United States District Court, D. Minnesota
K. Bell, Kevin S. Ueland, United States Attorney's
Office, Minneapolis, Minnesota, for the Government.
Douglas B. Altman, Altman & Izek, Minneapolis, Minnesota,
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
RICHARD H. KYLE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
a jury trial in 2013, Defendant Travis Sentell Peeler was
convicted of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute
cocaine and cocaine base (“crack”). The Court
later sentenced him to a mandatory-minimum term of 10
years' imprisonment. His conviction and sentence were
affirmed by the Eighth Circuit on appeal. United States
v. Peeler, 779 F.3d 773 (8th Cir. 2015).
has now moved under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to vacate his
sentence, asserting ineffective assistance of counsel.
Specifically, he notes that before trial, the Government had
offered to permit him to plead guilty to a lesser-included
offense calling for a five-year mandatory minimum, rather
than the ten-year mandatory minimum required by the charge in
the Indictment. According to Peeler, however, his trial
counsel wrongly informed him that in order to receive this
deal, he would be “required to cooperate” with
the Government. (Mot. at 5.) “[B]elieving the plea
would require him to [cooperate], ” he rejected the
offer and proceeded to trial. (Id.) Yet according to
Peeler, after trial had concluded he learned for the first
time the plea offer did not mandate cooperation; he
contends that had he been so advised, “he would have
accepted the plea offer and pleaded guilty for half the
sente[n]ce imposed after trial.” (Id.)
Peeler was proceeding pro se when he filed his
Motion, the Court later appointed counsel to represent him in
these proceedings. In addition, it held an evidentiary
hearing on February 22, 2017, and permitted supplemental
briefing addressing the issues raised in the Motion. Having
now carefully considered all of the submissions, the
testimony at the hearing, and the remainder of the record,
the Court will deny Peeler's Motion.
order for Peeler to obtain federal habeas relief, he must
show that his “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.” 28 U.S.C.
§ 2255(a). Such relief “is reserved for
transgressions of constitutional rights and for a narrow
range of injuries that could not have been raised on direct
appeal and, if uncorrected, would result in a complete
miscarriage of justice.” United States v.
Apfel, 97 F.3d 1074, 1076 (8th Cir. 1996). The Sixth
Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees a
criminal defendant the right to effective assistance of
counsel, e.g., Chesney v. United States,
367 F.3d 1055, 1058 (8th Cir. 2004), and generally speaking,
allegations that trial counsel were ineffective fall within
the “narrow range” of matters that may be raised
in a § 2255 proceeding. See, e.g., United
States v. McAdory, 501 F.3d 868, 872 (8th Cir. 2007).
Such claims are governed by Strickland v.
Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984), under which a defendant
bears the burden to show (1) his attorney's performance
was deficient and (2) the deficiency prejudiced him.
Id. at 687, 694.
well-established that the right to effective assistance of
counsel extends to plea negotiations. E.g.,
Missouri v. Frye, 566 U.S. 133, 144 (2012); Hill
v. Lockhart, 474 U.S. 52, 57 (1985). Where, as here, a
defendant has rejected a plea offer based on purportedly
ineffective assistance, he can demonstrate
Strickland prejudice only by establishing that
“he would have accepted the plea but for counsel's
advice, and had he done so he would have received a lesser
sentence.” United States v. Norvell, 729 F.3d
788, 795 (8th Cir. 2013) (quoting Wanatee v. Ault,
259 F.3d 700, 704 (8th Cir. 2001)). The record here belies
Government notes, Peeler has maintained his innocence since
first being charged in 2012, and he continues to do so today.
He initially asserted innocence when entering a not-guilty
plea shortly after he was indicted. He maintained his
innocence at trial, arguing he was not guilty of a conspiracy
to distribute drugs because the evidence established, at
most, only a buyer-seller relationship. (See Doc.
No. 183.) The jury rejected that contention and convicted
Then, shortly after his conviction but before sentencing,
Peeler submitted a letter to the Court strenuously arguing he
was not guilty of conspiracy:
The reason I'm writing is to say the only reason I went
to trial is because I was charge[d] with conspiracy. My
contention is that I was not [com]plicit in any conspiracy,
th[u]s the jury should have been specifically charged for a
directed verdict on conspiracy; and [told] in the defense
opening and closing statements as to a buyer-seller
relationship , which is wholly different from the
conspiracy count. The Government never established that I was
selling any drugs as part of some planned enterprise. Where
is the evidence of my “planned” role in the
purported conspiracy? I'm not guilty as charged!
(2/22/17 Hr'g Gov't Ex. 2.) Peeler renewed this
assertion on appeal, which the Eighth Circuit rebuffed when
affirming his conviction. Finally, at the evidentiary hearing
on the instant Motion, Peeler yet again asserted he was not
guilty of conspiracy. The most he would acknowledge was that
the jury found him guilty; he repeatedly denied that
he actually was part of a conspiracy:
Q: You were in a conspiracy with other people to deal drugs?
A: Yeah, I was found guilty of it.
Q: I know you were found guilty of that. . . . I'm asking
you, sitting there under oath to tell the Court [the truth, ]
you were in a conspiracy with other individuals to ...