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Johnson v. United States

United States District Court, Seventh Circuit

November 15, 2013

JAMES HOWARD JOHNSON, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent. Criminal No. 12-cr-40075-JPG.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

J. PHIL GILBERT, District Judge.

This matter comes before the Court on petitioner James Howard Johnson's motion to vacate, set aside or correct his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (Doc. 1). On December 7, 2012, the petitioner pled guilty to one count of bank robbery in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2113(a). The guilty plea was pursuant to a non-cooperating written plea agreement and its accompanying stipulation of facts. On April 5, 2013, the Court sentenced the petitioner to serve 168 months in prison, with credit for 8 months of time served. The petitioner did not appeal his sentence.

In his § 2255 motion, filed on October 7, 2013, it appears the petitioner raises the following grounds for relief:

Ground 1: he received ineffective assistance of counsel in violation of the Sixth Amendment because his counsel failed to inform him of the nature of the charge against him and the basis for that charge;

Ground 2: the Court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over his case; and

Ground 3: the Court committed misconduct by sentencing a "legal fiction."

The Court has reviewed these claims under Rule 4(b) of the Rules Governing Section 2255 Proceedings for the United States District Courts and finds that "it plainly appears from the motion, any attached exhibits, and the record of prior proceedings that the moving party is not entitled to relief." Accordingly, the Court will deny the motion and dismiss this case.

The Court must grant a § 2255 motion when a defendant's "sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 2255. However, "[h]abeas corpus relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 is reserved for extraordinary situations." Prewitt v. United States, 83 F.3d 812, 816 (7th Cir. 1996). "Relief under § 2255 is available only for errors of constitutional or jurisdictional magnitude, or where the error represents a fundamental defect which inherently results in a complete miscarriage of justice." Kelly v. United States, 29 F.3d 1107, 1112 (7th Cir. 1994) (quotations omitted). It is proper to deny a § 2255 motion without an evidentiary hearing if "the motion and the files and records of the case conclusively demonstrate that the prisoner is entitled to no relief." 28 U.S.C. § 2255(b); see Sandoval v. United States, 574 F.3d 847, 850 (7th Cir. 2009).

I. Ground 1: Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

Johnson claims his counsel was constitutionally ineffective for failing to advise him of the "nature and cause, " § 2255 Mot. at 6, of the charge against him. The Sixth Amendment to the Constitution provides that "[i]n all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right... to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence." U.S. Const. amend. VI. This right to assistance of counsel encompasses the right to effective assistance of counsel. McMann v. Richardson, 397 U.S. 759, 771, n. 14 (1970); Watson v. Anglin, 560 F.3d 687, 690 (7th Cir. 2009).

A party claiming ineffective assistance of counsel bears the burden of showing (1) that his trial counsel's performance fell below objective standards for reasonably effective representation and (2) that this deficiency prejudiced the defense. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 688-94 (1984); United States v. Jones, 635 F.3d 909, 915 (7th Cir. 2011); Wyatt v. United States, 574 F.3d 455, 457 (7th Cir. 2009); Fountain v. United States, 211 F.3d 429, 434 (7th Cir. 2000).

Where the petitioner pled guilty as a result of alleged ineffective assistance of counsel, to satisfy the first prong of the Strickland test, the petitioner must show that his counsel's advice leading to the plea was outside the range of professionally competent assistance. Hill v. Lockhart, 474 U.S. 52, 56-57 (1985) (citing McMann, 397 U.S. at 771; Tollett v. Henderson, 411 U.S. 258, 267 (1973)). To satisfy the second Strickland prong, he must show that there is a reasonable probability that, but for his counsel's deficient performance, he would not have entered a guilty plea and instead would have gone to trial. Hill, 474 U.S. at 58; United States v. Parker, 609 F.3d 891, 894 (7th Cir. 2010); Wyatt, 574 F.3d at 458; Richardson v. United States, 379 F.3d 485, 487 (7th Cir. 2004). Counsel's deficient performance must have been a decisive factor in the defendant's decision to enter a guilty plea. Wyatt, 574 F.3d at 458; see Julian v. Bartley, 495 F.3d 487, 498 (7th Cir. 2007). To make such a showing, the petitioner must present objective evidence that he would not have entered a guilty plea; his own self-serving testimony that he would have insisted on going to trial is not enough. Koons v. United States, 639 F.3d 348, 351 (7th Cir. 2011); McCleese v. United States, 75 F.3d 1174, 1179 (7th Cir. 1996) (citing Toro v. Fairman, 940 F.2d 1065, 1068 (7th Cir. 1991)); see Wyatt, 574 F.3d at 458 (stating "a defendant's mere allegation that he would have chosen a path other than the conditional plea is insufficient by itself to establish prejudice.").

Johnson, a 24-year-old English speaker who holds a GED, testified at his plea colloquy that he had received a copy of the indictment, the plea agreement and the stipulation of facts, that he had had discussed those documents with his counsel, and was fully satisfied with his counsel's representation and advice. He further testified that he understood what he was charged with in the indictment. Johnson cannot now disavow that he discussed the charge with his counsel and that he understood it and its consequences when he entered his guilty plea. Representations made under oath at a plea colloquy are presumed to be true, United States v. Chavers, 515 F.3d 722, 724 (7th Cir. 2008), and Johnson offers no reason to reject that presumption in this case.

Even if Johnson's counsel's advice about the nature of the charge and the factual basis for it had been deficient, Johnson has not alleged anything or pointed to any objective evidence to establish prejudice, that is, that he would not have entered a guilty plea had his counsel advised him correctly. On the contrary, it appears that Johnson knew before pleading guilty everything he claims his counsel failed to tell him because the Court or the Government advised him of those facts. Nevertheless, he still pled guilty without objection, confirming three times that he was doing so as his own free and voluntary act. During the plea colloquy, the Court advised Johnson of the nature of the charge against him and the possible penalties if he pled guilty, and Johnson stated he understood. Later in the colloquy, the Government explained the factual basis for the charge, and Johnson admitted the factual basis was correct. Additionally, Johnson confirmed that he had reviewed the plea agreement and stipulation of facts, which together explained the nature of the charge and the facts on which it was based, with his attorney and had signed those documents. He clearly knew the nature of the ...


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