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United States v. Meda

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

March 15, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff-Respondent,
VISHNU PRADEEP MEDA, Defendant-Petitioner. Civil No. 16-12869


          Denise Page Hood, United States District Court Chief Judge

         I. BACKGROUND

         On April 2, 2013, a jury found Defendant Vishnu Pradeep Meda (“Meda”) guilty on one count of Conspiracy to Commit Health Care Fraud, two counts of Health Care Fraud, and two counts of False Statements Relating to Health Care Matters. (Doc # 91) The jury found Meda not guilty on one count of Health Care Fraud and one count of False Statements Relating to Health Care Matters. Id. Meda was sentenced to a term of 46 months of imprisonment, followed by a term of 3 years of supervised release, and $840,550.42 in restitution. (Doc # 130; Doc # 180) Meda filed a Notice of Appeal on November 22, 2013. (Doc # 123) On December 23, 2015, the Sixth Circuit issued an Opinion affirming Meda’s conviction and sentence. (Doc # 192) The Sixth Circuit issued a Mandate on February 5, 2016. (Doc # 194) Meda appealed to the Supreme Court, filing a petition for a writ of certiorari on March 7, 2016. (Doc # 195) The Supreme Court denied Meda’s petition on April 4, 2016. (Doc # 196) On August 4, 2016, Meda filed the instant Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 on the basis of ineffective assistance of counsel during voir dire. (Doc # 197) The Government filed a Response on September 26, 2016. (Doc # 202) Meda filed a Reply on October 14, 2016. (Doc # 203)

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. Standard of Review

         Section 2255 authorizes a federal prisoner to move the district court to vacate a sentence. 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a). Motions brought under Section 2255 are subject to a one-year limitations period established by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, generally running from “the date on which the judgment of conviction becomes final.” 28 U.S.C. § 2253(f)(1); Dunlap v. United States, 250 F.3d 1001, 1004-05 (6th Cir. 2001). As an initial matter, the Court notes that Meda’ Motion was timely filed within the limitations period.

         Under the Sixth Amendment, a defendant has a right to “have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.” U.S. Const. Amend. VI. A defendant has a right to “reasonably effective assistance of counsel.” Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984). In Strickland, the Supreme Court articulated a two-prong test to show ineffective assistance of counsel:

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 showing that counsel’s errors were so serious as to deprive the defendant of a fair trial, a trial whose result is reliable. Unless a defendant makes both showings, it cannot be said that the conviction . . . resulted from a breakdown of the adversary process that renders the result unreliable.

Id. “There is a strong presumption that legal counsel is competent. United States v. Osterbrock, 891 F.2d 1216, 1220 (6th Cir. 1989). In addition, a “reviewing court must give a highly deferential scrutiny to counsel’s performance.” Ward v. United States, 995 F.2d 1317, 1321 (6th Cir. 1993). “The reasonableness of counsel’s performance is to be evaluated from counsel’s perspective at the time of the alleged error and in light of all the circumstances.” Kimmelman v. Morrison, 477 U.S. 365, 384 (1986). “The defendant must show that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel’s unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different. A reasonable probability is a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome.” Strickland, 466 U.S. at 694. The defendant bears the burden of showing that counsel was so deficient and that prejudice resulted from counsel’s errors. Id. at 686-87.

         B. Whether Defense Counsel Provided Ineffective Assistance During Voir Dire

         Meda argues that Defense Counsel was ineffective during voir dire because he failed to ask prospective jurors whether they or their family members or close friends were participants in the Government Health Care Programs, Medicaid, Medicare, or Blue Cross and Blue Shield Health Care Provider Insurance. Meda argues that Defense Counsel failed to reveal any personal bias or prejudice the prospective jurors might have had against Meda for being accused of defrauding the health care programs they may have had a financial interest in. Meda asserts that at least two jurors were biased and prejudiced against him “based on their actions unnoticed by the trial judge.” The Government responds that Meda’s claim is baseless because the Court and the Government had already asked prospective jurors about their participation in Medicare and feelings on Medicare during voir dire. The Government notes that Medicare was the only entity identified in the Indictment and Superseding Indictment (which do not identify Government Health Care Programs, Medicaid, or Blue Cross and Blue Shield). The Government argues that Meda was not prejudiced by any failure to uncover information regarding bias against Meda for defrauding Medicare. The Government notes that Defense Counsel as well as counsel for Meda’s co-defendants struck various potential jurors who were retirees, beneficiaries of Medicare, or had other Medicare experience. The Government further argues that Meda fails to allege any actual bias on the part of any specific juror.

         The Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments guarantee a criminal defendant the right to an impartial and unbiased jury. Holder v. Palmer, 588 F.3d 328, 338 (6th Cir. 2009). “Among the most essential responsibilities of defense counsel is to protect his client’s constitutional right to a fair and impartial jury using voir dire to identify and ferret out jurors who are biased against the defense.” Id. (internal quotations and citation omitted). “Counsel is also accorded particular deference when conducting voir dire. An attorney’s actions during voir dire are considered to be matters of trial strategy.” Hughes v. United States, 258 F.3d 453, 457 (6th Cir. 2001). “Few decisions at trial are as subjective or prone to individual attorney strategy as juror voir dire, where decisions are often made on the basis of intangible factors.” Holder, 588 F.3d at 342. To establish ineffective assistance of counsel, the defendant must overcome the presumption that, under the circumstances, the challenged action might be considered sound trial strategy. Strickland, 466 U.S. at 689. “A strategic decision cannot be the basis for a claim of ineffective assistance unless counsel’s decision is shown to be so ill-chosen that it permeates the entire trial with obvious unfairness.” Hughes, 258 F.3d at 457.

         To maintain a claim that a biased juror prejudiced him, a defendant must show that the juror was actually biased against him and that a fair trial was impossible. Hughes, 258 F.3d at 458; Holder, 588 F.3d at 339. Even a juror’s express doubt as to his own impartiality on voir dire does not necessarily entail a finding of actual bias. Holder, 588 F.3d at 339. The standard for juror impartiality as explained by the Supreme Court is as follows.

To hold that the mere existence of any preconceived notion as to the guilt or innocence of an accused, without more, is sufficient to rebut the presumption of a prospective juror’s impartiality would be to establish an impossible standard. It is sufficient if the juror can lay aside his ...

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