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Ronald E. Blake v. United States of America

April 4, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: G. Patrick Murphy United States District Judge


Before the Court is Ronald Blake's petition for relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, alleging that his conviction and current sentence suffer from constitutional infirmities. Mr. Blake claims that his trial and appellate counsel provided him with ineffective assistance in violation of the Sixth Amendment, that his sentence violates his right to Due Process, and that he should be resentenced in light of recent amendments to the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines. For the foregoing reasons, all of Mr. Blake's requests for relief are DENIED.


Mr. Blake was arrested on July 9, 2002 and charged with two counts of distributing more than five grams of cocaine base in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1)(B). The charges stemmed from two transactions with Hope Kurtz, an acquaintance of Mr. Blake. Ms. Kurtz was herself arrested on July 3, 2002 and agreed to cooperate with law enforcement by making two controlled drug buys from Mr. Blake. As a result, Ms. Kurtz purchased 25 grams of crack cocaine from Mr. Blake on July 5, 2002. On July 9, 2002, she purchased another 27.8 grams of crack cocaine from Mr. Blake. While Ms. Kurtz was under visual surveillance during the first purchase, only during the second was she wearing a voice recording device.

Trial and First Sentencing

After a four-day trial, the jury convicted Mr. Blake of one count and acquitted him of a second count for distributing crack cocaine to Ms. Kurtz. Attorney William Stiehl represented Mr. Blake prior to and during his trial. After trial but before sentencing, Mr. Blake wrote the Court a two-page letter complaining of Mr. Stiehl's trial performance (Doc. 72, 02-CR-30086-GPM). Construing the letter as a motion to appoint counsel, the Court granted the motion and, on July 30, 2003, appointed attorney John Delaney Jr. to represent Mr. Blake during his sentencing hearing (Doc. 73). Mr. Blake promptly filed a request for a new trial, arguing that Mr. Stiehl provided ineffective assistance of counsel before and during trial (Docs. 81-82). The Court denied the new trial motion at Mr. Blake's sentencing hearing (Doc. 85). At sentencing on October 7, 2003, Mr. Blake was classified a career criminal under U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1 on account of his prior criminal history. As a result, Mr. Blake was sentenced to a term of 360 months imprisonment, with eight years of supervised release, and was fined $2,000, with an added special assessment of $100 (Doc. 88).

First Appeal and Second Sentencing

Mr. Blake appealed his sentence and conviction, alleging selective prosecution and sentencing error under United States v. Booker.*fn1 While rejecting Mr. Blake's selective prosecution argument and affirming his conviction, the Court of Appeals issued a limited remand for resentencing in light of the Supreme Court's decision in United States v. Booker. See United States v. Blake, 415 F.3d 626, 630 (7th Cir. 2005).

Prior to resentencing, Attorney Gareth Morris, now representing Mr. Blake, submitted a 26- page memorandum on behalf of Mr. Blake arguing for a reduction in Mr. Blake's sentence (Doc. 121). A number of arguments were put forward: that Mr. Blake accepted responsibility for his actions despite taking his case to trial; that the government "entrapped" Mr. Blake by having Ms. Kurtz induce him to sell her crack cocaine; that his status a career offender overstated his criminal history, unjustly increasing his sentencing guideline range; and that the Court should consider the racial disparities present in the sentencing regime for crack and powder cocaine. Id. In a 5-page supplemental memorandum, Mr. Morris further argued that the Court should consider Mr. Blake's assistance in thwarting an attack on a prison employee (Doc. 122).

At the resentencing hearing on August 30, 2006, the Court noted that had Mr. Blake not been deemed a career offender, the guideline range for selling over 50 grams of crack cocaine would have been a 168 to 210 month sentence. The Court then sentenced Mr. Blake to a term of 210 month imprisonment, reasoning that Mr. Blake's admirable actions to save the life of a prison employee "balanced out" his very serious criminal history, which had earned him classification as a career offender (Doc. 141).

Second Appeal and Third Sentencing

Following his second sentencing, Mr. Blake appealed, arguing that he was not given his right to allocution. The Court of Appeals agreed, found that the error was not harmless, and remanded for resentencing. United States v. Blake, 227 Fed. Appx. 506, 2007 WL 1875958 (7th Cir. June 28, 2007). Prior to resentencing, Mr. Morris, again representing Mr. Blake, filed a 15-page memorandum, arguing that Mr. Blake's sentence should be reduced in light of the Sentencing Commission's recently amended guidelines for cocaine base sentences (Doc. 163).*fn2 On September 17, 2007, the Court held Mr. Blake's third sentencing hearing. After hearing arguments from both parties and Mr. Blake's allocution, the Court imposed the same sentence, 210 months, and adopted the same reasoning for the sentence as stated on the record in Mr. Blake's prior sentencing hearing (Doc. 164).

Third Appeal and Fourth Sentencing

Mr. Blake again appealed, raising a number of claims relating to proposed Sentencing Guideline amendments that addressed the sentencing disparity between powder and crack cocaine offenses. The Seventh Circuit agreed with Mr. Blake and found that, in light of Kimbrough v. United States,552 U.S. 85 (2007), this Court had discretion to consider the disparate sentencing ratio between powder and crack cocaine offenses. United States v. Blake, 289 Fed. Appx. 118, 2008 WL 2787437 (7th Cir. July 18, 2008). Because the Seventh Circuit was uncertain whether the Court had considered the crack to powder cocaine disparity when sentencing Mr. Blake, it remanded for resentencing. Id. The Court held Mr. Blake's resentencing on October 27, 2009. Prior to the hearing, Mr. Morris, on behalf of Mr. Blake, again filed two sentencing memoranda arguing for a reduction in ...

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