Carter v. United States, No. 3:07-CV-1477 (EBB), 2010 WL 3123371 (D. Ct. Aug. 6, 2010)
On a motion for consideration on Carter's habeas corpus petition, a district court in Connecticut found that sentence enhancements unde rboth the career offender guidelines and the Armed Career Criminal Act were not appropriate, and that his counsel's failure to object to those sentence enhancements constituted ineffective assistance of counsel that caused actual prejudice.
Carter's PSR identified five prior felony convictions that purportedly qualified as a "crime of violence" or a "controlled substance offense" as defined in the career offender guidelines and also as a "violent felony" or "serious drug offense" under the ACCA. Specifically, (1) a June 10, 1985 conviction of robbery in the 3rd degree, (2) an August 11, 1988 conviction of risk of injury to a minor, (3) a January 2, 1992 conviction of sale of narcotics, (4) a January 2, 1992 conviction of possession of narcotics, and (5) a January 25, 1994 conviction of sale of narcotics. The PSR's factual descriptions of his 1985 robbery, 1988 risk of injury and 1994 narcotics convictions were taken from police reports. The PSR contained no information at all regarding the underlying facts of his two 1992 drug convictions, but merely reported the fact of those convictions and stated that "the police report[s] are no longer available." Carter was sentenced on May 2, 2005. The Court adopted the guideline calcutations set forth in Carters PSR and sentenced him to a total term of imprisonment of 360 months. Carter's counsel did not object to any of the guideline calculations or to the propriety of using an of Carter's prior convictions as described in his PSR to support a sentence enhancement as a career offender or armed career criminal.
The court's discussion as to whether or not Carter should have been considered a career criminal and/or qualified under ACCA is long (and interesting). But what's more interesting is the court's analysis of the ineffective assistance of counsel claim -- a claim that is often made but is infrequently successful. Here is the court's analysis in its entirety:
To establish an ineffective assistance of counsel claim, a defendant must show (1) that counsel's performance fell below an objective standard of reasonableness and (2) but for counsel's ineffective assistance, the result of the proceeding would have been different. Carter has established both prongs.
He has shown that his counsel's performance fell below the "range of competence demanded by attorneys" and seriously undermined the proper functioning of the adversarial process. If counsel had performed with the reasonableness demanded by Strickland, he would have cited well-settled precedent to challenge the use of Carter's prior convictions that were not supported by the adequate factual basis that was required for them to qualify as predicate offenses under the career criminal guidelines and the ACCA. Counsel's failure to do so in this case constituted a clear lapse in representation and the Court can find no plausible strategic reason for counsel's error. There is no reason to believe that, had counsel raised the issue, the Court would have disregarded the controlling precedent. Thus, counsel's error resulted in an enhanced sentence that was not applicable and caused Carter prejudice.
Carter has established actual prejudice because there is more than a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's deficient performance, the sentence imposed would have been different.There can be no reasonable dispute that counsel's failure to object to Carter's sentence enhancement as a career offender or an armed career criminal deprived Carter of the effective assistance of counsel and resulted in an increased period of incarceration. Accordingly, Carter has established that he was deprived of his Sixth Amendment right to counsel and that he suffered actual prejudice.
The career offender guidelines and ACCA can, at times, be confusing. But it sounds like this defense lawyer simply spent no time drilling down on the questions raised by the PSR. This district court in Connecticut found that he should have.