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Hall v. United States

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Jacksonville Division

December 30, 2019

SCOTT ANDERSON HALL, a/k/a Anderson Scott Hall, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent.

          ORDER

          TIMOTHY J. CORRIGAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This case is before the Court on Petitioner Scott Anderson Hall's Motion Under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence (Civ. Doc. 1, § 2255 Motion)[1]and Supporting Memorandum (Civ. Doc. 2, § 2255 Memorandum). Petitioner raises four claims of ineffective assistance of counsel pertaining to sentencing or direct appeal. The United States has responded in opposition. (Civ. Doc. 8, Response). Petitioner did not file a reply. Thus, the matter is ripe for a decision.

         Under Rule 8(a) of the Rules Governing Section 2255 Proceedings, the Court has determined that an evidentiary hearing is not necessary to decide the motion. See Rosin v. United States, 786 F.3d 873, 877 (11th Cir. 2015) (an evidentiary hearing on a § 2255 motion is not required when the petitioner asserts allegations that are affirmatively contradicted by the record or patently frivolous, or if in assuming that the facts he alleges are true, he still would not be entitled to any relief). For the reasons set forth below, Petitioner's § 2255 Motion is due to be denied.

         I. Background

         On June 26, 2013, a federal grand jury returned a 34-count superseding indictment against Petitioner. (Crim. Doc. 34, Superseding Indictment). The charges stemmed from a long-running Ponzi scheme, in which Petitioner convinced dozens of victims to entrust him with their retirement savings by promising a 12% annual return on investment. (Crim. Doc. 62, Plea Agreement at 20-26). In fact, Petitioner used the victims' money to pay personal expenses, purchase commercial property, and buy luxury cars. By the time he was caught, Petitioner had stolen more than $3 million of retirement funds from public school teachers and administrators, nurses, and other victims. Counts One through Eleven of the Superseding Indictment charged Petitioner with mail fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1341 and 2. Counts Twelve through Twenty-Four charged Petitioner with wire fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1343 and 2. Finally, Counts Twenty-Five through Thirty-Four charged Petitioner with money laundering, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1956(a)(1)(A)(i) and 2.

         Pursuant to a written plea agreement, Petitioner pled guilty to two counts of mail fraud (Counts Eight and Eleven), one count of wire fraud (Count Seventeen), and one count of money laundering (Count Twenty-Five). (Crim. Doc. 62). The magistrate judge who presided over the change-of-plea hearing recommended that Petitioner's “plea was both knowledgeable and voluntary, and that the facts that he admitted establish the elements of the charged offense.” (Crim. Doc. 63, Report and Recommendation Concerning Guilty Plea). The Court accepted Petitioner's guilty plea and adjudicated him accordingly. (Crim. Doc. 66, Acceptance of Plea).

         According to the Presentence Investigation Report (PSR), Petitioner's advisory sentencing range under the United States Sentencing Guidelines was 108 to 135 months in prison, based on a total offense level of 31 and a Criminal History Category of I. (Crim. Doc. 118, PSR at ¶ 100). The total offense level included an 18-level enhancement under § 2B1.1(b)(1)(J) because the loss was more than $2.5 million but not more than $7 million ($3, 118, 811.71 to be exact according to the PSR), and a 2-level vulnerable victim enhancement under § 3A1.1(b)(1) because two of the victims were grieving the loss of a spouse when Petitioner defrauded them. (Crim. Doc. 118 at ¶¶ 54, 57).

         Petitioner's sentencing counsel, Charles Truncale, objected to the PSR, contesting in particular the loss amount and the 2-level vulnerable victim enhancement. (Crim. Doc. 118 at 26-34, Addendum to PSR). Mr. Truncale also submitted a sentencing memorandum that advocated for a downward variance based on the sentencing factors in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a). (Crim. Doc. 120, Petitioner's Sentencing Memorandum). Attached to Petitioner's Sentencing Memorandum were the following: an exhibit outlining Petitioner's challenge to the loss amount (Crim. Doc. 120-1), a “Comprehensive Sentencing Mitigation Report” prepared by Mr. Carlos Dawson, a retired United States probation officer (Crim. Doc. 120-2), and eight letters in support of Petitioner (Crim. Doc. 120-3).

         The sentencing hearing occurred over the course of March 30, 2015 (Crim. Doc. 151, Sentencing Transcript Vol. I), and June 12, 2015 (Crim. Doc. 152, Sentencing Transcript Vol. II). As the Court noted, the two most significant issues were the loss amount and whether the vulnerable victim enhancement applied. (Crim. Doc. 151 at 6). The Court heard testimony from several witnesses for the government, including a forensic accountant for the FBI, four of Petitioner's victims, and the FBI agent who investigated the case. The Court also heard statements from several of Petitioner's family members and friends. After hearing arguments about the Guidelines determination, the Court overruled Petitioner's objections to the loss amount and the vulnerable victim enhancement. (Crim. Doc. 152 at 79-83). The Court adopted the PSR's Guidelines calculation and determined that the advisory sentencing range was 108 to 135 months in prison. (Id. at 83). After hearing the parties' arguments about the § 3553(a) factors, the Court sentenced Petitioner to a mid-range term of 120 months in prison (concurrent for each count), followed by three years of supervised release. (Id. at 148); (Crim. Doc. 129, Judgment).

         Petitioner appealed the sentence to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. Petitioner's appellate counsel, Calvin Rivers, ultimately filed a “corrected” Anders[2] brief and a motion to withdraw. United States v. Hall, No. 15- 12842 (11th Cir.), Dkt. Entry of Aug. 15, 2016 (“Corrected Anders Brief”). The Eleventh Circuit granted appellate counsel's motion to withdraw and affirmed Petitioner's sentence, writing:

Our independent review of the entire record reveals that counsel's assessment of the relative merit of the appeal is correct. Because independent examination of the entire record reveals no arguable issue of merit, counsel's motion to withdraw is GRANTED, and Hall's convictions and total sentence are AFFIRMED.

United States v. Hall, 676 Fed.Appx. 909, 910 (11th Cir. 2017).

         Petitioner did not seek certiorari review. Petitioner then timely filed the instant § 2255 Motion, raising four claims of ineffective assistance of counsel pertaining to sentencing and direct appeal.

         II. Discussion

         Under Title 28, United States Code, Section 2255, a person in federal custody may move to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence. Section 2255 permits such collateral challenges on four specific grounds: (1) the imposed sentence was in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States; (2) the court did not have jurisdiction to impose the sentence; (3) the imposed sentence exceeded the maximum authorized by law; or (4) the imposed sentence is otherwise subject to collateral attack. 28 U.S.C §2255(a) (2008). Only jurisdictional claims, constitutional claims, and claims of error that are so fundamental as to cause a complete miscarriage of justice will warrant relief through collateral attack. United States v. Addonizio, 442 U.S. 178, 184-86 (1979). A petitioner's challenge to his sentence based on a Sixth Amendment claim of ineffective assistance of counsel is normally considered on collateral review. United States v. Teague, 953 F.2d 1525, 1534 n. 11 (11th Cir. 1992).

         To succeed on a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, a petitioner must show both (1) that counsel's performance was deficient, and (2) that as a result of counsel's deficient performance, the petitioner suffered prejudice. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984). In determining whether counsel performed deficiently, the Court adheres to the standard of reasonably effective assistance. Weeks v. Jones, 26 F.3d 1030, 1036 (11th Cir. 1994). The petitioner must show, in light of all the circumstances, that counsel's performance fell outside the “wide range of professionally competent assistance.” Id. To show that counsel's deficient performance prejudiced the defendant, the petitioner must show that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's error, the result of the proceeding would have been different. Id. at 1036-37 (citing Strickland, 466 U.S. at 694). A “reasonable probability” is a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome. Strickland, 466 U.S. at 694. In determining whether a petitioner has met the two prongs of deficient performance and prejudice, the Court considers the totality of the evidence. Id. at 695. However, because both prongs are necessary, “there is no reason for a court… to approach the inquiry in the same order or even to address both components of the inquiry if the defendant makes an insufficient showing on one.” Id. at 697; see also Wellington v. Moore, 314 F.3d 1256, 1261 n. 1 (11th Cir. 2002) (“We need not discuss the performance deficiency component of [petitioner's] ineffective assistance claim because failure to satisfy the prejudice component is dispositive.”).

         A. Ground One: Whether sentencing counsel gave ineffective assistance by not calling certain witnesses

         In Ground One, Petitioner claims that Mr. Truncale gave ineffective assistance at sentencing by not calling the “expert witness” who wrote the Sentencing Mitigation Report, Mr. Carlos Dawson. (Civ. Doc. 1 at 4; Civ. Doc. 2 at 16-18). Petitioner claims that the mitigation expert could have “cleared up any confusion about the [mitigation] report” concerning the average sentence for fraud defendants, which purportedly would have supported a lower sentence. (Civ. Doc. 1 at 4). Specifically, Petitioner contends that the mitigation expert “could have cleared up the amount that constitutes a conventional range for the ‘heartland' of sentences imposed” in cases involving similar offenders with similar criminal history categories. (Civ. Doc. 2 at 17). Petitioner also claims that counsel was ineffective for not calling other unnamed witnesses, whom Petitioner claims “were long term clients” of his. (Civ. Doc. 1 at 4). Petitioner claims that such witnesses “could have rebutted the Government's assumption ...


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