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United States v. Antonelli

April 19, 2006

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL ANTONELLI, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Charles P. Kocoras, Chief District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter comes before the court on the motion of Michael Antonelli to vacate, correct, or set aside his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. For the reasons set forth below, the motion is denied. Although Antonelli has requested a hearing on his motion, because the motion, files, and records of his case conclusively show that he is not entitled to relief under § 2255, no evidentiary hearing is necessary.

BACKGROUND

Antonelli has a long history of mental issues, drug and alcohol abuse, and run-ins with the law. The incident that led to his current conviction took place in October 2001, when, after ingesting a substance that he thought to be cocaine, he walked into a bank in northern Illinois and handed the teller a note that read "GiVE ME what is in thE till No rEd diE - - - No problEMS thanks rigor mortis." After the teller gave him almost $3000 in cash, he left the bank and was found by police hiding in a nearby garbage can a short while later. According to Antonelli, the substance that he thought was cocaine must have been or contained PCP, which caused him to act bizarrely.

Once in custody, Antonelli sent a letter to Magistrate Judge Ashman stating that he wished to plead guilty as quickly as possible because he was afraid that the Metropolitan Correctional Center, the facility in downtown Chicago where he was housed, was susceptible to a terrorist attack like the one that had hit New York the month before. He also stated that he did not wish to cause the government any more trouble.

In December, Antonelli was charged in a one-count indictment for bank robbery. He was initially represented by an attorney from the Federal Defender program, but by the time of the indictment, he had requested that Douglas Roller be appointed as his attorney. Twenty-two years before, in 1979, Roller had supervised a task force that prosecuted Antonelli. Although there was no indication that Roller participated in the prosecution in more than an administrative capacity, Antonelli waived any objection to a potential conflict of interest resulting from that earlier association when Roller began representing him.

Roller explored the possibility of a plea agreement with the government, who offered to recommend a 63-month sentence, the shortest available within the applicable guideline range. In exchange, among other things, Antonelli would have to waive any possible requests for downward departures. According to the government's response to the § 2255 motion, this was a routine offer made for defendants agreeing to be sentenced within the applicable guideline range. Rather than accepting the government's offer, which coincidentally would have provided him with the sentence he is now requesting, Antonelli chose to plead to the charge without any agreement in place.

During the plea colloquy, we inquired into Antonelli's competence to enter a plea of guilt. Antonelli expressed that he understood the proceedings and that medication he was taking for his bipolar disorder and to help him sleep did not affect his ability to comprehend what was taking place. Roller stated that Antonelli was lucid during their conversations. The discussion touched on Antonelli's mental state at the time of the offense, and Roller alluded to an intention to file a motion for a downward departure based on diminished capacity. He did not specify whether the impending motion would be premised on Antonelli's bipolar disorder or on the fact that he was undisputedly chemically altered during the robbery. He expressed that Antonelli would not seek to present mental incompetence as a complete defense to the crime, which would preclude a plea of guilt.

For his part, Antonelli expressed a desire to put the incident behind him and not be a burden on the government, echoing sentiments contained in his October 2001 letter to Magistrate Judge Ashman. He advanced his theory that he was "whacked out of his mind" at the time of the robbery and for a few weeks thereafter, but he did not aver that the effects had lasted until the time of the plea hearing. Because Antonelli evinced an understanding of the consequences of the plea and had consistently engaged in articulate and rational behavior during his appearances up until that time, we agreed with Roller and government counsel that he was competent.

The discussion then returned to the question of Antonelli's mental state at the time of the offense. Roller stated that he had advised Antonelli that insanity was not a viable defense based on the particular circumstances of the crime. Antonelli expressed his disagreement with that assessment because he apparently believed that his chemically altered state rendered him "out of touch with reality," which he equated with legal insanity. However, he acknowledged that he had opted to plead guilty rather than pursuing that defense at trial for two reasons: first, if the defense was ultimately unsuccessful, he would lose the possibility of a three-point reduction of his offense level for acceptance of responsibility. Second, he felt that persuading a jury that he was insane would be too difficult a task to undertake. Convinced that the defense was not meritorious, we accepted Antonelli's acknowledgment of his culpability for the robbery and allowed him to plead guilty.

After he pled guilty but before sentencing, Antonelli asked to proceed pro se. The issue of his capacity reemerged at that time. The discussion addressed his competence at the time of the hearing versus his mental capacity at the time of the offense. Antonelli insisted that he was capable of representing himself because he was receiving medical treatment at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, thus evening out the previous difficulties he had experienced as a result of his bipolar disorder. Because of his continued demonstration of rational thought processes, Antonelli was permitted to represent himself with Roller as stand-by counsel.

Before he was sentenced, Antonelli filed a motion for a downward departure premised on several factors, including his theory that he was involuntarily intoxicated during the robbery. The motion was denied at sentencing. The government requested the maximum sentence available under the guidelines: 78 months. Neither Antonelli nor Roller proposed a specific number of months, asking instead only for a sentence shorter than 78 months and that took into account Antonelli's mental issues. The final sentence, 72 months, fell in the middle of the guideline range.

Antonelli, through different counsel, appealed his conviction on the ground that we were required to conduct a competency hearing before accepting his guilty plea. The appellate court disagreed, stating that a competency hearing was not required in circumstances such as these.

Within the one year prescribed by the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, Antonelli filed the instant motion pursuant to 28 U.S.C. ยง 2255, requesting ...


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