United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
Elizabeth A. Stafford, United States Magistrate Judge
OPINION AND ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO
VACATE SENTENCE [#50]
GERSHWIN A. DRAIN UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE
January 16, 2018, Defendant Ali Naser Muaalla pled guilty to
one count of Conspiracy to Defraud the United States, in
violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371. Dkt. No. 28. Thereafter,
he was sentenced to a twenty-four-month term of imprisonment.
See Dkt. No. 51, pp. 11-13 (Pg. ID 345-47).
Defendant now moves to vacate that sentence pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 2255, asserting his trial counsel was
ineffective by not investigating and presenting, for
mitigation purposes, evidence of his prisoner of war status.
See Dkt. No. 50.
before the Court is Defendant's Motion to Vacate
Judgment. Id. Upon review of the briefs, the Court
finds that the matter can be resolved without a hearing.
See E.D. Mich. LR 7.1(f)(2). For the reasons set
forth below, the Court will DENY the Motion [#50].
U.S.C. § 2255 provides prisoners with a mechanism to
raise collateral attacks on their sentence. See 28
U.S.C. § 2255(a). Unless the prisoner's motion
conclusively shows that they are entitled to no relief, the
court shall notify and serve the United States attorney,
grant a prompt hearing, and determine the issues -- making
findings of fact and conclusions of law. See 28
U.S.C. § 225(b). If the court finds that a judgment was
rendered without jurisdiction, or that the sentence imposed
was not authorized by law or otherwise open to collateral
attack, or that there has been a denial or infringement of
the constitutional rights of the prisoner such as to render
the judgment vulnerable to collateral attack, the court shall
vacate and set the judgment aside and shall discharge the
prisoner or resentence him or grant a new trial or correct
the sentence as may appear appropriate. See id.
asks the Court to set aside and/or resentence him on grounds
of ineffective assistance of counsel. Specifically, Defendant
contends that his trial counsel failed to present the Court
with evidence that he was held as a political prisoner in
Iraq for 4.5 years after he was discovered assisting refugees
as a member of the Iraqi Army. Defendant argues that if
counsel had presented such evidence, this may have altered
the Court's sentencing decision.
establish a claim for ineffective assistance of counsel, a
defendant must show that (1) her attorney's
representation fell below an objective standard of
reasonableness, and (2) there is a reasonable probability
that this deficiency prejudiced the outcome. See Hill v.
Lockhart, 474 U.S. 52, 57-60 (1985); United States
v. Carter, 355 F.3d 920, 924 (6th Cir. 2004); see
also Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 688 (1984)
(“More specific guidelines are not
appropriate.”). “Unless a defendant makes both
showings, it cannot be said that the conviction or [sentence]
resulted from a breakdown in the adversary process that
renders the result unreliable.” Strickland,
466 U.S. at 687. The Sixth Circuit has instructed reviewing
courts to “indulge a strong presumption that
counsel's conduct falls within the wide range of
reasonable professional assistance.” Groseclose v.
Bell, 130 F.3d 1161, 1167 (6th Cir. 1997) (quoting
Strickland, 466 U.S. at 689).
Defendant has failed to satisfy the first prong of the
ineffective assistance of counsel inquiry. Critically, there
is no indication that counsel was aware of the time Defendant
spent as a political prisoner. Indeed, Defendant told his
probation officer that “he completed his [military]
duty without any major issues or disciplinary action.”
See Presentence Investigation Report (Pg. 8).
Because it does not appear that counsel had reason to know of
this information, he could not be expected to further
investigate and/or present this information to the Court. For
that reason, counsel's representation did not fall below
an objective standard of reasonableness.
even if counsel was aware of this information, Defendant has
not demonstrated a reasonable probability that his
proceedings were prejudiced by this omission. Certainly, his
time as a political prisoner in Iraq had no effect on his
sentencing guidelines range, which was thirty-three to
forty-one months. See Dkt. No. 51, p. 11 (Pg. ID
345). In fact, Defendant was sentenced to a term of
imprisonment well below the bottom end of that range.
Furthermore, Defendant's Iraqi incarceration occurred
over thirty years ago. See Dkt. No. 50, p. 8 (Pg. ID
325). Since then, he has become a United State citizen and
has resided in this country for over twenty years.
See Presentence Investigation Report (Pg. 7). It is
therefore speculative, at best, that presenting the Court
with evidence of such a remote event would have resulted in a
more lenient sentence than what he received. See
Strickland, 466 U.S. 668, 693 (“It is not enough
for the defendant to show that the errors had some
conceivable effect on the outcome of the proceeding.”).
Accordingly, Defendant has failed to establish a meritorious
ineffective assistance of counsel claim.
reasons stated herein, the Court will DENY Defendant's
Motion to Vacate Sentence [#50]. The Court will also DENY
Defendant a Certificate of Appealability because no
reasonable jurist could question or disagree with the above
findings and conclusions. See Rule 11 of Rules
Governing Section 2254 and 2255 Cases (“The district
court must issue or deny a certificate of appealability when
it enters a final order adverse to the applicant.”); 28
U.S.C. § 2253(c)(2) (A certificate of appealability may
be issued “only if the applicant has made a substantial
showing of the denial of a constitutional right.”);
Slack v. McDaniel, 529 U.S. 473, 484 (2000) (A
petitioner must show “that reasonable jurists could