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Ledgard v. United States

United States District Court, C.D. California

May 16, 2017




         Presently before the court is Defendant/Petitioner Kevin Brian Ledgard (“Petitioner”)'s Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, o r Correct Sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Having considered the parties' submissions, the court DENIES the Motion and adopts the following Order.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Underlying Conduct

         The court has set forth more fully the underlying offense conduct in its written “Findings of Fact and Conclusion of Law Following Bench Trial.” (See Govt' Opp'n, Ex. A.) In brief, this conviction arose out of Ledgard's actions following the end of his romantic relationship with a former coworker, F.G. From the day the two broke up, Ledgard engaged in a series of egregious acts aimed at F.G. Over the course of approximately a month, Ledgard sent harassing communications to F.G and her family; hacked into F.G.'s bank, email, and Amazon accounts; made unauthorized purchases and sent checks in F.G.'s name; and distributed sexually explicit photos of F.G. to her friends, family, coworkers, the admissions director for a university to which she applied, and a man she had begun dating.

         B. Legal Proceedings

         On September 7, 2010, a federal grand jury returned an 11-count Second Superseding Indictment charging Ledgard with multiple counts of unauthorized access to computers, bank fraud, aggravated identity theft, and felony enhancements. The case proceeded to bench trial on July 17, 2012. During the trial, the government called fourteen witnesses, including F.G. Ledgard did not testify or call any witnesses. The record indicates that defense counsel primarily focused on arguing that the felony enhancements were unjustified as a matter of law and could not be sustained based on the evidence. Specifically, Ledgard‘s counsel filed a motion to dismiss all felony charges for failure of proof, which the parties fully briefed. (Gov't Opp'n, Exs. D, E, F.) On August 31, 2012, the court held a hearing on Ledgard's motion, which also served as closing arguments for the bench trial. (Id., Ex. G.) After extensive argument, the Court granted the motion as to the bank fraud counts-thus acquitting Ledgard on these counts-but denied the motion as to the remaining felony counts. (Id.) Following a bench trial before this Court, Ledgard was convicted of three counts of unauthorized access to the computer of a financial institution in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1030(a)(2)(A), (c)(2)(B)(ii) (Counts One through Three); two counts of unauthorized access to a protected computer in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1030(a)(2)(C), (c)(2)(B)(ii) (Counts Four and Five); and three counts of aggravated identity theft in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1028A(a)(1) (Counts Nine through Eleven). See Legard v. United States, 2:08-cr-00982-DDP (C.D. Cal. Sept. 12, 2012) (Dkt. 198). On December 14, the court sentenced Ledgard to 25 months imprisonment and three years supervised release.

         Ledgard appealed and the Ninth Circuit affirmed the conviction and sentence on August 7, 2017. United States v. Ledgard, 583 F. App'x 654 (9th Cir. 2014). The court of appeals concluded that the evidence was sufficient to meet the elements of the convicted counts. On October 14, 2015, Ledgard timely filed the instant motion to vacate his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, asserting ineffective assistance of counsel by trial counsel and constitutional due process violations.


         A defendant may be entitled to relief under Section 2255 if the sentence imposed: (1) violated the Constitution or the laws of the United States; (2) was given by a court without jurisdiction to do so; (3) exceeded the maximum authorized by law; or (4) is otherwise subject to collateral attack. 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a). If “the motion and the files and the records of the case conclusively show that the prisoner is entitled to no relief, ” a resolution may be reached without an evidentiary hearing. 28 U.S.C. § 2255(b); United States v. Mejia-Mesa, 153 F.3d 925, 931 (9th Cir. 1998) (district court may deny a Section 2255 motion where movant's allegations “are so palpably incredible or patently frivolous as to warrant summary dismissal.” (quotation and citation omitted)). When a petitioner alleges ineffective assistance of counsel, an evidentiary hearing is necessary only if, assuming the petitioner's factual allegations as true, the ineffective assistance of counsel claim could prevail. U.S. v. Blaylock, 20 F.3d 1458, 1465 (9th Cir. 1994).


         A. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

         Ledgard first ground for seeking habeas relief is that his trial counsel failed to provide effective assistance of counsel in violation of his Sixth Amendment rights. Under the Sixth Amendment, all criminal defendants enjoy the right to effective assistance of counsel. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 686-700 (1984). In Strickland, the Supreme Court held that in order to show ineffective assistance of counsel, a defendant must demonstrate (1) that counsel's performance was deficient and fell below an objective standard of reasonableness and (2) the defendant was prejudiced as a result and deprived of a fair trial. Id. at 687. In assessing counsel's performance, courts must presume that counsel's conduct and trial strategy “falls within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance . . . .” Strickland, 466 U.S. at 689.

         In support of his ineffective assistance of counsel (“IAC”) claim, Ledgard identifies a number of occasions where his counsel allegedly rendered deficient performance. Although each of these instances will be discussed in greater detail below, the court notes that an overall issue with Ledgard's IAC claim is its lack of specificity. As the Ninth Circuit has explained, “[a]lthough section 2255 imposes a fairly lenient burden on the petitioner, the petitioner is nonetheless ‘required to allege specific facts which, if true, would entitle him to relief.'” United States v. Rodrigues, 347 F.3d 818, 824 (9th Cir. 2003) (quoting United States v. McMullen, 98 F.3d 1155, 1159 (9th Cir. 1996)). Here, the lack of clarity in Ledgard's petition as to the precise facts that substantiate his IAC claim-for instance, the specific deficiencies of counsel's conduct, what might have been done differently, why that might have resulted in a different outcome-counsel against granting Ledgard's motion. See Shah v. U.S., 878 F.2d 1156, 1161 (9th Cir. 1989) (noting that vague and conclusory allegations of ineffective assistance of counsel in ยง 2255 ...

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