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United States of America v. Willie Smith

December 16, 2010

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
WILLIE SMITH, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Matthew F. Kennelly, District Judge:

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Following a bench trial in May 2008, this Court found Willie Smith guilty of three counts of possession with intent to distribute cocaine and six counts of use of a telephone to facilitate his commission of the possession-with-intent offenses. The Court acquitted Smith of the other charges against him. The Court sentenced Smith to concurrent sentences of eighty-four months imprisonment on the possession-with-intent counts and forty-eight months imprisonment on the telephone counts.

Smith has moved the Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to vacate his conviction and sentence. He alleges that his trial counsel was ineffective. For the reasons stated below, the Court denies Smith's motion.

Background

Smith was one of twenty-eight people indicted in September 2005 for narcotics offenses arising out of the drug trafficking operations of the Four Corner Hustlers street gang on the west side of Chicago. Smith was later charged in a superseding indictment with one count of conspiracy to possess cocaine and crack cocaine with intent to distribute, four counts of use of a telephone to carry out the alleged conspiracy, three counts of possession of cocaine with intent to distribute, and six counts of use of a telephone in facilitating his alleged possession of cocaine with intent to distribute.

Smith waived his right to a jury trial, and a bench trial began before the Court on May 27, 2008. Two of Smith's co-defendants, Anthony Sutton and Marshall Sutton, testified against Smith. The Court found Smith guilty on the three possession-with-intent counts and the six related telephone counts but acquitted him on the remaining counts.

Smith appealed his conviction and sentence. Smith's trial counsel then filed a motion to withdraw, which the Court granted. The court of appeals appointed new attorneys to represent Smith for purposes of his appeal. These attorneys later filed a motion to withdraw based on their inability to identify any non-frivolous grounds for appeal. See Anders v. California, 382 U.S. 738 (1967). In an Anders brief, Smith's attorneys stated that Smith "may have grounds to raise an ineffective assistance of counsel claim" but stressed that "such a claim would be best raised under 28 U.S.C. § 2255." Anders Br. 32.

On August 21, 2009, the court of appeals granted the motion to withdraw and dismissed Smith's appeal. United States v. Smith, 338 Fed. App'x 544 (7th Cir. 2009). The court agreed that Smith's ineffective assistance of counsel argument should be presented during section 2255 proceedings before this Court. Id. at 549-50.

In his section 2255 motion, Smith seeks a new trial or resentencing based on ineffective assistance of counsel. His argument has five bases. First, Smith contends that counsel should have presented evidence of Smith's diminished mental capacity at trial. Second, Smith argues that counsel failed to present expert testimony about the prevalence of fake drugs in the narcotics trafficking business. Third, Smith asserts that counsel failed to object to hearsay testimony offered by the prosecution about Smith's involvement in drug deals. Fourth, Smith contends that counsel should have presented evidence of Smith's mental capacity during the sentencing hearing. Fifth and finally, Smith argues that at the sentencing hearing, counsel failed to challenge the drug quantity calculations and the Court's finding that the drugs were actually cocaine. In a reply brief, Smith revised his request for relief by asking in the alternative for limited discovery and an evidentiary hearing.

Discussion

In determining whether Smith's counsel was unconstitutionally ineffective, the Court applies the principles of Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984). Under Strickland, Smith must make a two-part showing. First, he must demonstrate that his attorney's performance "fell below an objective standard of reasonableness." Id. at 688. In evaluating the evidence on this issue, the Court makes "every effort . . . to eliminate the distorting effects of hindsight" and thus "indulge[s] a strong presumption that counsel's conduct falls within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance." Id. at 689.

Second, Smith "must show that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different." Id. at 694. In other words, Smith must demonstrate "a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome." Id. In determining prejudice, the Court considers the totality of the evidence presented by the parties. Id. at 695. The Court need not "address both components of the inquiry if the defendant makes an insufficient showing on one." Id. at 697.

1. Evidence of mental capacity at trial

First, Smith argues in essence that counsel failed to present a diminished capacity defense at trial based on Smith's low IQ and illiteracy. For this reason, he argues, "the Court's observations [about ...


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