KEARSE, Circuit Judge:
This appeal returns to us from the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, Paul A. Crotty, Judge, following an evidentiary hearing and findings on a Jacobson remand from this Court, see United States v. Jacobson, 15 F.3d 19, 22 (2d Cir.1994), with respect to the district court's denial of petitioner Patrick Bennett's motion pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to vacate his convictions— following two trials—for securities fraud, bank fraud, and money laundering on the ground that he received ineffective assistance of counsel. In support of that claim, Bennett alleged that there were numerous defects in counsel's performance; he was granted a certificate of appealability to seek review with respect to two such allegations, to wit, (1) that his attorneys overrode his desire to testify at his second trial, and (2) that counsel interfered with his right to testify by failing to object to jury instructions on intent and good faith ("mens rea" instructions). The district court, following its evidentiary hearing on remand with respect to those two issues, found that counsel had advised Bennett of his absolute right to testify and to decide for himself whether or not to testify, and that Bennett had accepted, without complaint, their advice that he not testify; the court found Bennett's testimony to the contrary not credible. The court also found that the unchallenged mens rea instructions caused Bennett no prejudice. On this reinstated appeal, Bennett contends principally that the district court erred in its credibility assessments and that this Court should grant him a new trial on the ground that his attorneys (a) failed to inform him that he had the rights to testify and to decide whether or not to testify at his second trial, (b) overrode his desire to testify at that trial, or (c) failed to protect his right to testify because they failed to object to the mens rea instructions.
The proceedings leading to this appeal— beginning with a 106-count indictment and including two trials (before different judges) resulting in Bennett's conviction on a total of 49 counts, a § 2255 motion (and a supplement thereto) before a third judge, three appeals, and two remands— are summarized below.
A. Bennett's Convictions and Direct Appeals
Bennett was the chief financial officer of a family business called Bennett Financial Group ("BFG"). The crimes of which he was convicted are described generally in United States v. Bennett, No. 00-1330 (2d Cir. May 31, 2001) ("Bennett I") (summary order), and United States v. Bennett, 252 F.3d 559 (2d Cir.2001) ("Bennett II"), cert. denied, 535 U.S. 932, 122 S.Ct. 1307, 152 L.Ed.2d 217 (2002).
Bennett II, 252 F.3d at 560-61.
At his first trial, which ended in March 1999, Bennett testified that in connection with an investigation into BFG by the Securities and Exchange Commission ("SEC") he, inter alia, gave the SEC sworn testimony that was false, submitted documents that he had fabricated or backdated, and instructed others to give false statements and fictitious documents. At that trial, Bennett was convicted on one count of obstruction of justice, two counts of conspiracy to obstruct justice and commit perjury, and four counts of perjury, see generally id. at 561; Bennett I at 2. The jury was not able to reach verdicts on other counts, and a second trial on those counts was held in May-June 1999. At the second trial—at which Bennett did not testify—the jury, although unable to reach verdicts on certain mail fraud and securities fraud counts, found Bennett guilty on two counts of securities fraud, five counts of bank fraud, five counts of engaging in monetary transactions with criminally derived property, and 30 counts of money laundering, see generally Bennett II, 252 F.3d at 561; Bennett I at 2. Following the second trial, Bennett was sentenced principally to 30 years' imprisonment and was ordered to forfeit $109,088,889.11.
In Bennett I, we affirmed Bennett's convictions, albeit not his sentence. We rejected all of Bennett's claims of trial error, including, as discussed in greater detail in Part II.B below, his contention that he was entitled to a new trial on the ground that the court at his second trial gave the jury
Simultaneously with our summary order in Bennett I, we filed a published opinion vacating Bennett's sentence and remanding to the district court for resentencing, ruling that the trial judge had departed upward from the Guidelines-recommended imprisonment range on an impermissible basis. See Bennett II, 252 F.3d at 564-65. On remand, the court resentenced Bennett, imposing the same nonincarceratory penalties but imposing a prison term of 22 years rather than 30. This Court affirmed the new sentence. See United States v. Bennett, No. 02-1379, 2003 U.S.App. LEXIS 19394 (2d Cir. Sept. 18, 2003) ("Bennett III") (summary order), cert. denied, 540 U.S. 1134, 124 S.Ct. 1112, 157 L.Ed.2d 940 (2004).
B. Bennett's § 2255 Motion Claiming Ineffective Assistance of Counsel
At his first trial, Bennett had been represented by David Levitt and Mark Gombiner, attorneys from the Federal Defender Division of the Legal Aid Society ("Legal Aid"); at his second trial, he was represented by Gombiner and Legal Aid attorney Ian Yankwitt. In 2003, represented by new counsel, Bennett filed a motion pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (which was supplemented in 2004 to add a claim that is not pertinent to this appeal), seeking to vacate his sentence and conviction on the principal ground that he had received ineffective assistance of counsel at his second trial.
In support of his ineffective-assistance-of-counsel (or "IAC") claim, Bennett specified 19 instances in which he claimed his attorneys' performance had been deficient. Items labeled Errors 1-11 alleged "errors and omissions relating to the jury instructions"; Errors 4-5 asserted that counsel failed to object to mens rea instructions that did not inform the jury that in order to find Bennett guilty on the bank fraud counts it must find an intent to harm the banks, and failed to object to the wording of an instruction on good faith as a defense. Items labeled Errors 12-19 alleged "errors and omissions relating to trial conduct," including alleged failures to object to the indictment, to government evidence, or to government conduct, and failures to recognize and present effective defenses. Number 17 asserted as follows:
On the second day of trial, prior to any evidence being submitted against Movant, a discussion took place at a social luncheon between the district court, then U.S. Attorney for Southern District of New York, Mary Jo White, and head of Legal Aid Society, Leonard Joy concerning Movant's case. Based on the version of this discussion relayed to Movant by Mr. Joy, Movant became very upset and expressed his immediate concern to Mr. Joy and Mr. Gombiner, that Movant felt the district court was predisposed of his guilt. Neither Mr. Joy, Mr. Gombiner, nor anyone at Legal Aid Society, advised Movant, after expressing these concerns, of his legal right to immediately put this incident on the record to seek clarification from the district court; and, or ask for recusal. Movant's "fear" of the district court's predisposition of his guilt, became a primary reason Movant did not testify at the second trial. See Bennett affidavit. Ultimately, a recusal request was filed months after trial, for the balance of the proceedings, and the district court put on the record, January 28, 2000 hearing, pages 1-8, the contents of the
(Bennett § 2255 Motion, Attachment A at 22-23 (emphasis added).)
The "Bennett affidavit" referred to in "Error 17" stated, inter alia, that Legal Aid attorney Joy told Bennett and Gombiner that at the luncheon in question, Judge John Martin, who was presiding over Bennett's second trial, suggested to Joy and the United States Attorney that Bennett's case should be resolved by plea of guilty and that a 10-year sentence would be appropriate (see Affidavit of Patrick R. Bennett dated March 6, 2003 ("First Bennett Aff." or "First Affidavit"), ¶¶ 61-64). Bennett stated that "[b]ased on those events in paragraphs 61-64, I believed at the time that Judge Martin had a predisposition of my guilt. This haunted me throughout trial and greatly affected my decision not to testify at the second trial." (Id. ¶ 65; see also id. ¶ 70 ("my fear ... of the Judge's pre-disposition of my guilt ... weighed heavily in my decision not to testify at the second trial").)
In a detailed Memorandum Decision and Order dated March 22, 2006, Judge Crotty denied Bennett's § 2255 motion. See Bennett v. United States, No. 03 Civ. 1852(PAC), 2006 WL 738162 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 22, 2006) ("Bennett IV"). Rejecting Bennett's claim in Error 17 "that trial counsel interfered with his right to testify by leading him to believe that the Court was predisposed to believe he was guilty and by failing to devote time to prepare him to testify," the court noted that "Bennett does not deny that he was aware of his right to testify" or claim that counsel advised him that he could not testify. Bennett IV at *14. The court found that counsel had—competently—recommended that he not testify:
Bennett IV at *14. As to Bennett's contention with regard to the trial court's instructions on mens rea, the district court noted that those instructions had been
C. Bennett's Appeal from the Denial of His § 2255 Motion
The district court declined to grant Bennett a certificate of appealability (or "COA") to appeal its denial of his § 2255 motion. See Bennett IV at *16. Bennett thereafter applied to this Court for a COA with respect to 11 of the 19 IAC issues raised in his § 2255 motion. This Court, in an order dated January 12, 2007, granted a certificate limited to the two issues that Bennett had described as Errors 17 and 4-5, to wit,
Following briefing and argument of the two certificated issues, this Court ordered a Jacobson remand to permit the district court to conduct an evidentiary hearing, including receiving testimony from Bennett's trial counsel, and to make findings with respect to those issues. See Bennett v. United States, 301 Fed.Appx. 31 (2d Cir.2008) ("Bennett V"). We stated:
Bennett V, 301 Fed.Appx. at 32. Our order provided that, following those proceedings and findings, the appeal could be restored to this Court.
D. The Evidentiary Hearing on Remand
Prior to and during the hearing on remand, Bennett attempted to expand the proceedings beyond the two issues as to which this Court had granted the certificate of appealability—and indeed beyond the 11 issues as to which he had requested us to grant a COA and even beyond the 19 IAC issues raised in his § 2255 motion. See generally Bennett v. United States, No. 03 Civ. 1852(PAC), 97 cr. 639-1(PAC), 2009 WL 3614613, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 3, 2009) ("Bennett VI"); id. at *1 n. 2. For example, shortly after entry of our order in Bennett V, Bennett filed a supplemental affidavit alleging, for the first time, that
(Affidavit of Patrick R. Bennett dated December 18, 2008 ("Second Bennett Aff." or "Second Affidavit"), ¶ 3.) In May 2009, he moved to amend his § 2255 motion to assert, inter alia, this failure to-advise claim, stating as follows:
(Petitioner's Memorandum of Law in Support of His Motion Pursuant to Rule 15 of the Federal Rule [sic] of Civil Procedure To Amend His Habeas Corpus Petition dated May 8, 2009, at 5.) Bennett argued that the failure to advise him of his right to decide whether or not to testify both constituted an independent ground for relief and supported his claim that counsel's overall performance was ineffective. (See id. at 5-6.)
The district court denied Bennett's motion to amend his § 2255 motion—although it allowed evidence on, and eventually addressed, the new failure-to-advise claim as part of the certificated issue as to whether Bennett's desire to exercise his right to testify had been overridden. The court held a two-day hearing on June 8-9, 2009, at which it excluded most of the evidence proffered by Bennett that was not relevant to the two certificated issues. See generally Bennett VI at *2 & n. 3. The principal witnesses at the hearing were Gombiner, Yankwitt, and Bennett.
1. The Hearing Testimony of Gombiner
Gombiner, a trial attorney with some two decades of experience by the late 1990s, testified that he was one of the Legal Aid attorneys representing Bennett in his criminal case from September or October 1998 through late June 1999. (Hearing Transcript ("Tr."), at 13-14, 17.) Gombiner testified that, while he did not have a specific recollection of advising Bennett of his right to decide whether or not to testify at the second trial, it was Gombiner's general practice, in any criminal case that might go to trial, "always [to] discuss with the client the fact that he has the right to testify," the "absolute right to testify." (Tr. 16.) Gombiner stated that he would often advise against the defendant's deciding to testify and would explain his reasons; "but I always tell them that they have the right to testify." (Id.)
(Id. at 17 (emphases added).)
Gombiner testified that he might not have such a conversation in a case in which it was clear that there was going to be a plea rather than a trial; "[b]ut, if we are preparing for a trial, we have it well before the trial starts because you need to determine before the trial begins, you at least have to have a sense as to whether or not you are going to put your client on the stand because that's going to dictate much of your other strategy." (Id. at 16.) Gombiner testified that before Bennett's second trial (see id. at 33), "I know we discussed
Gombiner doubted that he had had that discussion with Bennett with regard to the first trial because, when Gombiner joined Bennett's defense team, preparation for the first trial was underway and it had already been determined that Bennett would testify at that trial. (See Tr. 22-23, 49-50.) After the first trial, at which Bennett was convicted of the perjury and obstruction offenses described above, Levitt, who had led Bennett's defense at that trial, left the Legal Aid office and had no further involvement in Bennett's case. Gombiner became lead counsel and was joined by Yankwitt. There ensued discussions as to whether Bennett should enter into negotiations toward a plea bargain rather than going through a second trial. Gombiner testified that he and Yankwitt, knowing that convictions in securities fraud cases were common, thought that Bennett should take advantage of the "negotiating leverage" he had as a result of the jury's inability to achieve unanimity on the fraud counts at the first trial. Bennett, however, wanted to go to trial again, and the difference of opinion resulted in "some rather heated discussion." (Id. at 26.) It was decided that Bennett would go to trial again because Bennett wanted to, and "that was obviously his right." (Id.)
Once Bennett had decided to go to trial again, Gombiner advised him not to testify. Gombiner had interviewed the jurors after Bennett's first trial and learned that "they were 10 to 2 for conviction" and learned that "none of the jurors, including the two jurors who were holdouts for acquittal, none of them said that Mr. Bennett's testimony was a factor that operated in his favor"; rather, "some just said, you know, the guy wasn't telling the truth." (Tr. 24-25.)
(Id. at 29.) However, Gombiner also knew that
(Id. at 29-30.) Stating that he thought the government's cross-examination at the first trial had been "quite ... poor" (id. at 30), Gombiner testified that he assumed the government "would do a better job" at the second trial "because they had all of Mr. Bennett's testimony" (id. at 60); he "thought the cross-examination at the second trial was likely to be more difficult to withstand" (id. at 30).
Gombiner also believed it would be disadvantageous to have to ask Bennett about his perjury at the first trial and for Bennett to offer the same peculiar, non-innocent, explanation for having given the SEC false statements and documents—which was that he committed and suborned perjury because he had done nothing wrong before but thought the SEC would not believe him:
(Tr. 30-31 (italics in original); see also id. at 63 ("Bennett did not give an innocent explanation"; rather, "he admitted he did commit perjury and obstruction of justice").)
In response to the government's question as to whether Gombiner had made it clear to Bennett that, despite Gombiner's advice not to testify, it was ultimately Bennett's decision to make, Gombiner testified that he did
(Id. at 32-33 (emphases added).)
Gombiner testified that he had "hundreds" of discussions with Bennett (Tr. 34) and that, although discussions were "heated" as to whether Bennett should negotiate for a plea of guilty (id. at 26, 29, 34, 38, 48-49, 54), Gombiner did not recall, once Bennett decided to go to trial, that there were "any arguments with Mr. Bennett about whether or not he was going to testify" (id. at 38). Gombiner did not recall
With respect to Bennett's contention that he received ineffective assistance of counsel by reason of failures to object to any aspect of the jury charge, Gombiner testified that if he did not object it was not for any tactical reason but was because he thought the instructions were not legally incorrect. (See id. at 89-90.)
2. The Hearing Testimony of Yankwitt
Yankwitt testified that he too, prior to the second trial (see, e.g., Tr. 103-04), had discussed with Bennett the right to testify and had "conveyed to him my view that testifying at his second trial would be a really bad idea" because Yankwitt feared that "an effective cross would be devastating to any chance of an acquittal" (id. at 100-01). Yankwitt testified that, while making that recommendation, he "always made clear to clients that it was their decision" whether or not to testify (id. at 101). He did not have a "specific recollection of advising Mr. Bennett that the decision of whether to testify ... was his and his alone" (id. at 111; see also id. at 101), but he testified that it was his "practice that [he] always said those things when [he] talked to a defendant about waiving significant rights" (id. at 101-02). Yankwitt testified that a day or two after his pretrial discussion with Bennett about testifying, Gombiner informed Yankwitt that Bennett had decided not to testify. (See id. at 103-04.) Yankwitt had no further discussions with Bennett as to whether Bennett would testify.
Yankwitt's reasons for viewing it as inadvisable for Bennett to testify at the second trial were largely the same as those expressed by Gombiner in his testimony, described in Part I.D.1. above. It was preferable for Bennett not to testify because
(Tr. 100.) And although the government could introduce evidence of Bennett's perjury and obstruction if Bennett did not testify, Yankwitt believed it would be less inflammatory for that evidence to come in through transcripts than through Bennett's live testimony. (See, e.g., id. at 100-01.) The court paraphrased:
(Id. at 113.)
3. The Hearing Testimony of Bennett
Bennett's testimony at the June 2009 hearing differed substantially from that of
Bennett testified that he expressed this concern to Gombiner, and that Gombiner stated that an alternative to Bennett's testifying would be to introduce the transcript of his testimony from the first trial. Bennett testified that Gombiner told him the entire testimony could be introduced (see id. at 184-85, 273), and Bennett found that to be "an acceptable alternative [to testifying]. So I went along with that" (id. at 185). Bennett testified that it was not until this point, a week after the second trial had begun, that Yankwitt had any conversation whatever with him about testifying. Bennett testified that Yankwitt explained why he thought Bennett "shouldn't" testify; but, according to Bennett, "at that point I listened to him, but it was a moot point. In my mind I wasn't testifying now. My transcripts were coming in." (Id. at 185.)
Bennett testified that, about two days before the end of the second trial, Gombiner told him that "what [Gombiner had] said about putting in all the transcripts was wrong," and that the entire transcript of Bennett's first-trial testimony in fact could not be introduced. (Tr. 185-86.) Bennett responded to Gombiner that he therefore wanted to testify; but he testified at the hearing that he could not testify because Gombiner told him
(Id. at 186.)
Bennett testified that after the jury verdicts at the second trial, he was represented by new counsel and moved for Judge Martin's recusal; that motion was denied, as the judge stated that he had no "predisposition" as to Bennett's guilt or innocence, nor had he suggested a sentence (id. at 178; see id. at 177). Consistent with his assertion in his First Affidavit, Bennett testified at the hearing that, if he had known the court had no such predisposition, he would have testified at the second trial so that the court could hear his explanation of his conduct. (See id. at 178-79.)
Consistent with the alleged failure-to-advise claim introduced in his Second Affidavit, Bennett also testified that
(Tr. 186-87.) He testified that neither Gombiner nor Yankwitt "at any time explain[ed]
Bennett also testified that his decision not to testify would have been different if his attorneys had fully explained to him the charges against him (see id. at 187-88), had informed him of the elements of those charges (see id. at 192-93), had requested an instruction on "intent to harm for bank fraud where it is an essential element" (id. at 240), had not erroneously "requested an intent to harm instruction for securities fraud where it is not an element" (id.), had properly informed him of the significance of the materiality element of the crime of securities fraud (see id. at 199), and had properly objected to the district court's instruction on his good-faith defense (see id. at 240-41).
E. The District Court's Findings
The district court, after summarizing the testimony given at the June 8-9 hearing, made findings with regard to, inter alia, the credibility of the witnesses, the substance and timing of advice given to Bennett by the Legal Aid attorneys, and the basis for Bennett's decision not to testify at his second trial. It found that Bennett's "statements about the legal advice he was given, when he was given such advice, and how he came to decide not to testify at his second trial are rejected as incredible." Bennett VI, 2009 WL 3614613, at *12.
The court discredited Bennett's testimony that his attorneys never advised him (a) that he had an absolute constitutional right to testify and (b) that the decision whether or not to exercise that right was his and his alone. Rather, "[t]he Court credit[ed] both Mr. Yankwitt's and Mr. Gombiner's testimony that, consistent with their practices, each advised Bennett of his right to testify" and that "[t]hese conversations took place before the second trial commenced." Id. at *11. The court found that "[i]n any factual dispute between Mr. Gombiner and Mr. Yankwitt on one side and Bennett on the other side, Bennett is not credible." Id. at *12.
The court also refused to credit Bennett's testimony that he was afraid to testify because he believed Judge Martin was "`predisposed' against him" or that Bennett "accepted his counsel's advice not to testify only because Mr. Gombiner assured him that the entire transcript of his testimony at the first trial would be used at the second trial." Id. at *10. The court found that, given Gombiner's testimony and his "skill, experience, intelligence and knowledge of the Federal Rules of Evidence," id.,
id. at *11; see also id. at *12 ("Bennett's claim that his lawyers advised him that the entire transcript of his testimony from the first trial would be received in evidence is a fabrication."). The court also found not credible "Bennett's claim that he told Mr. Gombiner at the end of the Government's case that he wanted to testify." Id. at *11. The court stated that
Id. at *10; see also id. at *12 ("The argument that [Bennett] was afraid of Judge Martin and therefore acquiesced in the
The district court also found that Bennett's right to testify at his second trial was not prejudiced by, inter alia, defense counsel's performance with respect to the trial court's mens rea instructions. It stated that the instructions in question had been found in Bennett I not to be erroneous and that it was therefore "hard to see how defense counsel's failure to object could have prejudiced Bennett." Id. at *4.
In light of its findings, the district court concluded that Bennett
Id. at *12.
This Court was given notice of the district court's findings, and Bennett's appeal was restored to our calendar. Supplemental briefs were submitted by the government and by the attorneys who had represented Bennett at the June 2009 hearing. In mid-2010, those attorneys were allowed to withdraw and Bennett was permitted to proceed pro se. On March 30, 2011, Bennett was granted permission to file, pro se, an additional supplemental reply brief. We have considered all of the submissions.
On appeal, Bennett contends principally that he is entitled to a new trial, arguing that the present record establishes that his attorneys (a) failed to inform him of his right to testify and his right to decide whether or not to testify, and (b) overrode, through errors and omissions in their preparation for and conduct of the trial, his desire to testify. In addition, in both his posthearing counseled supplemental briefs and his posthearing pro se supplemental reply brief, Bennett requests that the certificate of appealability be expanded to encompass other alleged errors.
Bennett's current request for an expansion of the certificate of appealability is his third such motion in this Court. The first two motions were denied in orders dated April 14, 2010, and September 2, 2010. His present request is likewise denied, as his submissions fail to "ma[k]e a substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right," 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c)(2).
As to the issues covered by the COA that was granted, we reject Bennett's contentions for the reasons that follow.
A. Bennett's Right To Testify and To Decide Whether To Testify
With respect to the first issue as to which we granted a certificate of appealability, i.e., whether defense counsel rendered constitutionally ineffective assistance by overriding Bennett's desire to exercise his constitutional right to testify at his second trial, we begin by considering, as did the district court on the Jacobson remand, the related issue of whether Bennett was advised of his constitutional rights to testify at trial and to be the sole decider of whether or not to testify. Bennett argues, inter alia, that because he testified at the hearing that he was not so advised and because neither Gombiner nor Yankwitt remembered a specific conversation
"At this point in the development of our adversary system, it cannot be doubted that a defendant in a criminal case has the right to take the witness stand and to testify in his or her own defense." Rock v. Arkansas, 483 U.S. 44, 49, 107 S.Ct. 2704, 97 L.Ed.2d 37 (1987); see, e.g., Harris v. New York, 401 U.S. 222, 225, 91 S.Ct. 643, 28 L.Ed.2d 1 (1971). This right, which "is one of the rights that `are essential to due process of law in a fair adversary process,'" Rock, 483 U.S. at 51, 107 S.Ct. 2704 (quoting Faretta v. California, 422 U.S. 806, 819 n. 15, 95 S.Ct. 2525, 45 L.Ed.2d 562 (1975)), has its roots in several provisions of the Constitution, including the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment, the Fifth Amendment's guarantee against compelled testimony, and the Compulsory Process Clause of the Sixth Amendment, see, e.g., Rock, 483 U.S. at 51-52, 107 S.Ct. 2704.
Our Court's framework for consideration of a claim that a defendant has been denied the right to testify at his criminal trial was established in Brown v. Artuz, 124 F.3d 73 (2d Cir.1997). In Brown, we held that "the decision whether to testify belongs to the defendant and may not be made for him by defense counsel," id. at 78, and that defense counsel has a duty to inform the defendant of that right, see id. at 79.
Id. (internal quotation marks omitted) (emphasis ours). Moreover,
Brown, 124 F.3d at 79.
Under Strickland, in order to prevail on an ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim, a defendant must meet a two-pronged test: (1) he "must show that counsel's performance was deficient," 466 U.S. at 687, 104 S.Ct. 2052, so deficient that, "in light of all the circumstances, the identified acts or omissions were outside the wide range of professionally competent assistance," id. at 690, 104 S.Ct. 2052; and (2) he must show "that the deficient performance prejudiced the defense," id. at 687, 104 S.Ct. 2052, in the sense 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, 104 S.Ct. 2052.
The ultimate question of counsel's "[i]neffectiveness is not a question of basic, primary, or historical fac[t]," Strickland, 466 U.S. at 698, 104 S.Ct. 2052 (internal quotation marks omitted), but rather is a mixed question of law and fact. "[B]oth the performance and prejudice components of the ineffectiveness inquiry are mixed questions of law and fact," id.—and we review a district court's conclusions on those issues de novo, see, e.g., Chang, 250 F.3d at 82—"although district court findings" as to basic, primary, or historical fact "are subject to the clearly erroneous standard of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52(a)," Strickland, 466 U.S. at 698, 104 S.Ct. 2052.
Rule 52(a) provides that the district court's "[f]indings of fact, whether based on oral or other evidence, must not be set aside unless clearly erroneous, and the reviewing court must give due regard to the trial court's opportunity to judge the witnesses' credibility." Fed.R.Civ.P. 52(a)(6). Construing a substantively identical prior version of that Rule, the Supreme Court has noted that a
Anderson v. Bessemer City, 470 U.S. 564, 573, 105 S.Ct. 1504, 84 L.Ed.2d 518 (1985) (internal quotation marks omitted). Thus, "[w]here there are two permissible views of the evidence, the factfinder's choice between them cannot be clearly erroneous." Id. at 574, 105 S.Ct. 1504.
"Issues involving credibility are normally considered factual matters," Cooter & Gell v. Hartmarx Corp., 496 U.S. 384, 402, 110 S.Ct. 2447, 110 L.Ed.2d 359 (1990), and Rule 52(a) "emphasize[s] the special deference to be paid credibility determinations," Anderson v. Bessemer City, 470 U.S. at 574, 105 S.Ct. 1504. This deference reflects "the superiority of the trial judge's position to make determinations of credibility," id., since "only the trial judge can be aware of the variations in demeanor and tone of voice that bear so heavily on the listener's understanding of and belief in what is said," id. at 575, 105 S.Ct. 1504. Thus,
In the present case, applying these standards to the district court's posthearing
The court's finding that Bennett was in fact informed by his attorneys of his rights with respect to testifying at his second trial also finds support in assertions made—and not made—by Bennett himself over the course of this proceeding. To begin with, although Bennett's § 2255 motion based on the alleged ineffective assistance of counsel, made in March 2003 (and supplemented in 2004 with an unrelated claim), asserted that counsel had made 19 errors—involving such matters as venue, the admissibility of coconspirator testimony, the sufficiency of the evidence to convict Bennett on certain counts, various instructions to the jury, and alleged statements causing Bennett to perceive a bias on the part of the trial judge—there was no semblance in that motion of any allegation that Bennett had not been advised by his attorneys of his constitutional right to testify or of the right to make his own decision as to whether to testify. It was not until December 2008, nearly six years after his § 2255 motion claiming that counsel had erred in 19 ways, and more than nine years after his second trial, that Bennett first raised a failure-to-advise claim.
Moreover, both prior to and since his assertion of a failure-to-advise claim, Bennett has made statements that indicate he knew he had the rights to testify and to decide whether to testify at his second trial. For example, in his First Affidavit, submitted in March 2003 in support of his § 2255 motion, Bennett, in asserting his
Given Bennett's statements and the record as a whole, we conclude that the district court's finding that Bennett had been informed that he had the absolute right to testify and to decide whether or not to testify cannot be considered error, much less "clear erro[r]."
Nor do we see any basis for overturning the district court's ruling that Bennett's alleged "desire" to testify was "overridden" by counsel. Gombiner testified that although there had been heated discussions as to whether to go to trial, after Bennett made the decision to go to trial there were no arguments over whether Bennett should testify. Both Gombiner and Yankwitt testified that Bennett, prior to the second trial, made the decision not to testify, and Gombiner recalled no instance in which Bennett indicated any strong desire to testify. (See id. at 32-34, 38, 103-04.) The court found incredible Bennett's testimony that he wanted to testify but declined to do so because he feared the trial judge was predisposed against him, and found incredible Bennett's testimony that Gombiner assured him that he need not testify because his first-trial testimony would be admitted at the second trial. Gombiner denied that he had made any such statement to Bennett, a denial that was entirely credible in light of the rules of evidence and Gombiner's decades of experience at the time of that alleged conversation. In finding that "Gombiner did not give such advice," Bennett VI, 2009 WL 3614613, at *10, the court credited the testimony of Gombiner, as it was entitled to, and found that Bennett's contradictory testimony at the hearing was untruthful. Our review of the record persuades us that these findings are not clearly erroneous.
In light of the court's substantiated factual and credibility findings, we see no error in its conclusion that there was no deficient performance by counsel with respect to the failure-to-advise aspect of Bennett's IAC claim or his claim that his attorneys overrode his desire to testify.
B. Whether Counsel's Failure To Object to the Mens Rea Instructions Prejudiced Bennett's Right To Testify
The second issue on which Bennett was granted a certificate of appealability does not require extended discussion. That question asks whether, particularly in light of evidence of jury confusion, Bennett's right to testify was prejudiced when the issue is analyzed in connection with the
First, although Bennett attempted to testify at the hearing that he wanted to testify at the second trial because of a note sent to the court by the jury "during jury deliberations" (Tr. 202), the district court properly ruled that, as the evidence was closed prior to the submission of the case to the jury, an inquiry by the jury during its deliberations could not have affected Bennett's right to testify (see id.; id. at 221-24). Similarly, Bennett does not explain how his right to testify could have been affected by a failure to object to any aspect of the jury charge, given that by the time there were proposed instructions to which objection could be made, the defense had rested and the evidence was closed (see, e.g., Tr. 36).
Second, in order to show prejudice of the magnitude needed to support a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, Bennett is required to show a reasonable probability that but for the failures to object, the jury would not have convicted him on some count on which it found him guilty. He has made no such showing. Moreover, the two aspects of the jury charge covered by this certificated question, i.e., the unobjected-to instructions on mens rea, were, on Bennett's first appeal, expressly reviewed under the plain-error standard, see Bennett I, at 3. In order to meet that standard, an error, even if clear or obvious, must "`affec[t] substantial rights,'" which normally "means that the error must have been prejudicial: It must have affected the outcome of the district court proceedings." United States v. Olano, 507 U.S. 725, 734, 113 S.Ct. 1770, 123 L.Ed.2d 508 (1993) (quoting Fed.R.Crim.P. 52(b)) (emphasis added); see, e.g., United States v. Marcus, ___ U.S. ____, 130 S.Ct. 2159, 2164, 176 L.Ed.2d 1012 (2010) (whether "the error `affected the appellant's substantial rights, . . . in the ordinary case[,] means' [whether] it `affected the outcome of the district court proceedings'") (quoting Puckett v. United States, 556 U.S. 129, 129 S.Ct. 1423, 1429, 173 L.Ed.2d 266 (2009)).
In Bennett I, we found that the unobjected-to instruction that did not tell the jury it could not convict Bennett of bank fraud without finding that he intended to harm the banks was not such an error. We pointed out, citing United States v. Chandler, 98 F.3d 711, 716 (2d Cir.1996), that "where the borrower has knowingly misstated his ability to pay back a loan, a trial judge does not plainly err by omitting an intent to harm instruction from a bank fraud charge." Bennett I, at 4. Having noted that Bennett had "borrow[ed] from investors and banks using inflated income statements" and had "attempt[ed] to hide cash by transferring it into unaudited accounts," Bennett I, at 2, we concluded that the absence of an intent-to-harm instruction was not an error that affected Bennett's substantial rights, id. at 4.
Similarly, as to the trial court's instruction that Bennett's testimony that he had believed "everything would work out" was not sufficient to establish a defense of good faith, Bennett I, at 5, we noted, citing United States v. Berkovich, 168 F.3d 64, 67 (2d Cir.1999), that such an "instruction is not plainly erroneous where, as here, the evidence indicates that the defendant might have hoped only for ultimate gains that would mask the immediate loss or risk of immediate loss created by his misrepresentations." Bennett I, at 5 (emphases added).
We have considered all of Bennett's arguments on this appeal and have found them to be without merit. The judgment of the district court denying Bennett's § 2255 motion is affirmed.