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United States of America v. Anthony Keith Wilson

January 12, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Cameron Mcgowan Currie United States District Judge


Defendant has filed a motion for relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 alleging ineffective assistance of both his trial and appellate counsel. The Government has moved for summary judgment, and Defendant has responded in opposition. For the reasons set forth below, the court grants the Government's motion for summary judgment and dismisses this motion with prejudice.


In July 2002, Defendant was indicted by a federal grand jury for participating in a conspiracy to distribute 5 kilograms or more of cocaine, and 50 grams or more of "crack" cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and 846.*fn1

Defendant proceeded to trial in March 2003, and was found guilty on May 2, 2003. On March 25, 2004, Defendant was sentenced to 420 months' imprisonment.

Defendant appealed his conviction and sentence. In a consolidated appeal, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals determined that this court committed error under Booker v. United States, 543 U.S. 220 (2005), and that this error was not harmless as to Defendant. Defendant's sentence was vacated, and the matter remanded to this court for resentencing. See United States v. Davis, 270 Fed. Appx. 236 (4th Cir. 2008).

On July 23, 2008, Defendant appeared for resentencing. After considering the advisory guideline range and the relevant statutory factors, the District Court granted Defendant' motion for a variance and sentenced Defendant to 320 months' imprisonment. Defendant again appealed. On May 8, 2009, the Fourth Circuit affirmed Defendant's sentence. See United States v. Wilson, 328 Fed.Appx. 842 (4th Cir. 2009).

Defendant filed this motion for relief on August 2, 2010, contending that he received ineffective assistance of both trial and appellate counsel. The Government responded in opposition to Defendant's motion, moving for summary judgment. An order was entered pursuant to Roseboro v. Garrison, 528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975), notifying Defendant of the importance of and requirements relating to a response. Defendant filed a response to the Government's motion on November 4, 2010.


The standard governing ineffective assistance of counsel claims is found in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984). In order to succeed on such a claim, Defendant must first show that his counsel's performance was "deficient," Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687-88, and that such deficiency resulted in actual prejudice to Defendant. Id. As to the first prong of the Strickland test, a defense attorney's conduct is deficient if it fails to meet a standard of "reasonably effective assistance." Id. at 687. The question whether counsel's performance was deficient may only be answered by viewing counsel's actions or decisions in the light of all surrounding circumstances at the time the decision was made, not in the artificial light of hindsight. See Lockhart v. Fretwell, 506 U.S. 364, 371-72 (1993). A reviewing court should not second-guess defense counsel's tactical decisions. See McDougall v. Dixon, 921 F.2d 518, 537-39 (4th Cir. 1990), cert. denied, 501 U.S. 1223 (1991). In addition to showing ineffective representation, Defendant must also show "that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different. A reasonable probability is a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome." Strickland, 466 U.S. at 694. In certain cases, it is not necessary to determine whether counsel's performance was deficient if the claim is readily dismissable for a lack of prejudice. Id. at 697. In attempting to establish ineffective assistance of counsel, Defendant must overcome the "strong presumption that counsel's conduct falls within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance," as this court applies a "heavy measure of deference to counsel's judgments." Id. at 689-91.

In applying Strickland to claims of ineffective assistance of appellate counsel, this court accords appellate counsel the "presumption that he decided which issues were most likely to afford relief on appeal." Pruett v. Thompson, 996 F.2d 1560, 1568 (4th Cir. 1993). Appellate counsel is not obligated to assert all non-frivolous issues on appeal; there is hardly any question about the importance of examining the record and having appellate counsel select the most promising issues for review. Jones v. Barnes, 463 U.S. 745, 752 (1983); see also Smith v. South Carolina, 882 F.2d 895, 899 (4th Cir. 1989). "'Winnowing out weaker arguments on appeal and focusing on' those more likely to prevail, far from evidence of incompetence, is the hallmark of effective appellate advocacy." Smith v. Murray, 477 U.S. 527, 536 (1986) (quoting Jones v. Barnes, 463 U.S. at 751); see also Smith v. South Carolina, supra,882 F.2d at 899 (counsel's failure to raise a weak constitutional claim may constitute an acceptable strategic decision designed "to avoid diverting the appellate court's attention from what [counsel] felt were stronger claims"). Although it is possible to bring a successful ineffective assistance of appellate counsel claim based on failure to raise a particular issue on direct appeal, the Supreme Court has reiterated that it is "difficult to demonstrate that counsel was incompetent." Smith v. Robbins, 528 U.S. 259, 288 (2000). "'Generally, only when ignored issues are clearly stronger than those presented, will the presumption of effective assistance of counsel be overcome.'" Id. at 288 (quoting Gray v. Greer, 800 F.2d 644, 646 (7th Cir. 1986)).

Defendant makes several assertions relating to the alleged ineffectiveness of his trial and appellate counsel (who was the same individual). Defendant contends that counsel was ineffective in failing to appeal a sentencing enhancement; in failing to appeal the assessment of certain criminal history points;*fn2 and in failing to adequately question Government witness Carnell Williams.

For the reasons noted by the Government in its memorandum in support of the motion for summary judgment, with which this court agrees and adopts as its ...

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