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United States v. Stargell

United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Western Division

December 11, 2019


          Thomas M. Rose District Judge


          Michael R. Merz United States Magistrate Judge

         This is an action on a Motion to Vacate under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 brought pro se by Defendant Darion Stargell to obtain relief from his drug trafficking related convictions in this Court. The Motion is before the Court for initial review pursuant to Rule 4(b) of the Rules Governing § 2255 Proceedings which provides:

The judge who receives the motion must promptly examine it. If it plainly appears from the motion, any attached exhibits, and the record of prior proceedings that the moving party is not entitled to relief, the judge must dismiss the motion and direct the clerk to notify the moving party. If the motion is not dismissed, the judge must order the United States to file an answer, motion, or other response within a fixed time, or take other action the judge may order.

         The District Judges at the Dayton location of court have referred all post-judgment collateral attacks on convictions to the undersigned pursuant to General Order DAY 13-01. The case remains assigned for disposition to District Judge Thomas M. Rose.

         Defendant asserts he received ineffective assistance of counsel in three ways. First, he asserts his trial attorney was ineffective for not challenging the 28 U.S.C.§ 846 conviction (Motion, ECF No. 185, PageID 638-39). Second, he asserts his trial attorney did not make the government prove the mens rea required for 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1). Id. at PageID 640-44. Finally, he asserts his appellate attorney was ineffective for abandoning him. Id. at PageID 644-46.

         Litigation History

         Stargell was indicted with two others on April 13, 2017, and charged in Count One with conspiring to distribute fentanyl in the amount of 400 grams or more, and an unspecified amount of tramadol, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 846 and 841(b)(1)(A), (C), and (E). In Count Two he was charged with distributing 100 grams or more of fentanyl and an unspecified amount of tramadol in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(A) and (E)(ECF No. 29). A Second Superseding Indictment was filed May 25, 2017 (ECF No. 51).

         On September 11, 2017, Stargell agreed to plead guilty to one count of conspiring to distribute heroin and fentanyl in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 846 and 841(b)(1)(C). (ECF No. 98.) He agreed that he was guilty of the offense. In particular he agreed to the following statement of facts:

Between late 2016 and early 2017, in the Dayton, Ohio area, defendant Darion Stargell worked with other people, including Sergio Candelas-Ruiz and Lizabeth Ruiz, to receive and to distribute bulk quantities of heroin and fentanyl. Throughout this time, the Ruizes arranged for couriers sent from Mexico to bring large quantities of controlled substances to Mr. Stargell in the Dayton metropolitan area. Upon obtaining these illegal drugs, Mr. Stargell resold them to other drug dealers in southern Ohio.

Id. at PageID 264. On September 13, 2017, Stargell appeared before Judge Rose, acknowledged that he had signed the plea agreement (including the statement of facts) knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily, and then pleaded guilty as required by the plea agreement (Minute Entry, ECF No. 99; Transcript, ECF No. 151). Judgment was entered on the plea on March 9, 2018 (ECF No. 143). Although he had voluntarily waived appeal (with exceptions not relevant here), he filed a Notice of Appeal through counsel (ECF No. 176). The Sixth Circuit appointed new counsel on June 21, 2019 (ECF No. 179), but that counsel filed a motion to dismiss the appeal at Stargell's direction on October 15, 2019. This § 2255 Motion to Vacate was timely filed thereafter on December 9, 2019.[1]


         Standard for Proving Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

         All three of Stargell's claim are based on his Sixth Amendment right to the effective assistance of counsel. The governing standard for ineffective assistance of trial counsel was adopted by the Supreme Court in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984):

A convicted defendant's claim that counsel's assistance was so defective as to require reversal of a conviction or death sentence has two components. First, the defendant must show that counsel's performance was deficient. This requires showing that counsel was not functioning as the "counsel" guaranteed the defendant by the Sixth Amendment. Second, the defendant must show that the deficient performance prejudiced the defense. This requires showing that counsel's errors were so serious as to deprive the defendant of a fair trial, a trial whose result is reliable. Unless a defendant makes both showings, it cannot be said that the conviction or death sentence resulted from a breakdown in the adversary process that renders the result unreliable.

466 U.S. at 687. In other words, to establish ineffective assistance, a defendant must show both deficient performance and prejudice. Berghuis v. Thompkins,560 U.S. 370, 389 (2010), quoting Knowl ...

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