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Richardson v. United States

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

May 21, 2014



ROBERT S. LASNIK, District Judge.


This matter comes before the Court on the Petitioner Irisha Shalle Richardson's motion to vacate, set aside, or correct sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Dkt. #1.[1] Petitioner seeks a 24-month reduction of the 78-month sentence imposed after she pleaded guilty to conspiracy to import N-benzylpiperazine ("BZP"). Id. at 16. She does not challenge her conviction or the remainder of her sentence. Having considered the memoranda and the exhibits submitted by the parties, the Court finds as follows:


Petitioner was arrested on April 21, 2011, and charged with conspiracy to import BZP in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 952(a), 960(a)(1), 960(b)(3), and 963. CR 36. On August 12, 2011, Petitioner pleaded guilty during a change of plea hearing before United States Magistrate Judge Brian A. Tsuchida pursuant to Fed. R. Crim. P. ("Rule") 11. CR 44. By executing the plea agreement, Petitioner acknowledged that she was involved in a conspiracy to smuggle illegal narcotics into the U.S. from Vancouver, Canada. Dkt. #24-2 ¶ 7. She also acknowledged that during the course of the conspiracy, she recruited a few people to assist with the smuggling operation. Id . ¶¶ 7(j)-(n).

During the change of plea hearing, Judge Tsuchida reviewed the entire plea agreement with Petitioner. Dkt. #24-7. Petitioner explained that she understood the crime to which she was pleading guilty, the maximum sentence she could receive for the conviction, and the rights that she was giving up by pleading guilty. Id. at 6-8. She also indicated that she agreed that certain enhancements and reductions to her base offense level would apply for purposes of determining the appropriate sentencing range under the United States Sentencing Guidelines Manual ("Guidelines"). Id. at 15. Petitioner agreed with the statement of facts set forth in the plea agreement, indicated that her decision to plead guilty was voluntary, and informed the Court that she was pleading guilty because she committed the crime identified in the plea agreement. Id. at 8-13, 18. Finally, Petitioner agreed that if the Court imposed a sentence within or below the Guidelines range, her right to appeal would be waived. Id. at 17.[2] Based on these representations, Judge Tsuchida found Petitioner's decision to enter a guilty plea was knowing, voluntary, and intelligent. Id. at 20. This Court accepted Petitioner's guilty plea on August 30, 2011. CR 49.

During the sentencing hearing on March 2, 2012, the Court found that under the Guidelines, Petitioner had an offense level of 32. Dkt. #24-4 at 31. With a criminal history category I, the resulting Guidelines range was 121-151 months of imprisonment. Id . Petitioner was sentenced to 78 months of imprisonment followed by three years of supervised release. CR 116 at 2-3. Petitioner did not appeal and timely filed a motion to vacate, set aside or correct her sentence under 28 U.S.C. 2255.


A. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

In her § 2255 motion, Petitioner asks the Court to vacate her sentence on grounds of ineffective assistance of counsel and disproportionate sentencing. Dkt. #1 at 14-16. She alleges that her former counsel, Michele Shaw, was ineffective due to her lack of experience in federal law; (2) her failure to inform Petitioner of her appeal rights; (3) her failure to negotiate a sentencing range with the government; and (4) her failure to obtain and present helpful evidence and arguments during the sentencing phase of her case. Id.

To succeed on a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, Petitioner must show that counsel's performance was (1) deficient and (2) prejudicial to the defense. Strickland v. Washington , 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984). She must overcome a strong presumption that "the challenged action might be considered sound trial strategy." Id. at 689 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

To meet the first requirement, objectively unreasonable performance, a convicted defendant must point to specific acts or omissions by counsel that she believes not to be the product of sound professional judgment. Id. at 690. To satisfy the second requirement, prejudice, a petitioner must show that "there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different." Id. at 694. This requires "a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome." Id . The Court's focus is on the fundamental fairness of the proceeding. Id. at 696. If Petitioner fails to meet one requirement, the Court need not analyze whether the other requirement is satisfied. Id. at 697.

1. Lack of Experience

Petitioner contends that Ms. Shaw's performance fell below an objectively reasonable standard because she lacked experience in federal law. Dkt. #1 at 14. She alleges that had Ms. Shaw had more experience working in the federal criminal system, rather than the state criminal system, her sentence would have been lower. See id. Contrary to Petitioner's allegation, Ms. Shaw had ample experience practicing in federal court at the time she represented Petitioner. Although Ms. Shaw's career has included criminal defense work in state court, she has represented clients and participated in approximately 90 federal criminal cases in which the crimes charged have ranged from drug distribution to human trafficking and identity theft. Dkt. #24-6 ...

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