United States District Court, D. Vermont
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
(Docs. 275, 276)
JOHN M. CONROY, Magistrate Judge.
Frank Santaw, proceeding pro se, has moved pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to vacate, set aside, or correct a sentence imposed upon him in the United States District Court for the District of Vermont. (Doc. 275.) Santaw was convicted following a plea of guilty to one count of engaging in a conspiracy to knowingly and intentionally manufacture five or more grams of methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 846 and 841(b)(1)(B). He was sentenced by United States District Judge William K. Sessions III to a term of imprisonment of 78 months, to be followed by a four-year term of supervised release.
Santaw contends that both prior to his guilty plea and at sentencing he was denied his right to effective assistance of counsel, in violation of the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution. (Doc. 275.) The government opposes Santaw's motion. In a separate motion, Santaw requests that the Court appoint him counsel. (Doc. 276.)
For the reasons stated below, I conclude that Santaw has failed to establish that he was denied his right to effective assistance of counsel, and thus recommend that Santaw's § 2255 motion be DENIED.
I. Initial Proceedings
On August 12, 2011, a criminal complaint was filed in this Court in which it was alleged that Santaw had knowingly and intentionally conspired with others to distribute methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846. (Doc. 1.) At Santaw's initial appearance, Attorney Richard Bothfeld was appointed to represent Santaw pursuant to the Criminal Justice Act, 18 U.S.C. § 3006A. Santaw was ordered detained pending trial. Attorney Bothfeld sought review of that detention order, arguing that conditions of release could be set that would assure Santaw's continued appearance and the safety of the community. (Doc. 45.) Following a hearing, Judge Sessions denied the motion for release. (Doc. 60.)
On April 5, 2012, Santaw and 12 other individuals were indicted by the federal grand jury. Santaw was charged in the Second Superseding Indictment with two counts of conspiracy to manufacture greater than five grams of methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 846, 841(a)(1), and 841(b)(1). (Doc. 46.) The offense conduct involved the purchase and acquisition of pseudoephedrine from local and out-of-state pharmacies, and the clandestine manufacture of methamphetamine using that pseudoephedrine. Santaw's conduct included multiple purchases of pseudoephedrine and the production of methamphetamine on several occasions in and around the small rural community of Island Pond, Vermont.
III. Plea Agreement
On June 15, 2012, a Plea Agreement was filed whereby Santaw agreed to plead guilty to Count Two of the Second Superseding Indictment, which charged him with engaging in a conspiracy to manufacture five or more grams of methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 846, 841(a)(1), and 841(b)(1)(B). (Doc. 108.) In the Plea Agreement, Santaw acknowledged an understanding that by his plea he faced a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment of five years and a maximum term of 40 years. ( Id. at 1.) In exchange for his guilty plea, the government agreed to recommend that Santaw be sentenced to a term of imprisonment at the low end of the applicable sentencing guideline range if the final offense level was determined to be 29 or above. ( Id. at 4.) In addition, the government agreed to recommend that Santaw receive a three-level reduction for acceptance of responsibility under the Sentencing Guidelines ("Guidelines"). ( Id. ) Santaw stated in the Agreement that he was satisfied with the advice and representation he had received from Attorney Bothfeld, that he had had a full opportunity to consult with Bothfeld, and that no threats or promises had been made to Santaw beyond the provisions of the Plea Agreement. ( Id. at 6.)
On July 2, 2012, Santaw appeared in the district court to enter his plea pursuant to Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. At that hearing, Judge Sessions engaged in the complete colloquy required by Rule 11. (Doc. 278.) Santaw confirmed that he had had a full opportunity to consult with his attorney prior to entering into the plea and that he was satisfied with the representation provided by Attorney Bothfeld. ( Id. at 6.) Judge Sessions ascertained that Santaw understood he was pleading guilty to an offense that carried a five-year mandatory minimum term of imprisonment. Judge Sessions reviewed the Plea Agreement with Santaw in detail and explained the constitutional rights Santaw was waiving by his plea of guilty. Santaw acknowledged that no promises or representations had been made to induce him to plead guilty. ( Id. at 12.) Judge Sessions then requested from the prosecutor a description of the factual basis for the plea. ( Id. at 14.) Thereafter, Santaw acknowledged that the prosecutor's description of the offense conduct was accurate. ( Id. at 16.) After conducting this inquiry, Judge Sessions concluded that there was a factual basis for the plea, and that it was made competently and voluntarily, free from any undue influence. ( Id. at 17-18.) Judge Sessions further concluded that Santaw entered into the plea with a full understanding of the charges against him and the consequences thereof. ( Id. at 18.) Accordingly, the plea was accepted by the Court.
In September 2012, a Presentence Investigation Report ("PSR") was prepared by the United States Probation Office. The PSR concluded that Santaw faced an imprisonment range under the Guidelines of 100 to 125 months based on an offense level of 27 and a criminal history category of IV. This offense-level calculation was based, in part, on a determination in the PSR that the conspiracy involved the manufacture of between 35 to 50 grams of methamphetamine, yielding an offense level of 30. No specific offense characteristics applied,  and Santaw was accorded the three-level reduction in the offense-level calculation for his manifestation of acceptance of responsibility pursuant to USSG §3E1.1, yielding a final offense level of 27.
Prior to sentencing, Attorney Bothfeld filed a Sentencing Memorandum in which he urged the Court to depart from the sentencing guideline range of 100 to 125 months, or alternatively, to impose a non-guideline sentence consistent with the factors set forth in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a). (Doc. 189.) Bothfeld argued that Santaw's post-offense rehabilitation and extraordinary family circumstances warranted a downward departure from the Guidelines. In the Sentencing Memorandum, relying on the same arguments he advanced in connection with his request for a downward departure, Bothfeld contended that a sentence of 60 months was appropriate in light of the statutory sentencing factors set forth at 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a). ( Id. at 4.) Thus, the Sentencing Memorandum sought a downward departure or an adjusted sentence of 60 months, the mandatory minimum term of imprisonment required by Santaw's plea. ( Id. )
A sentencing hearing was held on November 5, 2012. (Doc. 279.) Attorney Bothfeld and Santaw each stated that they had read and reviewed the PSR and found no factual errors. They further stated that there were no objections to the PSR's conclusion that Santaw faced a sentencing guideline range of 100 to 125 months. Judge Sessions noted that Attorney Bothfeld had filed a motion for a downward departure based on a claim of extraordinary family circumstances and post-offense rehabilitation. Prior to hearing allocution of counsel, Judge Sessions heard statements from Santaw's brother, Raymond Santaw, and Amanda White, the mother of Santaw's children. Both attested to Santaw's attributes as a caring parent. ( Id. at 4-6.)
During the hearing, Attorney Bothfeld argued vigorously on behalf of Santaw, seeking a sentence that was either a departure from the applicable sentencing guideline range or a non-guideline sentence. Bothfeld contended that Santaw's addiction to methamphetamine became all-consuming and that his participation in the conspiracy was driven by Santaw's addiction, and not his desire to profit from the conspiracy. Highlighting Santaw's extensive post-arrest statement to investigators as evidence of Santaw's efforts to bring about positive change, Bothfeld argued that Santaw's arrest was a turning point which caused a significant and positive life transformation in his client. Bothfeld highlighted Santaw's participation in an in-house drug counseling program while incarcerated as further evidence of Santaw's commitment to rehabilitation and desire for change. Finally, Bothfeld noted Santaw's vocational skills as a mechanic, his strong family support, and his continued willingness to participate in drug treatment, arguing that these factors served as additional support for a departure from the applicable sentencing guideline range or a non-guideline sentence. ( Id. at 12-14.) The government opposed the variation or departure sought by Santaw.
Judge Sessions concluded that a departure or variance from the sentencing guideline range was, in fact, warranted. Acknowledging the seriousness of the conspiracy, including the devastating effect that methamphetamine abuse can have on a small rural community like Island Pond, Judge Sessions nonetheless elected to impose a non-guideline sentence, or alternatively, to depart three levels, to a sentencing range of 77 to 96 months. Endorsing the arguments advanced by Attorney Bothfeld as factors that warranted a sentence less than that called for by the advisory Guidelines, Judge Sessions imposed a sentence of 78 months, to be followed by a four-year term of supervised release. (Doc. 279 at 36.) The factors included Santaw's full statement to authorities at the time of his arrest, his ...