Rick Ray Stauffacher, Federal Correctional Institution, Elkton, P.O. Box 10, Lisbon, Ohio, 44432, Defendant-Movant, pro se.
Julie Allyn, Assistant United States Attorney, 600 United States Courthouse, 300 South Fourth Street, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 55415, for Plaintiff-Respondent.
MEMORANDUM OPINION and ORDER
RICHARD H. KYLE, District Judge.
This matter is presently before the Court pursuant to a Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (Doc. No. 640), which has been filed, pro se, by Defendant Rick Ray Stauffacher. The motion has been fully briefed by the parties, and is now before the Court for final adjudication. For the reasons discussed below, Defendant's motion will be DENIED.
In June 2011, Defendant pled guilty to conspiracy to deliver and possess with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of a mixture or substance containing methamphetamine and a mixture or substance containing a detectable quantity of cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(A) and (b)(1)(C), and 846. In January 2012, Defendant was sentenced to 120 months in federal prison - the statutory mandatory minimum sentence for Defendant's offense. Defendant's conviction and sentence were affirmed on his direct appeal to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. United States v. Stauffacher, 475 F.Appx. 642 (8th Cir. 2012) (unpublished opinion). He is presently serving his sentence at the Federal Correctional Institution - Elkton, in Lisbon, Ohio.
On June 17, 2013, Defendant filed his present motion for post-conviction relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Defendant's § 2255 motion presents four grounds for relief. In Ground One, Defendant claims that he was deprived of his constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel during the course of his sentencing, because his attorney failed to raise three arguments that, according to Defendant, should have caused the Court to impose a shorter prison term. Defendant contends that his attorney should have argued that: (i) Defendant's offense did not involve than 500 grams of methamphetamine; (ii) Defendant was eligible for, and should have been given, a shorter sentence than the statutory mandatory minimum; and (iii) Defendant should have been give a shorter sentence under the "safety valve" statute - 18 U.S.C. § 3553(f). These three arguments are presented as Grounds Two, Three, and Four of the present § 2255 motion. For the reasons discussed below, the Court finds that none of Defendant's current claims for relief is sustainable.
I. Ground One: Ineffective Assistance of Counsel
Defendant initially claims that his sentence should be set aside, because he was deprived of his Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel during the sentencing phase of his criminal case. According to Defendant, he would have received a shorter sentence, if not for his attorney's failure to raise the three arguments described in Grounds Two, Three and Four of his present motion.
Claims of ineffective assistance of counsel are governed by the two-part test prescribed by Strickland v. Washington , 466 U.S. 668 (1984). Under the Strickland test, a defendant claiming ineffective assistance of counsel must show (a) that the attorney's performance was deficient and (b) that the attorney's deficient performance prejudiced the defendant's case.
Counsel's performance is considered deficient only if it falls outside the wide range of professionally competent assistance. Harris v. Bowersox , 184 F.3d 744, 756 (8th Cir. 1999), cert. denied, 528 U.S. 1097 (2000). Courts considering claims of ineffective assistance of counsel must presume that attorneys provide effective representation, and "will not second-guess strategic decisions or exploit the benefits of hindsight." Henderson v. Norris , 118 F.3d 1283, 1287 (8th Cir. 1997), cert. denied, 522 U.S. 1129 (1998). See also Strickland , 466 U.S. at 689 ("Judicial scrutiny of counsel's performance must be highly deferential."). To meet the "prejudice" part of the Strickland test, the defendant must establish that "there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different." Strickland , 466 U.S. at 694.
In this case, Defendant's ineffective assistance of counsel claim must be summarily rejected, because Defendant would not have received a shorter sentence if his attorney had raised the sentencing arguments presented at Grounds Two, Three and Four of the present motion. For the reasons discussed below, the Court finds that none of those arguments has merit. Therefore, Defendant's attorney cannot be faulted for failing to raise those arguments, and Defendant was not prejudiced by his attorney's failure to raise those arguments. See Rodriguez v. United States , 17 F.3d 225, 226 (8th Cir. 1994) (per curiam) ("counsel's failure to advance a meritless argument cannot constitute ineffective assistance"); Dyer v. United States , 23 F.3d 1424, 1426 (8th Cir. 1994) (defendant's ineffective assistance of counsel was unsustainable, because the claims his attorney allegedly should have pursued were "rejected as meritless"); Thomas v. United States , 951 F.2d 902, 905 (8th Cir. 1991) (per ...