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Spiller v. United States

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

May 14, 2015



CHARLES P. KOCORAS, District Judge.

This case comes before the Court on the petition for a writ of habeas corpus filed by Petitioner Gilbert Spiller ("Spiller") 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.


On November 17, 2011, a federal grand jury returned an indictment against Spiller, charging him with two counts of knowingly and intentionally distributing a controlled substance (28 grams or more of a mixture and substance containing a detectable amount of cocaine base) in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) (Counts I and II) and for one count of knowingly selling a firearm to a person knowing and having reasonable cause to believe that such person had been convicted of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(d)(1) (Count III). On November 11, 2011, Spiller appeared for his arraignment and pleaded not guilty to all counts in the indictment. On November 18, 2011, the Government filed a notice seeking increased punishment pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 851 ("Section 851") because of Spiller's prior felony convictions. On September 12, 2012, pursuant to a written plea declaration, Spiller changed his pleas as to all three counts of the indictment to guilty. After pleading guilty, the Probation Office concluded that Spiller was a career offender as the result of two prior felony convictions for crimes of violence and applied the career offender Guidelines under § 4B1.1(b). According to the presentence investigation report (the "PSR"), based on the career offender Guidelines and the Section 851 recidivism enhancement, Spiller's total offense level was 34 and he was placed in the criminal history category of VI. His advisory Guideline range was 262 to 327 months in prison.

On February 27, 2013, the Court conducted a sentencing hearing. Both parties agreed that the Guideline range was proper. Spiller's counsel, however, argued for a below-Guideline sentence, contending that the Section 851 enhancement created an unwarranted sentencing disparity. When the Court inquired if either Spiller of his counsel had any factual corrections to the PSR, both responded that they did not. After both sides made their presentations and Spiller addressed the Court, he was sentenced to a below-Guideline term of 240 months in prison as to Counts I and II, which was to run concurrent with a term of 120 months in prison as to Count III.

Spiller subsequently appealed his sentence to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit (the "Seventh Circuit"), arguing that his sentence was procedurally unsound because the district court did not adequately consider his argument concerning the Section 851 enhancement. On October 10, 2013, Spiller's conviction was upheld on appeal. United States v. Spiller, 732 F.3d 767 (7th Cir. 2013). In its opinion, the Seventh Circuit listed Spiller's criminal history: Spiller was first charged in 1989 at age 13 and was found to be a delinquent for attempted criminal sexual assault. In 1995, he was convicted as an adult of two counts of aggravated battery with a firearm and one count of aggravated discharge of a firearm. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison and was released in 2004. In 2005, while on parole, Spiller was convicted of aggravated battery of a police officer. In 2006, he was convicted of possession of heroin and for possession of a controlled substance, stemming from two separate arrests in 2007.

Additionally, the Seventh Circuit in Spiller clearly articulated its reasoning for why it affirmed this Court's sentence:

The district court considered Spiller's argument, but ultimately rejected it, explaining that "the nature of this defendant trumps and overrides and overwhelms the nature of the crime in this case." It stated that "[Spiller's] criminal record is so bad and so replete with conduct of violence, " that a greater sentence was warranted. It explained, "It is one thing to sell crack cocaine. It is another to sell a gun that is notably intended for use to kill business competitors or to maim them and make the streets safer for the seller of the drugs and not for society." The Court imposed a below-Guidelines sentence of 240 months "in major recognition of the nature of the crime, and the crack/powder disparity, " but explained that a longer sentence was necessary due to Spiller's extensive criminal history. Though the district court never explicitly addressed Spiller's § 851 argument, it did so implicitly, and performed the requisite analysis. The court provided a reasoned explanation of the 240-month sentence it imposed, which was 22 months below the recommended Guidelines range.

Spiller, 732 F.3d at 769-70.

On October 6, 2014, Spiller filed this timely motion for habeas corpus relief, arguing that he was denied effective assistance of counsel during pre-trial, sentencing proceedings, as well as on his direct appeal, because his counsel should have objected to the career offender enhancement during sentencing and his counsel failed to effectively analyze applicable law and its effect on Spiller's sentence.


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).


Spiller lodges his ineffective assistance of counsel claims against the same attorney he had for both his sentencing and his direct appeal. In Ground One of his petition, Spiller argues that his counsel was ineffective because she failed to object to his classification as a career offender at sentencing. Spiller claims that at the time of sentencing, he informed his counsel that his "prior conviction for aggravated battery was non-violent and he needed to object to it being used to enhance him." Without the career offender enhancement, Spiller contends that he would have been subject to a dramatically lower sentence and if his counsel objected to such, the Court ...

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