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Hill v. United States

United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division

June 10, 2019

LARRY D. HILL, JR., Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent.

          ORDER

          W. EARL BRITT, SENIOR U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the court on the government's motion for summary judgment on petitioner's 28 U.S.C. § 2255 motion, (DE # 99), and several motions petitioner filed pro se, (DE ## 94, 103, 107).

         In 2016, petitioner pled guilty to possession of a prohibited object (a phone) in a prison, and the court sentenced him to two months imprisonment, consecutive to any sentence petitioner was serving. Petitioner did not appeal. He timely filed his § 2255 motion, alleging ineffective assistance of counsel, misconduct of institutional staff impacting the conditions of his confinement, and deficiencies in a prison disciplinary hearing against him. On the government's motion, the court dismissed without prejudice petitioner's claims based on his conditions of confinement and the prison disciplinary process. (DE # 93.) The court allowed the ineffective assistance of counsel claim to proceed. (Id.) The government now moves for summary judgment on this claim.

Summary judgments are appropriate in those cases where there is no genuine dispute as to a material fact and it appears that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. [S]ummary judgments should be granted in those cases where it is perfectly clear that no issue of fact is involved and inquiry into the facts is not desirable to clarify the application of law. Moreover, on summary judgment, any permissible inferences to be drawn from the underlying facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. Where, however, the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, disposition by summary judgment is appropriate.

United States v. Lee, 943 F.2d 366, 368 (4th Cir. 1991) (citations omitted).

         To prevail on an ineffective assistance of counsel claim,

a person must show (1) that his attorney's performance “fell below an objective standard of reasonableness” and (2) that he experienced prejudice as a result, meaning that there exists “a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different.” Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687-88, 694, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed.2d 674 (1984). A different inquiry is necessary with respect to the prejudice prong, however, where a conviction is based upon a guilty plea. In that situation, a person must demonstrate “a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's errors, he would not have pleaded guilty and would have insisted on going to trial.” In discussing “the importance of protecting the finality of convictions obtained through guilty pleas, ” the Supreme Court recently declared that “[s]urmounting Strickland's high bar is never an easy task.”

United States v. Fugit, 703 F.3d 248, 259 (4th Cir. 2012) (most citations omitted).

         In his § 2255 motion, petitioner alleges counsel failed to investigate. (DE # 67, at 4.) Specifically, he claims counsel:

1. refused to question the only witness, (Mem., DE # 75, at 1);
2. refused to visit the scene, (id.);
3. refused to investigate the fact that there was more than one inmate in the housing unit with the same last name as petitioner, (id);
4. failed to investigate the chain of custody of the evidence, (Mem., DE # 72, at 1; Notice, DE # 76, at 1);
5. failed to investigate the incoming calls to the subject phone and to obtain statements from anyone that made those calls, (Mem., DE # 72, at 1; see ...

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