Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Circuit finds no prejudice in 2255 claim of failure to cross-examine and failure to object to indictment on Double Jeopardy grounds, and broadens the Double Jeopardy analysis of the overt act factor for conspiracy charges.

United States v. Travillion, No. 12-4184 (July 7, 2014)
The Third Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of Travillion’s 2255 motion for ineffective assistance, finding no prejudice. Travillion was convicted on three counts -- conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine, conspiracy to distribute powder cocaine, and possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine, all in violation of 21 USC §§ 846, 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(A)(iii). His defense at trial was that he was not a member of the conspiracy and that the drug involved was heroin, not crack. Michael Good, Travillion’s main supplier and government witness, testified that on the wiretapped calls with Travillion, they negotiated the price of crack. Travillion’s attorney cross-examined Good on several issues, including his addiction history and his cooperation with the government for a reduced sentence.

In his 2255 claim, Travillion argued that his trial counsel was ineffective for (1) failing to properly cross-exam Good with his prior testimony in another case, covering the same time and facts; and (2) failing to object to the indictment on Double Jeopardy grounds for conspiracy charges in Counts Nine and Thirteen.

At the outset, the Third Circuit explained that a 2255 motion "is reviewed much less favorably than a direct appeal of a sentence" and that relief is only available when "the claimed error of law ‘was a fundamental defect which inherently results in a complete miscarriage of justice....’ " The Circuit also noted that issues which were resolved in a direct appeal may "be used to support a claim for ineffective assistance of counsel."

For each of Travillion’s two claims, the Third Circuit applied the two-prong Strickland test for deficiency and prejudice, examining prejudice first. As to the first claim of failure to properly cross-examine, the Third Circuit agreed with the district court that there was no prejudice because the trial evidence was overwhelming and the outcome of the trial would have been the same. Defense counsel attacked Good’s credibility in his closing arguments and advance the defense that (1) Travillion was not a co-conspirator and (2) he possessed heroin, not crack. The Circuit also noted that the district court’s charge to the jury "protected Travillion by instructing the jury to heavily scrutinize Good’s testimony as key witness for the Government." Finding no prejudice, the Circuit court "need not address deficiency prong."

For Travillion’s second claim, the Third Circuit found that Travillion could not meet the totality of the circumstances test. The Court "employs a ‘totality of the circumstances’ test when determining whether a pretrial evidentiary hearing is necessary to determine if an indictment is invalid under the Double Jeopardy clause." The totality of circumstances test requires the examination of four factors: (a) "locus criminis" of the two conspiracies (b) temporal overlap between the two conspiracies, (c) overlap of personnel, and (d) over acts. "These factors need not be applied in a rigid manner." The Circuit court addressed the latter two factors at length. Regarding (c), the Court explained that while there was overlap of personnel, "their knowledge of, and objectives for," were not common enough to form one conspiracy.

In the analysis of (d), the Court echoed the requirement of a less rigid application of these factors. The Third Circuit held that since §846 does not require an overt act, "the strict approach to [overt acts] prong is too narrow and rigid under the modern ‘totality of the circumstances’ test... Thus, we now broaden our analysis and decide whether to infer only one conspiracy from the relevant activities of those involved." In concluding the separate conspiracies existed, the Court noted the Supreme Court’s holding that one "may be subject to multiple prosecutions of the same conduct if Congress intended to impose multiple punishments for that conduct." Congress formulated different statutes and punishments for crack and cocaine. The Court explained that the "use of separate conspiracies provides a convenient way of determining [whether the jury convicted the defendant of conspiracy to distribute crack or conspiracy to distribute cocaine, or both.]"

The Court concluded that t no fundamental defect inherently resulting in a complete miscarriage of justice was show and affirmed the denial of the 2255 motion.

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