United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fayetteville Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
TIMOTHY L. BROOKS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
before the Court are the Objections to Magistrate Judge's
Report and Recommendation (Doc. 114-1) filed by
Defendant/Petitioner Santosh Ram in this case. On June 22,
2016, Mr. Ram filed a Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct
Sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 and Brief in
Support (Docs. 89, 90). The Government responded on August
26, 2016, (Doc. 94), to which Mr. Ram filed his Reply on
October 31, 2016, (Doc. 106). United States Magistrate Judge
for the Western District of Arkansas James R. Marschewski
issued his Report and Recommendation ("R&R")
denying Mr. Ram's Motion in full on April 24, 2018. (Doc.
108). Mr. Ram subsequently filed his Objections thereto,
requesting dismissal of the R&R and an evidentiary
hearing to present his claims. (Doc. 114-1, pp. 3, 48).
defendant makes specific objections to portions of a
magistrate judge's report and recommendation, the
district court must review the contested findings or
recommendations de novo. See 28 U.S.C. §
636(b)(1). The court may then "accept, reject, or
modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations
made by the magistrate judge." Id. Here, Mr.
Ram has objected to the R&R in its entirety and reasserts
each of the grounds of relief alleged in his Motion to Vacate
and Brief in Support. (Docs. 89, 90, 114-1). As such, the
Court has undertaken a de novo review of
Defendant's objections and rules on each in turn.
asserts 21 separate grounds for relief in his Brief in
Support of his Motion, all of which are reiterated in his
Objections. (Docs. 90, 114-1). The R&R addresses these
claims individually. Many of Mr. Ram's claims are barred
by a finding that his guilty plea was valid; therefore, the
Court will begin its analysis by determining the validity of
Mr. Ram's plea, and then the Court will discuss the
Validity of Plea
contends that his guilty plea was invalid for the following
reasons: (1) his attorney failed to effectively advise him
prior to the entry of his guilty plea, (2) he was coerced
into signing the plea agreement, and (3) he lacked the mental
capacity to enter his change of plea. (Doc. 114-1, pp. 5, 37,
38). The Court has considered the record concerning the facts
and circumstances surrounding Mr. Ram's guilty plea,
including the Unopposed Motion to Determine Competency of
Defendant (Doc. 24), the Order denying said Motion (Doc. 25),
the Motion for Reconsideration of that Order (Doc. 26), the
Plea Agreement (Doc. 31), and the Change of Plea Hearing
transcript (Doc. 70), ofe novo. Upon such
consideration, the Court finds Mr. Ram voluntarily entered
his guilty plea on August 28, 2013, for the reasons explained
reliance Mr. Ram may have had on his attorney's alleged
failure to inform him that pleading guilty would not
guarantee him a certain sentence does not render his plea
involuntary so long as the district court judge informed him
of the maximum possible sentence he faced should he plead
guilty. See United States v. Granados, 168 F.3d 343,
345 (8th Cir. 1999). Therefore, Mr. Ram's accusation that
his attorney made "false promises and assurances"
that he would receive a specific sentence, allegedly
resulting in ineffective assistance of counsel, fails to
prove that his guilty plea was made either involuntarily or
unknowingly. The transcript from Mr. Ram's change of plea
hearing indicates that the district court judge provided him with
information as to the minimum and maximum possible sentences
he would be facing should he enter a plea of guilty, in
addition to discussing the advisory nature of the Sentencing
Guidelines to ensure he understood that he was not being
promised any specific sentence. (Doc. 70, pp. 28, 29, 30).
Thus, Mr. Ram cannot rely on allegations that his attorney
failed to provide this information to him to demonstrate his
plea was unintelligent. See United States v.
Chambliss, 1995 U.S. App. LEXIS 23047 at 2 (8th Cir.
1995). The district court judge also inquired as to whether
Mr. Ram had been threatened or forced to enter his guilty
plea, and Mr. Ram testified that he was voluntarily pleading
guilty. (Doc. 70, p. 12). The Court finds the district court
judge's conversation with Mr. Ram cleared up any concerns
regarding the voluntary and intelligent nature of his guilty
addition, the Court finds that Mr. Ram demonstrated the
requisite mental capacity for entering his plea at the time
of his change of plea hearing. Although his attorney
previously filed a motion seeking to determine Mr. Ram's
competency, at the change of plea hearing, the district court
judge explained his reasoning for denying that motion and
finding Mr. Ram competent to plead guilty. (Doc. 70, pp.
15-23). The facts presented and the discussion occurring at
that hearing show that Mr. Ram understood the charges against
him and was able to consult with both his attorney and the
district court judge with a reasonable degree of rational
understanding. See Wright v. Bowersox, 720 F.3d 979,
985 (8th Cir. 2013) ("[T]he relevant inquiries for
whether [a defendant] was competent to waive his
constitutional rights were whether he had 'sufficient
present ability to consult with his lawyer with a reasonable
degree of rational understanding' and had 'a rational
as well as factual understanding of the proceedings against
him.'" (quoting Godinez v. Moran, 509 U.S.
389, 396 (1993))). Because the Court finds the record
demonstrates Mr. Ram entered his guilty plea both voluntarily
and intelligently, his objection regarding the validity of
his guilty plea is OVERRULED.
Ram's next objection is that his actual innocence demands
that his sentence be set aside. However, Mr. Ram previously
argued this on appeal. See United States v. Ram, 594
Fed.Appx. 317 (8th Cir. 2015). The Eighth Circuit Court of
Appeals denied this argument because it is foreclosed by Mr.
Ram's guilty plea. id. at 317. A claimant cannot
relitigate in a § 2255 proceeding that which has already
been adversely decided on appeal. Woods v. United
States, 567 F.2d 861, 863 (8th Cir. 1978). Because Mr.
Ram's actual innocence claim was previously addressed on
appeal, his objection regarding the same is
Magistrate Judge relied on the factual basis set forth in Mr.
Ram's guilty plea to determine that his claim of
insufficient evidence was without merit. The Court finds this
determination to be accurate, as the factual basis proffered
by the Government in the plea agreement provides ample basis
for Mr. Ram's conviction of Knowing Receipt of Child
Pornography in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 2252(a)(2)
and (b)(1). Because his guilty plea was valid, this objection
Ineffective Assistance of Counsel
majority of Mr. Ram's objections concern his assertion
that he was provided ineffective assistance of counsel. Once
a defendant pleads guilty to a charge against him, he cannot
raise an independent claim alleging a deprivation of his
constitutional rights prior to his entry of that plea.
Tollett v. Henderson, 411 U.S. 258, 267 (1973).
Having pleaded guilty, a defendant may only attack the
voluntary and intelligent character of his plea by
demonstrating his attorney's advice does not satisfy the
standards set forth in McMann v. Richardson, 397
U.S. 759 (1970). Id. According to McMann, a
plea is considered intelligent so long as it is based on
"reasonably competent advice" and is not subject to
attack if an attorney's advice falls within that range of
competence. 397 U.S. at 770. Furthermore, to succeed on a
claim for ineffective assistance of counsel, a defendant must
prove not only that his attorney's performance was
deficient but that he was prejudiced by that deficiency.
Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984).
ultimate focus when determining this issue is the
"fundamental fairness of the proceeding whose result is
being challenged." Id. at 696. In the context
of a guilty plea, a defendant asserting ineffective
assistance of counsel must prove that he would not have
pleaded guilty absent his attorney's errors. United
States v. Prior, 107 F.3d 654, 661 (8th Cir. 1997).
Courts are not required to address the performance prong of
the Strickland test if it is clear a defendant has
failed to prove he was prejudiced by any of his
attorney's alleged deficiencies. See Boysiewick v.
Schriro, 179 F.3d 616, 620 (8th Cir. 1999).
R&R addresses seven categories of objections within the
penumbra of Mr. Ram's ineffective assistance of counsel
claim. First, Mr. Ram claims that his attorney failed to
provide adequate legal advice prior to the entry of his
guilty plea, rendering his plea unintelligent. The Court
finds that Mr. Ram has failed to prove he was prejudiced by
any of these allegations. No evidence exists to suggest that
Mr. Ram would have fared better by going to trial. The
factual basis provided in the plea agreement set forth facts
clearly sufficient to convict Mr. Ram of the charge against
him. As will be discussed below, nothing in the record exists
to suggest Mr. Ram's incriminating statements to law
enforcement or the property seized at his apartment could
have been suppressed. Any confusion Mr. Ram may have had
regarding the possible length of the sentence he faced was
resolved by the discussion at his change of plea hearing,
where the presiding judge informed him of the minimum and
maximum terms of imprisonment he faced upon pleading guilty
at that time. Absent a showing that he had any reason to
forego the plea agreement offered him, Mr. ...