BATTLE v. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
OPINION. Signed by Judge Faith S. Hochberg on 3/26/14. (DD, )
NOT FOR PUBLICATION
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
Civil Action No. 13-2024(FSH)
March 26, 2014
This matter comes before the Court upon the Petition by Terry Battle (“Petitioner”) for a
writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 78 no oral
argument was heard. After carefully considering the submissions of the parties and based upon
the following, it is the finding of the Court that Petitioner’s application for a writ of habeas
corpus is denied.
On or about August 22, 2007, Jose N. Orozco and an unindicted individual known as
“Julio” supplied approximately six kilograms of cocaine to Petitioner for sale. Petitioner then
provided the cocaine to Larry McCargo to sell in Newark, New Jersey. McCargo was arrested
with the cocaine in Newark on August 22, 2007. McCargo immediately began cooperating with
law enforcement, which led to Petitioner’s arrest. Petitioner also agreed to cooperate, and
engaged in a number of consensually-monitored telephone calls with Orozco and Julio. During
The facts set forth in this Opinion are taken from the statements in the parties’ respective
the calls, Petitioner told Orozco and Julio that he needed to return the cocaine. He also arranged
with Orozco and Julio for Orozco to come to New Jersey from Delaware to retrieve the cocaine.
When Orozco arrived in New Jersey on August 23, 2007 to retrieve the cocaine from Petitioner,
he was arrested.
On August 24, 2007, Petitioner and Orozco were charged by Complaint with conspiring
to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846. At his initial
appearance, Petitioner was represented by an Assistant Federal Public Defender. On September
4, 2007, Zilka Saunders, Esq. entered her appearance on behalf of Petitioner.
On September 27, 2007, a proposed plea agreement was sent to Saunders. The plea
agreement provided that if Petitioner pleaded guilty to conspiring to distribute more than five
kilograms of cocaine as charged in the Complaint, the Government would not pursue further
charges against Petitioner in connection with that conduct. The plea agreement also included a
Schedule A, which contained the guideline calculations to which Petitioner would have to agree
as part of the agreement. Schedule A provided for a range of 151 to 188 months’ imprisonment.
Petitioner rejected the plea agreement and declined to further cooperate with the Government. A
grand jury indicted Petitioner and Orozco on November 7, 2007.
On January 17, 2008, Petitioner filed a motion to suppress the recorded conversations he
made while cooperating with the Government. After a suppression hearing, the Court denied
Petitioner’s motion. Trial began on March 3, 2008, and, on March 6, 2008, the jury returned
guilty verdicts against both Petitioner and Orozco. Petitioner and Orozco then filed motions for
new trials. These motions were denied. On December 8, 2008, Petitioner was sentenced to 360
months’ imprisonment. Petitioner then filed an appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for
the Third Circuit. The Third Circuit affirmed Petitioner’s conviction. Petitioner filed the instant
Petition for a writ of habeas corpus on March 28, 2013. Petitioner filed a Memorandum of Law
in support of his Petition on April 30, 2013. The Government filed an Answer on September 27,
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, a court is permitted to vacate, correct, or set aside a
sentence that 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 minimum authorized by law, or is otherwise subject to collateral attack.” See 28 U.S.C. §
2255. Section 2255 may not, however, “be employed to relitigate questions which were raised
and considered on direct appeal.” United States v. DeRewal, 10 F.3d 100, 105 n. 4 (3d Cir.
1993). In the event a petitioner does not raise a claim on direct appeal, it “may not be raised on
collateral review unless the petitioner shows cause and prejudice.” Massaro v. United
States, 538 U.S. 500, 504 (2003); but see United States v. Rieger, 942 F.2d 230, 235 (3d Cir.
1991) (explaining “the failure to raise an ineffective assistance of counsel claim [under § 2255]
on direct appeal should not be treated as procedural fault”). In addition, the Court is mindful that
the papers of a pro se litigant, like Petitioner in this case, are held to less demanding standards
than those drafted by lawyers. See Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972); United States v.
Otero, 502 F.3d 331, 334 (3d Cir. 2007).
Petitioner makes several ineffective assistance of counsel arguments in his Petition. To
prevail on a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, Petitioner must demonstrate that:
(1) counsel's performance was so deficient as to deprive him of the representation guaranteed to
him under the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and (2) the deficient performance
prejudiced the defense by depriving the defendant of a fair trial. Strickland v. Washington, 466
U.S. 668, 687 (1984). To show prejudice under Strickland, Petitioner must demonstrate that
there is a “reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the
proceeding would have been different.” Rainey v. Varner, 603 F.3d 189, 197–98 (3d Cir.
2010) (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 694). “The 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.” Ross v.
Varano, 712 F.3d 784, 797–98 (3d Cir. 2013) (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 686)).
Petitioner first claims that Saunders failed to advise him of the benefits of accepting the
Government’s plea agreement. Specifically, Petitioner argues that Saunders did not advise him
that: i) he would face a much lengthier sentence if he were found guilty at trial than if he
accepted the plea agreement, and ii) accepting the plea agreement would qualify him for a Rule
35 motion for a downward departure. These arguments fail both prongs of the Strickland test.
First, Saunders has submitted an affidavit stating that she not only explained the details of the
plea agreement to Petitioner over several conversations, but that she also recommended that he
accept the plea agreement. At his suppression hearing, Petitioner asserted his innocence, which
is consistent with Saunders’ representation that Petitioner rejected her advice to accept the plea
agreement. Further, with respect to prong two of Strickland, this District has stated that “a
defendant claiming ineffective assistance of counsel may show prejudice if he can show that but
for his counsel's advice, he would have accepted the plea and that a plea agreement would have
resulted in a lesser sentence.” Rickard v. United States, No. 10-4089, 2011 WL 3610413, at *8
(D.N.J. Aug. 16, 2011). The fact that Petitioner maintained his innocence in sworn testimony
before the Court weighs against his assertion that he would have accepted the plea agreement.
Second, Petitioner asserts that Saunders was ineffective because she did not argue at
sentencing that the guidelines for career offenders are not mandatory. This argument is
meritless, as the Court expressly acknowledged at sentencing that “[t]he Sentencing Guidelines
are no longer mandatory but advisory upon the Court.” Thus, Petitioner cannot satisfy the
second prong of the Strickland test, as Petitioner was not prejudiced by Saunders’ failure to
advise the Court of something that the Court was already aware of. Accordingly, Petitioner’s
ineffective assistance of counsel claims are denied.
For the reasons stated above, it is the finding of the Court that Petitioner’s application for
a writ of habeas corpus is denied. Petitioner has not made a substantial showing of the denial of
a constitutional right, as required by Section 102 of the Antiterrorist and Effective Death Penalty
Act, 28 U.S.C. §2253(c). Accordingly, the Court will not issue a certificate of appealability. An
appropriate Order accompanies this Opinion.
s/ Faith S. Hochberg___________
Hon. Faith S. Hochberg, U.S.D.J.
Dated: March 26, 2014
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?