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Izatt v. United States

United States District Court, D. Idaho

February 1, 2017



          Honorable Edward J. Lodge U.S. District Judge.

         Pending before the Court in the above entitled matter is Petitioner Justin Lyle Izatt's Motion to Vacate or Set Aside Sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (CIV Dkt. 1, CR Dkt. 114). This matter is fully briefed by the parties.

         Having fully reviewed the record, the Court finds that the facts and legal arguments are adequately presented in the briefs and record. Accordingly, in the interest of avoiding further delay, and because the Court conclusively finds that the decisional process would not be significantly aided by oral argument, this matter shall be decided on the record before this Court without oral argument.


         Mr. Izatt was originally indicted on one count of possession with intent to distribute 50 grams or more of a mixture and substance containing methamphetamine. The charge was amended to possession with intent to distribute 50 grams of actual methamphetamine. Defendant retained two attorneys to represent him at trial. The jury found Mr. Izatt guilty on the amended charges (CR Dkt. 63). Because this conviction was Mr. Izatt's third felony conviction for controlled substances, the Court had no discretion at sentencing and Mr. Izatt was sentenced to life imprisonment, a 10 year term of supervised release, and a $100 special assessment.

         Prior to sentencing, Mr. Izatt filed a motion for acquittal which was denied by the Court. CR Dkt. 70. Mr. Izatt filed a direct appeal challenging his life sentence and certain rulings made during the course of the trial. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the District Court. CR Dkts. 93 and 95. The United States Supreme Court denied his Petition for Writ of Certiorari. CR Dkt. 97. Mr. Izatt next filed a motion for a new trial. CR Dkt. 98. This motion was denied. CR Dkt. 103. This ruling was also appealed to the Ninth Circuit. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the District Court's denial of the motion for a new trial. CR Dkts. 118 and 119.

         Now, Mr. Izatt has filed his § 2255 motion alleging ineffective assistance of counsel during the pre-trial phase of his criminal case, during the jury phase, and during the sentencing phase. Mr. Izatt has provided declarations in support of his motion. The Government has responded to the motion and included an affidavit of Mr. Douglas Nelson, one of Mr. Izatt's trial attorneys.


         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, the Court recognizes that a response from the government and a hearing are required “[u]nless the motion and the files and records of the case conclusively show that the prisoner is entitled to no relief....” Furthermore, a hearing must be granted unless the movant's allegations, “when viewed against the record, either fail to state a claim for relief or are ‘so palpably incredible or patently frivolous as to warrant summary dismissal.” United States v. Schaflander, 743 F.2d 714, 717 (9th Cir.); Marrow v. United States, 772 F.2d 525, 526 (9th Cir. 1985). However, a district court may summarily dismiss a Section 2255 motion “[i]f it plainly appears from the face of the motion and any annexed exhibits and the prior proceedings in the case that the movant is not entitled to relief....” Rule 4(b), Rules Governing Section 2255 Proceedings in the United States District Court. Thus in order to withstand summary dismissal of his motion for relief under Section 2255, defendant “must make specific factual allegations which, if true, would entitle him to relief on his claim.” United States v. Keller, 902 F.2d 1391, 1395 (9th Cir. 1990). In the present case, the legal issues presented do not require an evidentiary hearing.


         1. Standard of Review for Ineffective Assistance of Counsel Claim

         The Sixth Amendment guarantees "the right to effective assistance of counsel." McMann v. Richardson, 397 U.S. 759, 771 n. 14 (1970). To establish a constitutional violation based on ineffective assistance of counsel, a petitioner must show both (1) that counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness, and (2) that counsel's deficient performance prejudiced the defense. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 692, 694 (1984).

         Establishing "deficient performance" requires the movant to show that counsel made errors so serious that he was not functioning as the "counsel" guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment. Id. at 687; Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 104 (2011). "Deficient performance" means representation that "fell below an objective standard of reasonableness." Stanley v. Cullen, 633 F.3d 852, 862 (9th Cir. 2011). In evaluating counsel's performance, the court must apply a strong presumption that counsel's representation fell within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance. Strickland, 466 U.S. at 689 (A "court must indulge a strong presumption that counsel's conduct falls within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance; that is, the defendant must overcome the presumption that, under the circumstances, the challenged action might be considered sound trial strategy.").

         Prejudice means that the error actually had an adverse effect on the defense. To demonstrate prejudice, the movant must show that "there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different." Strickland, 466 U.S. at 694. A reasonable probability is a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome. Id. "It is not enough 'to show that the errors had some conceivable effect on the outcome of the proceeding.'" Harrington, 562 U.S. at 104 (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 693). A court need not determine whether counsel's performance was deficient before examining the prejudice suffered by the movant as a result of the alleged deficiencies. Strickland, 466 U.S. at 697. Nor does the court need to address both prongs of the Strickland test if the petitioner's showing is insufficient as to one prong. Id. at 697.

         2. ...

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