defaulted when brought
for the first time pursuant to § 2255, because of the advantages of that form of proceeding
for hearing such claims. Massaro v. United States, 538 U.S. 500 (2003). Otherwise, “[t]he
Supreme Court recognized in Bousley that ‘a claim that “is so novel that its legal basis is
not reasonably available to counsel” may constitute cause for a procedural default.’”
United States v. Moss, 252 F.3d 993, 1001 (8th Cir. 2001) (quoting Bousley, 523 U.S. at
622, with emphasis added, in turn quoting Reed v. Ross, 468 U.S. 1, 16 (1984)). The
“actual innocence” that may overcome either procedural default or allow relitigation of a
claim that was raised and rejected on direct appeal is a demonstration “‘that, in light of all
the evidence, it is more likely than not that no reasonable juror would have convicted [the
petitioner].’” Johnson v. United States, 278 F.3d 839, 844 (8th Cir. 2002) (quoting
Bousley, 523 U.S. at 623); see also House v. Bell, 547 U.S. 518, 536-37 (2006). “‘This is
a strict standard; generally, a petitioner cannot show actual innocence where the evidence
is sufficient to support a [conviction on the challenged offense].’” Id. (quoting McNeal v.
United States, 249 F.3d 747, 749-50 (8th Cir. 2001)).
Standards for Motions to Dismiss
Section 2255 proceedings are civil in nature and, therefore, governed by the Federal
Rules of Civil Procedure, see, e.g., Mandacina v. United States, 328 F.3d 995, 1000 & n.3
(8th Cir. 2003), including Rule 12(b), which provides for a pre-answer motion to dismiss
on various grounds. Although factual “plausibility” is ordinarily the central focus of Rule
12(b)(6) motions to dismiss under the Twom-bal standard, various federal Circuit Courts
of Appeals have expressly recognized, and the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has
suggested, that the Twom-bal standard still permits dismissal pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of
a claim that lacks a cognizable legal theory, in addition to permitting dismissal for factual
implausibility. See, e.g., Somers v. Apple, Inc., 729 F.3d 953, 959 (9th Cir. 2013); Ball v.
Famiglio, 726 F.3d 448, 469 (3d Cir. 2013) (a claim may be dismissed if it is based on an
“indisputably meritless legal theory”); Commonwealth Property Advocates, L.L. C. v.
Mortgage Electronic Registration Sys., Inc., 680 F.3d 1194, 1202 (10th Cir. 2011)
(“Dismissal is appropriate if the law simply affords no relief.”); see also Philadelphia
Indem. Ins. Co. v. Youth Alive, Inc., 732 F.3d 645, 649 (6th Cir. 2013) (recognizing that a
claim must plead sufficient facts under a “viable legal theory”); cf. Brown v. Mortgage
Electronic Registration Sys., Inc., 738 F.3d 926, 933 n.7, 934 (8th Cir. 2013) (noting the
appellate court’s agreement “with the district court’s sound reasoning that the facts pled do
not state a cognizable claim under Arkansas law” and holding that dismissal pursuant to
Rule 12(b)(6) was appropriate, because Arkansas law did not impose the purported duty
on which an unjust enrichment claim and a state statutory claim were based). It is precisely
the alleged lack of a cognizable legal theory for Jeffers’s § 2255 Motion that is the proper
basis for the respondent’s Motion To Dismiss in this case.
On the respondent’s Motion, I may consider the docket in the underlying criminal
case, from which Jeffers seeks § 2255 relief, because it is “ ‘incorporated by reference or
integral to [his] claim,’” Miller v. Redwood Toxicology Lab., Inc., 688 F.3d 928, 931 n.3
(8th Cir. 2012) (quoting 5B CHARLES ALAN WRIGHT & ARTHUR R. MILLER, FEDERAL
PRACTICE AND PROCEDURE § 1357 (3d ed. 2004)), and because it is “‘necessarily embraced
by the pleadings.’” Whitney, 700 F.3d at 1128 (quoting Mattes v. ABC Plastics, Inc., 323
F.3d 695, 697 n. 4 (8th Cir. 2003)).
Section 2255 relief is not available to correct errors which could have been raised
at trial or on direct appeal, absent a showing of cause and prejudice, or a showing that the
alleged errors were fundamental defects resulting in a complete miscarriage of justice. See
Ramey v. United States, 8 F.3d 1313, 1314 (8th Cir. 1993). “[C]ause and prejudice” to
overcome such default may include “ineffective assistance of counsel.” Becht v. United
States, 403 F.3d 541, 545 (8th Cir. 2005); see generally Murray v. Carrier, 477 U.S. 478
(1986). The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has expressly recognized that a claim of
ineffective assistance of counsel should be raised in a § 2255 proceeding, rather than on
direct appeal. See United States v. Hughes, 330 F.3d 1068, 1069 (8th Cir. 2003) (“When
claims of ineffective assistance of trial counsel are asserted on direct appeal, we ordinarily
defer them to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 proceedings.”). Accordingly, the “failure to raise an
ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim on direct appeal does not bar the claim from being
brought in a later, appropriate proceeding under § 2255.” Massaro, 538 U.S. at 509.
Because I construe Jeffers’s claims to be for ineffective assistance of counsel, I will
consider them on the merits.
Ineffective Assistance of Counsel
The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that “[i]n all
criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right . . . to have the Assistance of
Counsel for his defence.” U.S. CONST. amend. VI. Thus, a criminal defendant is
constitutionally entitled to the effective assistance of counsel both at trial and on direct
appeal. Evitts v. Lucey, 469 U.S. 387, 396 (1985); Bear Stops, 339 F.3d at 780; see also
Steele v United States, 518 F.3d 986, 988 (8th Cir. 2008). The Eighth Circuit Court of
Appeals has recognized that, if a defendant was denied the effective assistance of counsel
guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment, “then his sentence was imposed ‘in violation of the
Constitution,’ . . . and he is entitled to relief” pursuant to § 2255(a). King v. United States,
595 F.3d 844, 852 (8th Cir. 2010). Both the Supreme Court and the Eighth Circuit Court
of Appeals have expressly recognized that a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel
should be raised in a § 2255 proceeding, rather than on direct appeal, because such a claim
often involves facts outside of the original record. See Massaro, 538 U.S. at 504-05 (2003);
United States v. Hughes, 330 F.3d 1068, 1069 (8th Cir. 2003) (“When claims of ineffective
assistance of trial counsel are asserted on direct appeal, we ordinarily defer them to 28
U.S.C. § 2255 proceedings.”).
The Supreme Court has reiterated that “‘the purpose of the effective assistance
guarantee of the Sixth Amendment is not to improve the quality of legal representation . .
. [but] simply to ensure that criminal defendants receive a fair trial.’” Cullen v. Pinholster,
131 S. Ct. 1388, 1403 (2011) (quoting Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 689
(1984)). That being the case, “‘[t]he benchmark for judging any claim of ineffectiveness
must be whether counsel’s conduct so undermined the proper functioning of the adversarial
process that the trial cannot be relied on as having produced a just result.’” Id. (quoting
Strickland, 466 U.S. at 686, with emphasis added). To assess counsel’s performance
against this benchmark, the Supreme Court developed in Strickland a two-pronged test
requiring the petitioner to show “both deficient performance by counsel and prejudice.”
See Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687-88, 697; see also Knowles v. Mirzayance, 556 U.S. 111,
129 S. Ct. 1411, 1419 (2009). “‘Unless a defendant makes both showings, it cannot be said
that the conviction . . . resulted from a breakdown in the adversary process that renders the
result unreliable.’” Gianakos v. United States, 560 F.3d 817, 821 (8th Cir. 2009) (quoting
Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687).
Although the petitioner must prove both prongs of the Strickland analysis to prevail,
the Supreme Court does not necessarily require consideration of both prongs of the
Strickland analysis in every case, nor does it require that the prongs of the Strickland
analysis be considered in a specific order. As the Court explained in Strickland,
Although we have discussed the performance
component of an ineffectiveness claim prior to the prejudice
component, there is no reason for a court deciding an
ineffective assistance claim to approach the inquiry in the same
order or even to address both components of the inquiry if the
defendant makes an insufficient showing on one. In particular,
a court need not determine whether counsel’s performance was
deficient before examining the prejudice suffered by the
defendant as a result of the alleged deficiencies. The object of
an ineffectiveness claim is not to grade counsel’s performance.
If it is easier to dispose of an ineffectiveness claim on the
ground of lack of sufficient prejudice, which we expect will
often be so, that course should be followed.
Strickland, 466 U.S. at 697 (emphasis added).4
I will consider the two prongs of the Strickland analysis in a little more detail, before
analyzing Jeffers’s claims.
Strickland’s “deficient performance” prong
“The performance prong of Strickland requires a defendant to show ‘“that counsel’s
representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness.”’” Lafler, 132 S. Ct. at
1384 (quoting Hill v. Lockart, 474 U.S. 52, 57 (1985), in turn quoting Strickland, 466 U.S.
Although the Court in Strickland found that it was only necessary to consider the
“prejudice” prong, so that it did not reach the “deficient performance” prong, the Eighth
Circuit Court of Appeals has repeatedly held that it need not consider the “prejudice”
prong, if it determines that there was no “deficient performance.” See, e.g., Gianakos v.
United States, 560 F.3d 817, 821 (8th Cir. 2009) (“‘We need not inquire into the
effectiveness of counsel, however, if we determine that no prejudice resulted from
counsel’s alleged deficiencies.” (quoting Hoon v. Iowa, 313 F.3d 1058, 1061 (8th Cir.
2002), in turn citing Strickland, 466 U.S. at 697)); Ringo v. Roper, 472 F.3d 1001, 1008
(8th Cir. 2007) (“Because we believe that the Missouri Supreme Court did not
unreasonably apply Strickland when it determined that counsel’s decision not to call Dr.
Draper fell within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance, we need not
consider whether counsel’s decision prejudiced Mr. Ringo’s case.”); Osborne v. Purkett,
411 F.3d 911, 918 (8th Cir. 2005) (“Because Osborne did not satisfy the performance test,
we need not consider the prejudice test.”).
at 688); Richter, 131 S. Ct. at 787 (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 688). To put it another
way, “[t]he challenger’s burden is to show ‘that counsel made errors so serious that counsel
was not functioning as the “counsel” guaranteed the defendant by the Sixth Amendment.’”
Richter, 131 S. Ct. at 787 (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687)).
In evaluating counsel’s performance, the reviewing court must not overlook “‘the
constitutionally protected independence of counsel and . . . the wide latitude counsel must
have in making tactical decisions.’” Cullen, 131 S. Ct. at 1406 (quoting Strickland, 466
U.S. at 589). Thus,
[b]eyond the general requirement of reasonableness, “specific
guidelines are not appropriate.” [Strickland, 466 U.S.], at 688,
104 S. Ct. 2052. “No particular set of detailed rules for
counsel’s conduct can satisfactorily take account of the variety
of circumstances faced by defense counsel or the range of
legitimate decisions ....” Id., at 688–689, 104 S. Ct. 2052.
Strickland itself rejected the notion that the same investigation
will be required in every case. Id., at 691, 104 S. Ct. 2052
(“[C]ounsel has a duty to make reasonable investigations or to
make a reasonable decision that makes particular
investigations unnecessary” (emphasis added)). It is “[r]are”
that constitutionally competent representation will require
“any one technique or approach.” Richter, 562 U.S., at ––––,
131 S. Ct., at 779.
Cullen, 131 S. Ct. at 1406-07.
The Strickland standard of granting latitude to counsel also requires that counsel’s
decisions must be reviewed in the context in which they were made, without “the
distortions and imbalance that can inhere in a hindsight perspective.” Premo v. Moore,
131 S. Ct. 733, 741 (2011); see also id. at 745 (reiterating that “hindsight cannot suffice
for relief when counsel’s choices were reasonable and legitimate based on predictions of
how the trial would proceed” (citing Richter, 131 S. Ct. 770)); Rompilla v. Beard, 545 U.S.
374, 381 (2005) (“In judging the defense’s investigation, as in applying Strickland
generally, hindsight is discounted by pegging adequacy to ‘counsel’s perspective at the
time’ investigative decisions are made, 466 U.S., at 689, 104 S. Ct. 2052, and by giving a
‘heavy measure of deference to counsel’s judgments,’ id., at 691, 104 S. Ct. 2052.”). This
is so, because “[u]nlike a later reviewing court, the attorney observed the relevant
proceedings, knew of materials outside the record, and interacted with the client, with
opposing counsel, and with the judge,” and because “[i]t is ‘all too tempting’ to ‘secondguess counsel’s assistance after conviction or adverse sentence.’” Richter, 131 S. Ct. at
788 (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 689, and also citing Bell v. Cone, 535 U.S. 685, 702
(2002), and Lockhart v. Fretwell, 506 U.S. 364, 372 (1993)). In short, “[t]he question is
whether an attorney’s representation amounted to incompetence under ‘prevailing
professional norms,’ not whether it deviated from best practices or most common custom.”
Id. (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 690). Furthermore,
Strickland specifically commands that a court “must indulge
[the] strong presumption” that counsel “made all significant
decisions in the exercise of reasonable professional judgment.”
466 U.S., at 689–690, 104 S. Ct. 2052. The [reviewing court]
[i]s required not simply to “give [the] attorneys the benefit of
the doubt,” but to affirmatively entertain the range of possible
“reasons [trial] counsel may have had for proceeding as they
Cullen, 131 S. Ct. at 1407 (internal citations to the lower court opinion omitted); Richter,
131 S. Ct. at 787 (“A court considering a claim of ineffective assistance must apply a
‘strong presumption’ that counsel’s representation was within the ‘wide range” of
reasonable professional assistance.’” (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 689)).
Strickland’s “prejudice” prong
“To establish Strickland prejudice a defendant must ‘show that there is a reasonable
probability that, but for counsel’s unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would
have been different.’” Lafler, 132 S. Ct. at 1384 (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 694).
The Court has explained more specifically what a “reasonable probability” means:
“A reasonable probability is a probability sufficient to
undermine confidence in the outcome.” [Strickland, 466 U.S.
at 694]. That requires a “substantial,” not just “conceivable,”
likelihood of a different result. Richter, 562 U.S., at ––––, 131
S. Ct., at 791.
Cullen, 131 S. Ct. at 1403. Ultimately, a showing of “prejudice” requires counsel’s errors
to be “‘so serious as to deprive the defendant of a fair trial, a trial whose result is reliable.’”
Richter, 131 S. Ct. at 787-88 (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687).
Analysis of Jeffers’s Claims
Jeffers claims his counsel should have presented testimony of friends, law
enforcement officers, and other community members to demonstrate: (1) that he was not
in any serious trouble since 1991; (2) he was active in his children’s lives and interests; (3)
he coached baseball as a volunteer through the Fort Dodge YMCA through Nick Ford and
seriously devoted his time to fostering a law-abiding stature after serving several prior
prison terms; and (4) Rod Strait, the Webster County Sheriff, and Jeffers’s neighbor, never
had a bad word to say about him. Jeffers argues that if his counsel had presented this
evidence, I would not have varied upward in his sentence.
My review of the sentencing transcript reveals that Jeffers’s counsel did argue at
sentencing that Jeffers had substantially rehabilitated himself since 1999, when he met Julie
Jensen and argued that Jeffers’s three most serious felony convictions-for manslaughter,
arson, and felony evading, all occurred over 25 years ago. Defense counsel opted not to
employ Jeffers’s characterization of his criminal record since 1991 as not being “serious.”
Counsel made this decision in light of the nature of Jeffers’s convictions, for being a felon
in possession, and multiple battery and domestic abuse convictions, and his determination
that such a characterization would not be favorably received. Instead, defense counsel
chose to point out that Jeffers’s 1999 Arizona domestic assault conviction involved an adult
male and that Jeffers had a history of getting into bar fights when intoxicated.
Defense counsel followed up on Jeffers’s suggestions for character witnesses, but
ascertained that Jeffers had an unrealistic view of how he was regarded by people in the
Instead of supporting Jeffers’s position, Jeffers’s proposed character
witnesses would have related that Jeffers “thinks he is so smooth at fooling people but that
is not the case” and another would have related that “he remembered Jeffers breaking into
a house right next to his and holding a gun up to a female’s head while a small child was
asleep in the same bed as she was.” Defense Counsel’s Aff. at ¶ 5.
As I discussed above, to satisfy Strickland’s two-part test for evaluating claims that
counsel performed so incompetently that Jeffers’s sentence should be reversed, he must
prove that his counsel’s representation fell below an objective reasonableness standard and
that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel’s unprofessional error, the result
would have been different. See Strickland, 466 U.S. at 407-410. I find defense counsel’s
decisions to not use Jeffers’s characterization of his criminal convictions since 1991 as not
serious and to not call Jeffers’s proposed character witnesses were objectively reasonable
under the circumstances. Because Jeffers was before me for sentencing on a firearms
violation, Jeffers’s attorney may have reasonably concluded that it was not in Jeffers’s
interests to label his previous firearms conviction as not being serious. Jeffers’s attorney
also may have reasonably concluded that it was in Jeffers’s interests to avoid giving the
prosecution an opportunity to elicit damaging testimony from the proposed character
witnesses. In reaching this conclusion, I have followed the teaching of the Supreme Court
and “indulge[d] a strong presumption that counsel’s conduct [fell] within the wide range
of reasonable professional assistance. . .” Strickland, 466 U.S. at 689. Thus, I conclude
that defense counsel’s strategy at Jeffers’s sentencing did not constitute ineffective
assistance of counsel because it was a conscious, reasonably informed decision made by
counsel with an eye to benefiting Jeffers. As the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has
instructed, “‘strategic choices made after a thorough investigation of law and facts relevant
to plausible options are virtually unchallengeable. . .’” United States v. Orr, 636 F.3d 944,
952 (8th Cir. 2011) (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 690–91); Lamb v. Johnson, 179 F.3d
352, 358 (5th Cir. 1998) (“Informed strategic decisions of counsel are given a heavy
measure of deference and will not be second guessed.”). Accordingly, respondent’s
Motion to Dismiss is granted and Jeffers’s § 2255 motion is denied.
Certificate of Appealability
Jeffers must make a substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right in
order to be granted a certificate of appealability in this case. See Miller-El v. Cockrell, 537
U.S. 322 (2003); Garrett v. United States, 211 F.3d 1075, 1076-77 (8th Cir. 2000); Mills
v. Norris, 187 F.3d 881, 882 n.1 (8th Cir. 1999); Carter v. Hopkins, 151 F.3d 872, 873-74
(8th Cir. 1998); Ramsey v. Bowersox, 149 F.3d 749 (8th Cir. 1998); Cox v. Norris, 133
F.3d 565, 569 (8th Cir. 1997). “A substantial showing is a showing that issues are
debatable among reasonable jurists, a court could resolve the issues differently, or the
issues deserve further proceedings.” Cox, 133 F.3d at 569. Moreover, the United States
Supreme Court reiterated in Miller-El v. Cockrell that “‘[w]here a district court has rejected
the constitutional claims on the merits, the showing required to satisfy § 2253(c) is
straightforward: The petitioner must demonstrate that reasonable jurists would find the
district court’s assessment of the constitutional claims debatable or wrong.’” Miller-El,
537 U.S. at 338 (quoting Slack v. McDaniel, 529 U.S. 473, 484 (2000)). I determine that
Jeffers’s motion does not present questions of substance for appellate review and,
therefore, does not make the requisite showing to satisfy § 2253(c). See 28 U.S.C.
§ 2253(c)(2); FED. R. APP. P. 22(b). Accordingly, with respect to Jeffers’s claims, I do not
grant a certificate of appealability pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c). Should Jeffers wish to
seek further review of his petition, he may request a certificate of appealability from a
judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. See Tiedman v. Benson,
122 F.3d 518, 520-22 (8th Cir. 1997).
For the reasons discussed above, respondent’s Motion to Dismiss is granted (docket
no. 3) and Jeffers’s Motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 is denied in its entirety (docket no. 1).
This case is dismissed. No certificate of appealability will issue for any claim or contention
in this case.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
DATED this 15th day of February, 2017.
MARK W. BENNETT
U.S. DISTRICT COURT JUDGE
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF IOWA
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