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Pringler v. United States

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Lubbock Division

March 29, 2019

CHANZE LAMOUNT PRINGLER, Movant,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          D. GORDON BRYANT, JR. UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Movant Chanze Lamount Pringler, a federal prisoner, brings this Motion Under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence by a Person in Federal Custody. ECF No. 1. The respondent is the United States of America (Government). On October 5, 2018, the United States District Judge referred the matter to the undersigned magistrate judge for the limited purpose of conducting an evidentiary hearing and filing findings of fact and conclusions of law regarding "Movant's claim that his trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance of counsel with respect to the Government's plea offer." ECF No. 17. The district judge also authorized the magistrate judge to appoint counsel "only for the limited purposes of representing Movant at the evidentiary hearing and, if necessary, filing any objections to the Report and Recommendation." Id. at n.l.

         I. Procedural History

         On June 1, 2011, the United States of America indicted Pringler on three counts. David Martinez filed a notice of appearance as retained counsel for Pringler on June 21, 2011. The Government subsequently filed a superseding indictment on August 10, 2011, charging Pringler with a single count of sex trafficking of a child in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1591(a)(1).

         Pringler elected to proceed to trial, and on August 24, 2011, a jury found Pringler guilty. On December 22, 2011, Senior United States District Judge Sam R. Cummings sentenced Pringler to serve a 405-month prison term followed by ten years of supervised release. Pringler filed a direct appeal; the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed Pringler's sentence and conviction. Thereafter, Pringler filed a § 2255 motion, and on February 5, 2016, he filed an amended motion. See Am. Mot. Under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence by a Person in Federal Custody (ECF No. 4) [hereinafter "Motion"].

         Through his Motion, Pringler alleges that Mr. Martinez provided ineffective assistance of counsel regarding the Government's plea offer. Specifically, Pringler contends that Martinez "did not explain to the movant the law under which the movant was charged," "failed to provide the movant with the proper legal advice that would have allowed the movant to properly evaluate whether he should have accepted the [plea] offer," and "failed to provide the movant with proper advice as to his chances of winning at trial." Motion, at 5. On April 8, 2016, the Government filed its response in opposition to Pringler's Motion. ECF No. 7.

         On May 3, 2016, the court entered an order denying Pringler's Motion and dismissing it with prejudice. ECF Nos. 10, 11. Pringler appealed the dismissal, and on August 13, 2018, the Fifth Circuit "vacate[d] the district court's order denying Pringler's § 2255 motion only as to Pringler's claim that counsel rendered ineffective assistance of counsel . . . with respect to the Government's plea offer." ECF No. 19. Accordingly, on October 5, 2018, the district judge referred this matter to the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge for the limited purpose of conducting an evidentiary hearing and filing findings of fact and conclusions of law regarding Pringler's claim. ECF No. 17.

         In accordance with the order of reference, the magistrate judge appointed counsel for the limited purpose of representing Pringler on his claim that Mr. Martinez rendered ineffective assistance of counsel with respect to the Government's plea offer, and conducted a hearing on January 24, 2019. ECF Nos. 25, 31, 32. Both parties appeared and were represented by counsel. Based upon the testimony at the hearing, a review of court records related to this matter, and applicable law, the undersigned submits the following findings of fact and conclusions of law.

         II. Summary of Testimony

         Pringler, Mr. Martinez, and retired Assistant United States Attorney (AUSA) Steven Sucsy testified at the evidentiary hearing. Pringler stated that Mr. Martinez met with him one time at the Lubbock County Jail to review the Government's plea offer. Pringler claims Mr. Martinez told him the Government was offering a "ten-year deal." In response to the purported offer, Pringler testified that he told Mr. Martinez that after looking at the statute, he had not forced the minor victim into prostitution and he was innocent; therefore, he desired to proceed to trial. Pringler alleges Mr. Martinez told him he thought they had a "good shot" of winning at trial.

         Pringler additionally stated that he did not recall Mr. Martinez showing him the plea paperwork or proposed factual resume during their meeting at the jail. On cross examination, however, Pringler conceded that he did remember reviewing the factual resume. Pringler further alleged that during the meeting, Mr. Martinez did not go over the elements of the offense. Pringler later testified, however, that Mr. Martinez did examine the relevant statute with him, and Pringler acknowledged that he had also reviewed the statute. In addition, Pringler claimed that he was unaware of the federal sentencing guidelines until after trial, when Mr. Martinez allegedly first reviewed the guidelines with him.

         In response to Pringler's testimony concerning the purported plea offer, AUSA Sucsy testified that the actual proffered plea agreement: (1) advised Pringler that he would receive a sentence between ten years and life; (2) informed Pringler the sentence imposed was wholly within the discretion of the district court; and (3) never promised a flat, ten-year deal. AUSA Sucsy stated that he anticipated Pringler would face a sentence between 135 and 168 months, but he did not share that estimate with Mr. Martinez. AUSA Sucsy also noted that when pleading guilty, a defendant must admit to guilt, and a defense attorney that permits his client to plead guilty when the client maintains his innocence would fall below the level of reasonably adequate performance. Ultimately, AUSA Sucsy opined that Pringler did not plead guilty because he "simply didn't want to do the time."

         Pringler's trial counsel, Mr. Martinez, testified that he has practiced primarily criminal law since November 1979, handling a mixture of federal and state cases. Pringler initially retained Mr. Martinez to represent him on state criminal charges, and later, the federal charges that form the basis of the instant claim. Mr. Martinez testified (and provided exhibits in support) that he visited Pringler on July 18, 2011, at the Lubbock County Jail to review the cover letter, plea agreement, and factual resume provided by the Government. Prior to going to the jail, Mr. Martinez stated that he signed the plea agreement and factual resume because he believed the plea offer was in Pringler's best interest and thought Pringler would accept it.

         In his testimony, Mr. Martinez further noted that the factual resume contains the elements of the charge to which Pringler would be pleading guilty, and he reviewed those elements with Pringler. Martinez stated he never advised Pringler that force was an element of the offense, even though Pringler fixated on the issue in maintaining his innocence, and continuously denied he forced the minor victim into prostitution. Mr. Martinez also explained that he never told Pringler the Government was offering a flat, ten-year plea deal. Mr. Martinez stated that in every federal criminal case, he provides his client with a copy of the sentencing table to review the potential sentencing ranges. He further detailed that he informed Pringler of the predicted base offense level, and showed him the corresponding sentencing table. Mr. Martinez could not specifically recall discussing any upward or downward adjustments to the sentencing range, but his notes on a copy of the sentencing table lead him to believe that he did so. Mr. Martinez averred that he did not anticipate any sentencing enhancements would apply in Pringler's case, but explained to Pringler that he could only provide an estimate of his sentencing exposure.

         Mr. Martinez testified that he advised Pringler to accept the plea. Pringler, however, would not agree with or admit to most of the statements in the factual resume (and he continued to deny their veracity on cross-examination at the § 2255 hearing), and would therefore not agree to the plea offer. Because Pringler maintained that he had not forced the minor victim into prostitution, Mr. Martinez proceeded to trial on that defense, at his client's request. Mr. Martinez stated that he never guaranteed Pringler he would prevail at trial.

         III. Fin ...


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