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Andrews v. United States

United States District Court, N.D. West Virginia

September 13, 2019




         Pending before the Court is the Amended Motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence filed by the pro se petitioner, Patrick Franklin Andrews (“Andrews”). For the reasons that follow, the Court DENIES the amended § 2255 motion (Dkt. No. 37) and DISMISSES this case WITH PREJUDICE.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On October 2, 2012, a grand jury in the Northern District of West Virginia returned a two count indictment charging Andrews and his co-defendant, Kevin Bellinger (“Bellinger”), with murder by a federal prisoner serving a life sentence, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1111(a), 1118, and 2, and second degree murder, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1111(a)-(b), 2, and 7(3) (No. 1:12-CR-100, Dkt. No. 41). Finding good cause, the Court granted the defendants' motion to sever the cases on November 26, 2013 (No. 1:12-CR-100, Dkt. No. 192). Bellinger proceeded to trial and was convicted by a jury on both counts on June 16, 2014 (No. 1:12-CR-100, Dkt. Nos. 485, 486).

         Pursuant to a written plea agreement, on April 13, 2015, Andrews pleaded guilty to both counts and joined in a binding sentencing recommendation of life imprisonment (No. 1:12-CR-100, Dkt. No. 635, 636). Andrews's plea agreement included a factual stipulation as to the offense and plea in which Andrews agreed that he and Bellinger had stabbed and killed the victim, and that Andrews had “acted unlawfully and with malice aforethought in that he acted willfully and with callous and wanton disregard of human life” (No. 1:12-CR-100, Dkt. No. 636 at 3). Andrews repeatedly affirmed this factual stipulation during his Rule 11 hearing (Dkt. No. 44-2 at 11-12, 21-22, 30-31, 32-33). On April 15, 2015, the Court sentenced Andrews to concurrent terms of life imprisonment on each count, to run consecutively to any sentence previously imposed (No. 1:12-CR-100, Dkt. No. 639).

         Bellinger, meanwhile, had appealed his convictions, arguing in part that the Court had erred when it excluded certain eyewitness testimony concerning threatening statements the victim allegedly made to Andrews just prior to his death (No. 1:12-CR-100, Dkt. No. 545). On June 13, 2016, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit vacated Bellinger's convictions and remanded the case, finding that the disputed testimony was not hearsay and was relevant to Bellinger's state of mind and defense of imperfect self-defense (No. 1:12-CR-100, Dkt. No. 662). On re-trial, the eyewitness's testimony was admitted and, on August 9, 2017, Bellinger was again convicted by a jury on both counts (No. 1:12-CR-100, Dkt Nos. 781, 760).

         On April 8, 2016, Andrews timely filed a pro se Motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to Vacate, Set Aside or Correct a Sentence, which he subsequently re-filed on the court-approved form (Dkt. Nos. 1, 9). He later obtained leave to amend his motion and filed the instant amended § 2255 motion in November 26, 2018, collaterally attacking his conviction based on claims that his counsel was unconstitutionally ineffective and his plea was not voluntary (Dkt. No. 12, 37).

         Andrews alleges (1) that he requested but never received grand jury testimony and medical records for a government witness; (2) that his counsel did not fully investigate the defense of self- defense; (3) that his counsel failed to move for sanctions against the government for the alleged destruction of exculpatory video surveillance; and (4) that his counsel failed “to subject the government case to a meaningful adversarial process” by “repeatedly” advising Andrews that he could be executed (Dkt. No. 37).

         The question presented in this case is whether Andrews satisfied the standard in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984), for establishing ineffective assistance of counsel in violation of the Sixth Amendment. The matter is fully briefed and ripe for decision.


         A. Pro Se Pleadings

         The Court must liberally construe pro se pleadings. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976); Loe v. Armistead, 582 F.2d 1291, 1295 (4th Cir. 1978). A pro se petition is subject to dismissal, however, if the court cannot reasonably read the pleadings to state a valid claim on which the petitioner could prevail. Barnett v. Hargett, 174 F.3d 1128, 1133 (10th Cir. 1999). A court may not construct the petitioner's legal arguments for him, nor should it “conjure up questions never squarely presented.” Beaudett v. City of Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274, 1278 (4th Cir. 1985).

         B. § 2255 Motions

          Title 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a) permits federal prisoners, who are in custody, to assert the right to be released if “the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States, ” if “the court was without jurisdiction to impose such sentence, ” or if “the sentence was in excess of the maximum authorized by law, or is otherwise subject to collateral attack.” A petitioner bears the burden of proving any of these grounds by a preponderance of the evidence. See Miller v. United States, 261 F.2d 546, 547 (4th Cir. 1958).


         The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees the right to effective assistance of counsel to criminal defendants. In order to meet the two-prong standard established by the Supreme Court in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984), a petitioner alleging a Sixth Amendment violation regarding ineffective assistance of counsel must establish both deficient performance and prejudice, based on counsel's actions or inactions:

A convicted defendant's claim that counsel's assistance was so defective as to require reversal of a conviction . . . has two components. First, the defendant must show that counsel's performance was deficient. This requires showing that counsel made errors so serious 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 the showing that counsel's errors were so serious as to deprive the defendant of a fair trial, a trial whose result is reliable.

Id. at 687.

         In order to satisfy Strickland's deficient performance prong, a petitioner must demonstrate that counsel's performance was objectively unreasonable. Id. at 688. The standard for judging attorney performance is “that of reasonably effective assistance, considering all the circumstances.” Id. Further, “judicial scrutiny of counsel's performance must be highly deferential.” Id. at 689. A reviewing court must avoid hindsight and “indulge a strong presumption that counsel's conduct falls within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance.” Id.

         To satisfy Strickland's prejudicial effect prong, a petitioner “must show there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different.” Id. at 694. “A reasonable probability is a probability sufficient to undermine the confidence in the outcome.” Id.

         Significantly, a defendant bears a higher burden when alleging ineffective assistance of counsel following the entry of a guilty plea, as is the case here. Hill v. Lockhard, 474 U.S. 52, 59 (1985). A defendant “must show that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's errors, he would not have pleaded guilty and would have insisted on going to trial.” Id. Absent extraordinary circumstances, a defendant's statement that his plea ...

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