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Sawyer v. United States

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

May 6, 2015

DATQUNN SAWYER, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

CHARLES P. KOCORAS, District Judge.

This case comes before the Court on the petition for a writ of habeas corpus filed by Petitioner Datqunn Sawyer ("Sawyer") pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 ("Section 2255"). For the reasons stated below, the Court denies the petition and declines to issue a certificate of appealability.

BACKGROUND

On November 21, 2011, a jury convicted Sawyer of conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking of minors and sex trafficking by force, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1594(c), multiple separate counts of sex trafficking of minors and sex trafficking by force, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1591(a), one count of sex trafficking by force of an adult victim, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1591(a), and attempted sex trafficking of a minor victim, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1594(c). For the counts that charged Sawyer with conspiring to traffic and trafficking victims both as minors and by force, the jury found that Sawyer knew or recklessly disregarded that the victims were minors, and that Sawyer used force. Sawyer was sentenced to fifty years in prison. Sawyer is currently incarcerated in the United States Penitentiary in Tucson, Arizona.

Sawyer subsequently appealed his conviction to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit (the "Seventh Circuit"), arguing that the jury instructions regarding the interstate commerce element of 18 U.S.C. § 1591(a) ("Section 1591(a)") were mistaken because the Government failed to prove that Sawyer knew his acts affected interstate commerce. On October 23, 2013, Sawyer's conviction was upheld on appeal. United States v. Sawyer, 733 F.3d 228 (7th Cir. 2013).

On September 30, 2014, Sawyer filed this timely motion for habeas corpus relief, arguing that: (i) he received ineffective assistance of appellate counsel because she failed to present evidence showing that the Government did not establish the elements of the offense; (ii) he received ineffective assistance of trial counsel, in violation of the Sixth Amendment during plea negotiations, citing Lafler v. Cooper, 132 S.Ct. 1376 (2012); (iii) he received ineffective assistance of appellate counsel because she failed to argue that under Alleyne v. United States, 133 S.Ct. 2151 (2013), any enhancements to his sentence should have been proven beyond a reasonable doubt; (iv) he received ineffective assistance of trial counsel because his trial counsel did not challenge prior inconsistent statements made by witnesses; (v) he received ineffective assistance of trial counsel because his trial counsel failed to properly argue important factors during his sentencing; (vi) the Government failed to sufficiently prove elements of the crime; (vii) he received ineffective assistance of trial counsel because his trial counsel did not complete discovery; and (viii) the Government engaged in prosecutorial misconduct by providing the media with photographs in evidence that the trial court judge ruled to be prejudicial.

On December 24, 2014, Sawyer filed a motion to amend or otherwise file a supplemental pleading, claiming that since his trial counsel assured him that he would be successful at trial, he rejected the Government's plea deal and was sentenced to the fifty year mandatory minimum sentence. On January 26, 2015, the Court granted Sawyer's motion to amend or otherwise file a supplemental pleading to his original petition. On February 24, 2015, Sawyer filed a supplement to his reply brief without permission from the Court. We will not take this supplement to his reply brief into consideration, as Sawyer never had leave to file such under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(d).

LEGAL STANDARD

Section 2255 allows an incarcerated prisoner to request his sentence be vacated on "the ground that the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or 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." 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a). "[R]elief under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 is limited to an error of law that is jurisdictional, constitutional, or constitutes a fundamental defect which inherently results in a complete miscarriage or justice." Bischel v. United States, 32 F.3d 259, 263 (7th Cir. 1994) (quoting Borre v. United States, 940 F.2d 215, 217 (7th Cir. 1991) (internal quotation marks omitted)). An evidentiary hearing is required "[u]nless 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).

DISCUSSION

I. Claim on Direct Appeal

On direct appeal, the argument Sawyer raised was that his conviction should be vacated because the Court improperly instructed the jury on one element of the offense. The Seventh Circuit rejected this argument and affirmed his conviction, stating that by agreeing to the relevant instructions at trial, Sawyer waived his argument. See Sawyer, 733 F.3d at 229. Even if he had not waived this argument, the Seventh Circuit found that the instructions were correct on the merits because Sawyer's knowledge of the interstate commerce implications of his conduct need not be proven for conviction under Section 1591(a). Id. Now in his instant petition, Sawyer claims that the Government failed to sufficiently prove that he knew his actions affected interstate or foreign commerce, the same claim the Government argues Sawyer attempted to advance on direct appeal. Sawyer clarifies that he is not contesting that his conduct affected interstate commerce, but rather that "on the face of the statute he was charged and convicted under, " the Government failed to prove that he was aware of the effect he had on interstate commerce. After closely reading the Seventh Circuit's opinion, Sawyer's current claim is exactly what he raised on direct appeal. Since this issue was previously decided, and Sawyer presents no valid reason for relitigating of this claim, this claim is barred. See Webster v. Daniels, 14-1049, 2015 WL 1951921, at *30 (7th Cir. May 1, 2015) (stating that collateral relief is primarily used for constitutional violations, not violations of federal law that could and should be raised on direct appeal).

II. Photographs to Media

For the arguments Sawyer failed to raise in his direct appeal, they are procedurally defaulted unless Sawyer can show: (i) actual cause excusing him from his procedural default; and (ii) actual prejudice arising from the errors of which he ...


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