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Hutchings v. United States

August 29, 2008

KEVIN HUTCHINGS PETITIONER,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA RESPONDENT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael M. Mihm United States District Judge

ORDER

Before the Court is Petitioner Kevin Hutchings's Motion Under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence. For the reasons set forth below, the Court DENIES Hutchings's Motion.

BACKGROUND

On August 19, 2005, the Government charged Hutchings in a six-count indictment with conspiracy to distribute more than 500 grams of methamphetamine and more than five kilograms of cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 846 and 841(b)(1)(A).

On October 25, 2005 the Government, pursuant to 21 U.S.C. 851, filed a Notice of Intent to Use Evidence of Prior Convictions, in which it notified Hutchings that the Government would seek an enhancement of Hutchings's sentence based on prior felony convictions.

On February 3, 2006, Hutchings entered a blind guilty plea to Count One of the Indictment. On June 15, 2006, this Court sentenced Hutchings to a mandatory term of life imprisonment and ten years of supervised release.

On June 16, 2006, Hutchings filed a Notice of Appeal with the United States Court for the Seventh Circuit. On January 10, 2007, defense counsel filed an Anders brief with the Court of Appeals. On March 21, 2007, the Appellate Court dismissed Hutchings's appeal.

On January 10, 2008, Petitioner filed his Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. In his Motion, Hutchings argues the following:

(1) His guilty plea was involuntary by reason of ineffective assistance of counsel;

(2) He received ineffective assistance from his counsel due to a conflict of interest because his attorney sought the Illinois State Court office of Circuit Judge;

(3) His enhanced sentence is void because the court lacked authority to enhance his sentence under 21 U.S.C. § 851; and

(4) He received ineffective assistance from his trial counsel and appellate counsel because his attorneys failed to object to the Court's lack of authority to enhance his sentence under 21 U.S.C. § 851.

The Government filed a Response to Hutchings's § 2255 Motion on March 24, 2008. Hutchings filed a traverse on April 11, 2008. As the issues are now fully briefed, this Order follows.

DISCUSSION

A petitioner may avail himself of ' 2255 relief only if he can show that there are "flaws in the conviction or sentence which are jurisdictional in nature, constitutional in magnitude or result in a complete miscarriage of justice." Boyer v. United States, 55 F.3d 296, 298 (7th Cir. 1995), cert. denied, 116 S.Ct. 268 (1995). Section 2255 is limited to correcting errors that "vitiate the sentencing court's jurisdiction or are otherwise of constitutional magnitude." Guinan v. United States, 6 F.3d 468, 470 (7th Cir. 1993) (citing Scott v. United States, 997 F.2d 340 (7th Cir. 1993)).

Specifically, with respect to a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, a petitioner must establish: (1) his attorney's performance was deficient; and (2) this deficiency prejudiced him. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984). To satisfy the first prong of the Strickland test, a petitioner must show that his attorney's performance fell below an objective standard of reasonableness. Id. at 688. Counsel is presumed to have made reasonable strategic choices, and "there is a strong presumption that any decisions by counsel fall within a wide range of reasonable trial strategies." Valenzuela v. United States, 261 F.3d 694, 698-99 (7th Cir. 2001). The second prong of the Strickland test requires a petitioner to 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. A petitioner must satisfy both prongs of the test in order to meet his burden, and a finding against him on either prong ends the inquiry. Id. at 697 ("there is no reason for a court . . . to address both components of the inquiry if the defendant makes an insufficient showing on one").

A. Voluntariness of Plea

Hutchings alleges that his guilty plea was involuntary because he received ineffective assistance of counsel. Hutchings alleges that he pled guilty after his attorney, Mark E. Wertz, told him that the only chance he saw of Hutchings getting less than a life sentence was for him to cooperate with the Government and plead guilty. Hutchings fails to satisfy the first prong in Strickland because he fails to prove that Wertz's performance fell below an objective standard of reasonableness. The Court finds that Wertz made a good faith analysis of all of the relevant facts and applicable legal principals when advising Hutchings. Wertz states in his affidavit that he met with Hutchings on numerous occasions to discuss various options available, including his right to trial, as well as sentencing issues and statutory sentencing guidelines. Further, if Wertz told Hutchings that the only way for him to qualify for less than the mandatory life sentence was for him to substantially assist the government, as alleged by Hutchings, this advice would be accurate.

Hutchings also fails to satisfy the second prong of Strickland. A petitioner must demonstrate through objective evidence a reasonable probability that, but for counsel=s purportedly erroneous advice, he would not have entered the guilty plea and would have insisted upon going to trial. United States v. Woolley, 123 F.3d 627, 635 (7th Cir. 1997) (internal citation omitted). AIt is far from obvious how a petitioner is expected to make such a showing, but it is clear that >merely making such an allegation is insufficient.=@ United States v. Ryan, 986 F.Supp. 509, 513 (N.D.Ill. 1997), quoting Key v. United States, 806 F.2d 133, 139 (7th Cir. 1986)).

Hutchings fails to demonstrate that he would not have entered his guilty plea and would have insisted upon going to trial but for the advice from Wertz. In fact, in numerous letters addressed to the Court, Hutchings expresses his desire to plead guilty. Hutchings fails to provide support for his claim that Wertz "offered him the 20 to 25 year plea bargain." It appears Hutchings knowingly pled guilty but was hoping he could avoid a mandatory life sentence. While this Court finds ...


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