February 28, 2018
from the United States District Court for the Northern
District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 15-CV-3078 -
James B. Zagel, Judge.
Manion, Sykes, and Hamilton, Circuit Judges.
Hamilton, Circuit Judge.
found Isaiah Hicks guilty of multiple drug offenses. He was
sentenced to 360 months in prison. After we upheld his
convictions and sentence on direct appeal, he filed a pro se
motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 claiming that that he had
received ineffective assistance of counsel. Hicks asserted
that his attorney failed to explain to him the breadth of
conspiracy law, understated the evidence against him, and
failed to confer with him about pleading guilty. Going to
trial cost him a potential reduction in his offense level at
sentencing, Hicks claimed, which would have lowered his
recommended guideline range and ultimate sentence. The
district court denied the § 2255 motion without a
hearing. We affirm. Hicks's argument that his
attorney's performance prejudiced him is too speculative
to require an evidentiary hearing.
Factual and Procedural Background
led an organization that processed, packaged, and sold drugs
on Chicago's south side. United States v. Long,
748 F.3d 322, 325 (7th Cir. 2014). A jury found him and four
co-defendants guilty of, among other offenses, conspiracy
with intent to distribute over 50 grams of crack cocaine. See
21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(A). Hicks's presentence
investigation report put his offense level at 46,
corresponding to a guideline sentence of life imprisonment.
An offense level of 43 or higher results in a guideline
recommendation of life imprisonment, even for defendants in
criminal history category I. U.S.S.G. Ch. 5, pt. A. An
offense level of 42 would have produced a range of 360 months
to life for Hicks. At Hicks's sentencing hearing, the
government requested a sentence of at least 30 years.
Hicks's attorney argued for 20.
district judge observed at sentencing that "the proper .
. . offense level in this case probably is 45, but, of course
the table stops at 43 and I thought it was immaterial to
decide" the exact offense level. The judge noted that
the "basic question" was whether to impose life
imprisonment. The judge said that the recommended life
sentence for Hicks would be fair given the large quantity of
drugs at issue and Hicks's leadership role in the
drug-distribution organization. But the judge decided to
impose a below-guideline sentence of 360 months because he
thought that Hicks was capable of reform.
his unsuccessful direct appeal, Hicks moved under 28 U.S.C.
§ 2255 to vacate his sentence. In his motion and
accompanying affidavit, Hicks asserted that his lawyer was
ineffective because he did not explain federal conspiracy law
to him and did not confer with him about the advantages of
pleading guilty versus going to trial. Hicks further claimed
in his reply brief that his lawyer had advised him that
"there was a strong chance at walking." If the
attorney had adequately explained Hicks's exposure from
the conspiracy charge and the benefits of pleading guilty,
Hicks swore, he would have pleaded guilty.
response, the government argued that Hicks had failed to show
that his attorney's actions prejudiced him because the
§ 2255 motion was not supported by evidence showing that
the prosecutor had offered Hicks a plea agreement. The
district judge agreed with the government and denied
Hicks's motion without an evidentiary hearing. The judge
reasoned that a guilty plea offered without any agreement
would have had "no value" to Hicks. The scenario
Hicks proposed-that his sentence would have been shorter if
he had received an offense-level reduction for acceptance of
responsibility- "would not have reduced the guideline
range [below] 360 months to life."
granted Hicks a certificate of appealability under 28 U.S.C.
§ 2253(c)(2) on the issue whether he had been denied
effective assistance of counsel if, as he says, his lawyer
failed to inform him about the benefits of pleading guilty
without a plea agreement.
appeal, Hicks argues that he was entitled to an evidentiary
hearing on whether his lawyer was ineffective. A hearing is
required unless the record conclusively shows that the movant
is not entitled to relief. 28 U.S.C. § 2255(b);
Sawyer v. United States, 874 F.3d 276, 278 (7th Cir.
2017). We review the denial of an evidentiary hearing for
abuse of discretion, Galbraith v. United States, 313
F.3d 1001, 1009 (7th Cir. 2002), so the issue is whether the
district court abused its discretion by finding
"conclusively" that Hicks could not establish
ineffective assistance of counsel.
demonstrate ineffective assistance of counsel, Hicks must
show that his attorney's performance was objectively
deficient and that the deficient representation caused him
prejudice. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668,
687 (1984); Galbraith, 313 F.3d at 1008. Because
"a court need not determine whether counsel's
performance was deficient before examining the prejudice
suffered by the defendant as a result of the alleged
deficiencies, " Strickland, 466 ...