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Blount v. United States

June 12, 2009

AJA L. BLOUNT, PETITIONER,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, RESPONDENT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Murphy, District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

On December 15, 2008, Aja. L. Blount ("Blount") filed the instant motion pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, to vacate or set aside the conviction or correct sentence by a person in federal custody (Doc. 1). The Government filed a response on Feb. 19, 2009 (see Docs. 5, 8), and Blount filed a reply on May 14, 2009 (Doc. 9).

Pursuant to Rule 8(a) of the Rules Governing Section 2255 Proceedings for the United States District Courts,

If [a 2255] motion has not been dismissed at a previous stage in the proceeding, the judge, after the answer is filed and any transcripts or records of prior court actions in the matter are in his possession, shall, upon a review of those proceedings and of the expanded record, if any, determine whether an evidentiary hearing is required. If it appears that an evidentiary hearing is not required, the judge shall make such disposition of the motion as justice dictates.

The Seventh Circuit has noted that "[n]o hearing is required in a section 2255 proceeding if the motion raises no cognizable claim, if the allegations in the motion are unreasonably vague, conclusory, or incredible, or if the factual matters raised by the motion may be resolved on the record before the district court." Oliver v. United States, 961 F.2d 1339, 1343 n.5 (7th Cir. 1992), citing United States v. Frye, 738 F.2d 196 (7th Cir. 1984). In this case, the Court finds that the factual matters raised by the motion may be resolved on the record, and the motion raises no cognizable claim. Accordingly, the Court will rule on the motion without a hearing.

BACKGROUND

On July 19, 2006, a jury convicted Blount of violating 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1), 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1), and 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1) in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Illinois. Specifically, the jury found Blount guilty of possession with intent to distribute a mixture or substance containing cocaine base commonly, known as "crack" cocaine (Count 1), being a felon in possession of a firearm (Count 2), and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime (Count 3). These charges stemmed from Blount's arrest in May 2005 on an outstanding arrest warrant from Madison County, Illinois. When officers searched Blount pursuant to the arrest, they found crack cocaine on his person. Then, after obtaining a search warrant for his residence, officers discovered more crack cocaine and a gun in Blount's bedroom.

Following his conviction, the Court sentenced Blount to concurrent terms of 121 months on Count 1 and 120 months on Count 2. The Court also sentenced Blount to 60 months on Count 3 to run consecutive to the terms of imprisonment imposed on Counts 1 and 2. Blount appealed, but the Seventh Circuit affirmed Blount's conviction and sentence on September 17, 2007. United States v. Blount, 502 F.3d 674 (2007).*fn1

Before trial, Blount asked the first two of his court-appointed attorneys, Daniel Cronin and John Abell, to be dismissed based on disagreements about their handling of the case. Although initially satisfied with his third attorney, Michael Ghidina, Blount eventually became dissatisfied with Ghidina too, and Ghidina sought leave to withdraw (see Doc. 41). The Court denied Ghidina's motion and reminded Blount that "refusal to cooperate with his counsel may result in a finding that he has waived his Sixth Amendment right to counsel." (Doc. 42). Blount's request to discharge Ghidina was likewise denied. (Docs. 53, 62)

Ghidina then filed a motion to suppress statements, and the Government filed a response (see Docs. 45, 58). This Court held a hearing the day before trial (see Docs. 62, 119); the motion was denied. The jury heard the case on July 17-18, 2006, and found Blount guilty of all counts. Ghidina represented Blount at the sentencing hearing on October 23, 2006. (Doc. 93).

Blount argues that his sentence should be vacated, set aside, or corrected because (1) the motion to suppress filed by trial counsel was deficient because it relied on inapposite case law and failed to raise the meritorious issue that Blount's confession was coerced; (2) Blount's counsel failed to investigate the propriety of the arrest warrant which was the lynchpin of the case against him. (See Doc. 1).

ANALYSIS

Title 28, United States Code, Section 2255 provides that "[a] prisoner in custody under sentence of the court established by Act of Congress claiming the right to be released upon the ground that the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or the laws of the United States, or that the court was without jurisdiction to impose such sentence, or that the sentence was in excess of the maximum authorized by law, or is otherwise subject to collateral attack, may move the court which imposed the sentence to vacate, set aside or correct the sentence." Thus, collateral relief is available to Blunt only if any legal error in his conviction is "jurisdictional, constitutional, or is a fundamental defect which inherently results in a complete miscarriage of justice." Oliver, 961 F.2d at 1341, quoting Haase v. United States, 800 F.2d 123, 136 (7th Cir. 1986). In other words, a Section 2255 motion does not serve as a substitute for a direct appeal.

The United States Supreme Court has held that a defendant can raise a claim for ineffective assistance of counsel in a collateral proceeding even though he could have, but did not, raise the claim on direct appeal (and Blount did not). See Massaro v. United States, 538 U.S. 508-509 (2003). To establish a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, Blount must show that his counsel's "performance was deficient, which means counsel's errors were so serious that they deprived [him] of 'counsel' within the meaning of the Sixth Amendment, and that the deficient performance prejudiced him, which means that counsel's error were so serious that they deprived him of a fair trial with reliable results." Mahafey v. Schomig, 294 F.3d 907, 918 (7th Cir. 2002), citing Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687. The Seventh Circuit has noted that "[r]egardless of when ...


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