In United States v. Vaughn, No. 16-3138, the Third Circuit reversed the denial of a 2255 for failure to hold an evidentiary hearing.

Vaughn was charged with conspiracy to commit money-laundering, conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, wire fraud and use of a fictitious name in relation to mail fraud.   He was convicted and sentenced to 72 months and 62 months to run concurrently. He filed a motion to vacate his sentence claiming that his lawyer was ineffective.

Vaughan stated in his affidavit accompanying the 2255 motion that the government offered him an 11(c)(1)(C) plea of 60 months (remember that Fed. R. Cri. P. 11(c)(1)(C) says that if the parties “agree that a specific sentence … is the appropriate disposition of the case” then “such a recommendation or request binds the court once the court accepts the plea agreement”). He also stated that his lawyer refused to tell him of his trial sentence exposure, stating that “he only practiced in facts not fairy tales and further that he practiced in guarantees not what ifs.” The government later offered a plea to two counts with no 11(c)(1)(C) plea. Vaughn said in his affidavit that his lawyer pushed him to take this deal, stating that the judge ‘hinted’ that he would sentence him below the guidelines.

His lawyer’s affidavit stated that he gave the client an estimate of what the likely guidelines range would be and they talked it over at length. There were also emails between the two of them where they talked about the likely sentencing effects of pleading guilty to the second plea offer.

The 2255 claimed that the lawyer provided ineffective assistance of counsel during the plea-bargaining and sentencing processes for the first plea (of 60 months). Both Vaughan and his counsel submitted affidavits. Even though they conflicted with each other the District Court denied them without a hearing.

On appeal the court indicated that Vaughan’s statements in his affidavit would mean that the lawyer was ineffective. Further, the government admitted that it’s basically Vaughn against his lawyer in competing affidavits. The Third Circuit also indicated that the statements made at the change of plea hearing were not appropriate evidence of what the lawyer had said because those were about the offer that was accepted, not what was turned down (because there wouldn’t be talk at a plea hearing about a plea that you didn’t take). The third circuit also indicated that there was no talk about the prejudice prong of the 2255 as well (remember, to prevail on a 2255 you have to show deficient performance and prejudice).

The Third Circuit Reversed, No. 16-3138

JEREMY’S TAKE: When you are filing a 2255 indicating that your lawyer was ineffective it is IMPORTANT to file a declaration with it stating the ways that (s)he was ineffective. What did they say? What did they do? How did they respond to your questions about the plea deal? Is there anything that they said that surprised you?   And when they give you their answers then you write it down for your own records. Maybe even email a copy of the conversation to your loved one in case your legal paperwork gets “taken away” or lost. Keep notes of these things so that you can give them to an attorney later for a possible 2255 case.

The case also said that your attorney has to communicate the statutory maximums and minimums but also has to “know the guidelines.” That is up to interpretation by the courts. If you have a case where your lawyer did not adequately advise you about the advantages and disadvantages of pleading guilty, then contact us today.


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