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Earl v. United States

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

June 26, 2014

LEANDRE EARL, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

JOHN H. LEFKOW, District Judge.

Leandre Earl pleaded guilty to one count of armed robbery, 18 U.S.C. §§ 2113(a), (d), and 2 ("Count I"), and one count of using or aiding and abetting the use of a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence, 18 U.S.C. §§ 924(c)(1)(A) and 2 ("Count II"). The court accepted Earl's plea and sentenced him to consecutive terms of imprisonment of 96 months on Count I and 120 months on Count II. Pending before the court is Earl's pro se petition to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. He argues that he was denied his right to effective assistance of counsel under the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution when his attorney failed to advise him that he could plead guilty to Count I but proceed to trial on Count II. For the following reasons, Earl's motion is denied.

BACKGROUND[1]

I. Underlying Facts

On May 19, 2009, Earl was arrested for participating in an armed bank robbery. (Dkt. 9 at 2.) Earlier that day he and his co-defendant Antonio Pickens were driving through the suburbs of Chicago and picked up Harvel Harris, the third co-defendant. (Dkt. 9, Ex. D, Transcript of August 10, 2010 Change of Plea Hearing ("Change of Plea") at 27:16-28:4.) Harris urged Earl and Pickens to commit a robbery with him and they agreed, although Earl did not know at the time that they would be robbing a bank as opposed to an individual. ( Id. at 28:21-24.) Harris produced two handguns, keeping one and handing the other to Pickens, and suggested that the three rob a Citibank in Calumet City, Illinois. (Dkt. 9, Ex. A, Federal Bureau of Investigation May 19, 2009 Interview of Earl ("FBI Inter.") at 3.) Harris stayed in the car while Earl and Pickens entered the bank. ( Id. at 4.) In the bank, Pickens "pulled the gun" and yelled at everyone to put their hands up while Earl jumped over the teller counter and pulled money from the drawers. (Dkt. 9, Ex. B, Calumet City Police Department May 20, 2009 Statement of Earl ("Calumet Stmt.") at 2.) The two left the bank with over $23, 000 in cash. (Dkt. 9 at 1.) Once outside, Earl and Pickens ran to their getaway car where Harris was waiting, and Earl began driving to the expressway. (Calumet Stmt. at 2.) Police pursued the car and Earl lost control of it, crashing into a median. ( Id. at 3.) A gun fight between Harris and the police ensued. Earl was shot in the arm and fled into nearby woods. ( Id. ) Police arrested Earl after he surrendered some time later. ( Id. )

II. Guilty Plea and Sentencing

Following his arrest, Earl was charged with one count of armed robbery, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 2113(a), (d), and 2, and one count of using a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence, 18 U.S.C. §§ 924(c) and 2. (Dkt. 9 at 3.) Earl pleaded guilty to both counts on August 10, 2010. (Change of Plea at 19:9-20:17.) During the plea hearing, Earl disputed the prosecution's description of the circumstances leading up to the armed robbery. ( Id. at 26:17-30:23.) Nevertheless, he admitted that he committed the robbery ( id. at 19:18-22, 30:10-11, 33:22-34:4), and that he was aware prior to committing the crime that his co-defendants were armed. ( Id. at 20:13-17, 28:13-20, 30:2-9.) The court accepted Earl's plea ( id. at 34:5-12) and sentenced Earl to consecutive terms of imprisonment of 96 months on Count I and 120 months, the mandatory minimum, on Count II. (Dkt. 9 at 4.)

LEGAL STANDARD

Relief under § 2255 "is reserved for extraordinary situations." Hays v. United States, 397 F.3d 564, 566 (7th Cir. 2005) (quoting Prewitt v. United States, 83 F.3d 812, 816 (7th Cir. 1996)). A district court must grant a § 2255 motion when the petitioner establishes "that the district court sentenced him in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States or that the sentence was in excess of the maximum authorized by law or is otherwise subject to collateral attack." Hays, 397 F.3d at 566-67 (quoting Prewitt, 83 F.3d at 816). It is proper to deny a § 2255 motion without an evidentiary hearing if "the motion and the files and records of the case conclusively show that the prisoner is entitled to no relief." 28 U.S.C. § 2255(b).

The Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel applies in the context of entering a plea of guilty. See Argersinger v. Hamlin, 407 U.S. 25, 34, 92 S.Ct. 2006, 32 L.Ed.2d 530 (1972); Missouri v. Frye, ___ U.S. ____, 132 S.Ct. 1399, 1405, 182 L.Ed.2d 379 (2012). In order to establish constitutionally ineffective assistance of counsel, the petitioner must show (1) "that counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness" and (2) "that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different." Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 688, 694, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed.2d 674 (1984). To satisfy the first prong of the Strickland test, the petitioner must direct the court to specific acts or omissions of his counsel. See United States v. Trevino, 60 F.3d 333, 338 (7th Cir. 1995). The court must then consider whether, in light of all the circumstances, counsel's performance was outside the range of professionally competent assistance. Id. There is a strong presumption that counsel's performance was effective, id., and the court must not let hindsight interfere with its review of counsel's decisions. See Harris v. Reed, 894 F.2d 871, 877 (7th Cir. 1990) (citing Strickland, 466 U.S. at 697). Under the second prong, to establish the reasonable probability that the outcome would have been different, the petitioner must show "a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome." Strickland, 466 U.S. at 694. A court need not address both prongs of the Strickland test if one provides the answer; that is, if a court determines that the alleged deficiency did not prejudice the defendant under the second prong, the court need not consider the first prong. See United States v. Fudge, 325 F.3d 910, 924 (7th Cir. 2003) (citing Matheney v. Anderson, 253 F.3d 1025, 1042 (7th Cir. 2001)).

DISCUSSION

Although Earl lists two grounds in his § 2255 petition for relief, they amount to one overriding argument: He was prejudiced because his counsel did not inform him that he could go to trial on Count II but plead guilty to Count I. Consequently, he argues, he pleaded to both counts and was sentenced to the mandatory minimum of 120 months on Count II to run consecutive to the 96 months he received on Count I. Had he been properly informed of his options, he argues that he would have gone to trial on Count II.

I. Whether Counsel's Performance Was Objectively Reasonable

A. Whether Counsel Informed Earl of the Possibility of ...


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