United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Oxford Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
MICHAEL P. MILLS, District Judge.
Wayne Allen Stoker is a federal prisoner who is proceeding pro se on a motion to vacate, set aside, or correct sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. The Government has submitted a response to the motion. Having considered the pleadings and the record, including the relevant parts of Stoker's underlying criminal case, along with the relevant law, the Court finds that an evidentiary hearing is unnecessary, and that the motion should be denied.
Background Facts and Relevant History
On April 27, 2011, Wayne Allen Stoker was charged in a two-count indictment alleging that he retaliated against a witness and mailed a threatening communication in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1513(e) and 18 U.S.C. § 876(c). The events leading up to the April 2011 indictment involve Stoker's guilty plea to the 2009 arson of the "Dam Bar, " which was a business located in Coffeeville, Mississippi. Stoker pleaded guilty to wilfully and maliciously setting fire to the business, admitting that he intentionally started the fire that eventually burned down the bar after he was thrown out for yelling racial slurs about two African-American men seated at the bar. ( See Ex. B to Gov't Response, Plea Tr. at 10-14, ).
Stoker met Donna Moore, a truck driver from Wyoming, after he burned down the bar. (Ex. C to Gov't Response, Trial Tr. vol. 2, 93). Moore agreed to teach Stoker to drive a truck, and he met Moore at her residence in Wyoming several weeks later. ( Id. at 94). The two went on a ten-day "run" through California and Utah, during which time Stoker confessed to Moore that he burned down the Dam Bar. ( Id. at 94-95). Moore, frightened of Stoker following his confession but aware that she needed to report the event, attempted to leave an anonymous tip with the Grenada County Sheriff's Office after she and Stoker returned from their trip and Stoker returned to Mississippi. ( Id. at 97). Eventually, Moore spoke with Dennis Hampton, a Special Agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives ("ATF"), and indicated to him that she was fearful of retaliation from Stoker. ( See id. at 98-100). Moore reluctantly agreed to testify in the case against Stoker for the arson of the Dam Bar, and Agent Hampton documented his conversation with Moore in a Report of Investigation. ( See Ex. D to Gov't Response, "Moore ROI").
The Government provided the Moore ROI to Stoker in discovery. (Ex. C to Gov't Response, Trial Tr. vol. 2, 40-41). On March 29, 2011, the day after Stoker was sentenced to nine years imprisonment for the arson of the Dam Bar, he mailed Moore an envelope containing only the Moore ROI. ( Id. at 37-38). Moore was out of town when the envelope containing the Moore ROI reached her home, but a neighbor, Marjorie Carmichael, was checking Moore's mail for her. ( Id. at 67). Upon receiving the envelope, Carmichael opened the letter and forwarded it to Moore's location. ( Id. at 71-72). Carmichael, who was aware of Moore's agreement to testify against Stoker, was "100 percent" convinced that the letter was intended as a threat. ( Id. at 82). Moore also testified that she interpreted the letter as a threat. ( Id. at 103). When she received the letter, she "panicked" believing that Stoker was letting her know that he was aware of her cooperation with law enforcement. ( Id. ). She testified that she was in a "constant state of anxiety" and had numerous dreams in which she was burning. ( Id. at 104). She testified that she was fearful every time she returned home. ( Id. ). She stated that she contacted Agent Hampton the morning after receiving Stoker's letter. ( Id. at 102).
Agent Hampton subsequently interviewed Stoker, who denied that the letter was threatening. ( Id. at 42-43). Stoker told Agent Hampton that "he just wanted to let [Moore] know that she was two-faced." ( Id. at 43). Stoker also wrote a letter to the United States Attorney's office explaining that he sent the Moore ROI to Moore "to let her know that [he] know[s] she's two-faced." ( See Ex. E to Gov't Response).
After a two-day jury trial, Stoker was found guilty on both counts of the indictment. Stoker's trial counsel withdrew after his conviction, and the Court appointed new counsel for Stoker's sentencing and appeal. On October 26, 2011, this Court sentenced Stoker to 108 months imprisonment to be followed by three years of supervised release. Stoker appealed his conviction and sentence. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals subsequently affirmed Stoker's conviction and remanded the case for resentencing. United States v. Stoker, 706 F.3d 643 (5th Cir. 2013). On May 2, 2013, this Court resentenced Stoker to 60 months imprisonment followed by three years of supervised release. On or about March 24, 2014, Stoker filed the instant motion to vacate, set aside, or correct sentence in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 2255, raising claims of ineffective assistance of counsel pretrial, at trial, at sentencing, and during appeal.
After a defendant has been convicted and exhausted his appeal rights, a court may presume that "he stands fairly and finally convicted." United States v. Frady, 456 U.S. 152, 164 (1982). A motion brought pursuant to § 2255 is a "means of collateral attack on a federal sentence." Cox v. Warden, Federal Detention Ctr., 911 F.2d 1111, 1113 (5th Cir. 1990) (citation omitted). There are four separate grounds upon which a federal prisoner may move to vacate, set aside, or correct a sentence under § 2255: (1) the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States; (2) the court was without jurisdiction to impose the sentence; (3) the sentence exceeds the statutory maximum sentence; or (4) the sentence is "otherwise subject to collateral attack." 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Collateral attack limits a defendant's allegations to those of "constitutional or jurisdictional magnitude." United States v. Samuels, 59 F.3d 526, 528 (5th Cir. 1995) (citation omitted). Relief under § 2255 is reserved, therefore, for violations of "constitutional rights and for that narrow compass of other injury that could not have been raised on direct appeal and, would, if condoned, result in a complete miscarriage of justice." United States v. Capua, 656 F.2d 1033, 1037 (5th Cir. 1981).
Stoker's allegations in the instant motion are that his counsel was ineffective. The Sixth Amendment guarantees a criminal defendant the right to the "reasonably effective" assistance of counsel. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687-88 (1984). Courts avoid a hindsight analysis of counsel's conduct and indulge a "strong presumption" that counsel has rendered "reasonable professional assistance." Strickland, 466 U.S. at 689. Whether counsel has rendered constitutionally acceptable assistance requires consideration of whether trial counsel's performance was so deficient that it cannot be said that he was functioning as "counsel" within the meaning of the Sixth Amendment, and whether the deficient performance actually prejudiced the defense. See id. at 687.
In order to make the requisite showing of prejudice, a defendant must show that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's specified errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different. Id. at 694 (quotation marks omitted). " A reasonable probability is a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome." Id. Absent an affirmative showing of prejudice, there is no merit to a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. See, e.g., Miller v. Johnson, 200 F.3d 274, 282 (5th Cir. 2000) ("In the absence of a specific showing of how these alleged errors and omissions were constitutionally deficient, and how they prejudiced [the defendant's] right to a fair trial, " there is no merit to an ineffective assistance of counsel claim). The failure to prove either deficient performance ...