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FUIMARA v. U.S.

April 3, 2002

RAFAEL FIUMARA, PETITIONER,
V.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, RESPONDENT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John E. Sprizzo, U.S. District Judge

MEMORANDUM ORDER AND OPINION

Petitioner brings the above-captioned action for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, alleging that he received ineffective assistance of counsel at trial and that the Court's finding of drug quantity was in violation of the United States Supreme Court's decision in Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000). For the reasons set forth below, petitioner's claims are dismissed as both procedurally barred and without merit.

BACKGROUND

On June 7, 1997, petitioner was convicted following a jury trial on two (2) counts of conspiracy. Count One charged petitioner with conspiracy to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute heroin pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 846. Count Two charged petitioner with conspiracy to import heroin to and export cocaine from the United States pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 963.

Following his conviction, petitioner moved for a new trial based on claims of per se ineffective assistance of counsel.*fn1 On September 12, 1997, the Court concluded that petitioner could not establish per se ineffective assistance of counsel, nor, moreover, could his claims satisfy the constitutional standard set forth in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 688 (1984). In dismissing petitioner's motion, the Court found that Stone offered "vigorous" representation and that there was no evidence that Stone was at all hindered by any of his prior disciplinary issues. See Tr. of Post-Trial Hr'g, dated Sept. 12, 1997 at 5, 10-12.

Thereafter, on March 4, 1998, the Court sentenced petitioner under § 841(b)(1)(A) and § 960(b)(1) to two (2) concurrent terms of 167 months imprisonment and five (5) years supervised release. In reaching this sentence, the Court made a factual finding that the quantity of drugs involved in the conspiracy was between fifteen (15) and fifty (50) kilograms of cocaine and also concluded, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the conspiracy's duration made the newest revision of the Sentencing Guidelines ("Guidelines") applicable. See Tr. of Sentencing, dated March 4, 1998 at 2, 35-36. The Court then found that pursuant to the new Guidelines, petitioner qualified for a two (2)-point enhancement based on his leadership role in the conspiracy and an additional two (2)-point enhancement because he obstructed justice by committing perjury.*fn2 As a result, petitioner's base offense was raised from thirty-four (34) to thirty-eight (38), a level carrying a range of 235 to 293 months. The Court's sentence of 167 months reflected a sixty-eight (68) month adjustment downward in recognition of time petitioner served in Italy.

With the assistance of new counsel, petitioner again argued — this time before the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ("the Second Circuit") — that Stone's trial representation constituted ineffective assistance of counsel, both per se and as defined under Strickland. Petitioner further alleged that the trial court erred in sentencing him under the revised Guidelines and in applying the two (2)-point obstruction of justice enhancement. The Second Circuit affirmed petitioner's sentence by summary order, finding "no merit" to any of petitioner's contentions. See Summ. Order, 2d Cir., Jan. 15, 1999. Moreover, the Second Circuit specifically rejected petitioner's arguments regarding his sentence, including the alleged impropriety of the applied enhancements and the notion that petitioner was denied effective assistance of counsel. See id.

DISCUSSION

A. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel Claims

In addition to the above-described ineffective assistance claims, petitioner now alleges that trial counsel was ineffective because he: (1) advised petitioner that he would be sentenced under pre-Guidelines law; (2) failed to give petitioner adequate advice regarding pleading guilty; (3) urged petitioner to proceed with the "public authority" defense; and (4) advised petitioner that he would not be subject to a sentencing enhancement for committing perjury at trial. Generally, a petitioner is entitled to raise ineffective assistance of counsel claims on collateral attack; however, such claims are not permissible when they were previously brought on direct appeal. See Billy-Eko v. United States, 8 F.3d 111, 114-15 (2d Cir. 1993) (citing United States v. Frady, 456 U.S. 152, 165 (1982)). Furthermore, although a petitioner does not waive his claims of ineffectiveness by failing to bring them on direct appeal, where there is new appellate counsel and where the record on ineffectiveness has been established at trial, a petitioner must show cause and prejudice for his failure to raise such claims on direct appeal. See Billy-Eko, 8 F.3d at 115.

In this case, petitioner's claims relating to trial counsel Stone's alleged professional and personal problems were raised on direct appeal with the help of new counsel and, therefore, are procedurally barred. To the extent petitioner now raises new claims, not part of his direct appeal, such claims are also barred because they are based on events at trial and thus were capable of being brought on direct appeal. Indeed, because petitioner raised a claim of erroneous sentencing on direct appeal, he had sufficient information at that time to bring the instant claim regarding trial counsel's alleged representations that the old Guidelines would apply at sentencing. Similarly, petitioner's claims that trial counsel wrongly advised him on whether to accept a plea agreement and whether to pursue a public authority defense are based on events at trial and were also available to petitioner on his direct appeal. Furthermore, petitioner has demonstrated neither cause for nor prejudice resulting from his failure to raise his new claims on direct appeal. "[T]he mere fact that counsel failed to recognize the factual or legal basis for a claim, or failed to raise the claim despite recognizing it, does not constitute cause. . . ." See Murray v. Carrier, 477 U.S. 478, 486-87 (1986).

Even assuming petitioner's ineffective assistance allegations were properly before the Court, such claims are nonetheless without merit because they fail to meet the Strickland test. A prisoner challenging a conviction on Sixth Amendment ineffective assistance of counsel grounds must demonstrate both (1) that his attorney's performance was so unreasonable under prevailing professional norms that "counsel was not functioning as the counsel guaranteed the defendant by the Sixth Amendment," Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687, and (2) that the ineffectiveness prejudiced him such that "there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different." Id. at 694.

As an initial matter, contrary to petitioner's assertions, Stone's advice and strategy did not fall below an objective standard of reasonableness. As noted above, in considering petitioner's motion for a new trial, the court specifically found that Stone's representation was "vigorous" and "as good as, if not better than, the average case." Tr. of Sentencing at 12. Furthermore, Stone's trial performance must be considered in light of petitioner's numerous material misrepresentations, including those relating to the length of his involvement in the conspiracy and the dates on which he met with government informants. See Strickland, 466 U.S. at 691 (noting that reasonableness may be substantially influenced by defendant's own statements or actions). For example, when Stone advised petitioner regarding his potential sentence and whether to agree to a plea, Stone acted on petitioner's statements that he ended his involvement before the effective date of the new Guidelines. Petitioner also gave false information regarding his conversations with government agents, thereby affecting Stone's decision to pursue the public authority defense. The above misrepresentations, moreover, formed a partial basis for the Court's perjury finding at trial. See Tr. of ...


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