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Taylor v. United States

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

July 9, 2015




After he entered a guilty plea in a deal that would have resulted in a 21-year sentence, Petitioner Mario Taylor had second thoughts. He proceeded to trial, was convicted by a jury on drug conspiracy charges, and sentenced to 360 months' imprisonment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed his conviction and, after a limited remand, affirmed his sentence as well. See United States v. Martin, 618 F.3d 705, 739 (7th Cir. 2010) (affirming convictions of Taylor and co-conspirators); United States v. Martin, Nos. 07-2272, 07-4010, 07-3893, 07-3940, 2011 WL 5519811 (7th Cir. Nov. 14, 2011) (affirming sentencing in wake of 2007 Guideline amendments and Kimbrough v. United States, 552 U.S. 85 (2007).)

Taylor now brings this motion for relief from his conviction and sentence. 28 U.S.C. § 2255. He argues that the attorneys appointed to represent him in the district court provided ineffective assistance in a variety of ways: by failing to move to dismiss the indictment; failing to obtain a written version of a proposed plea agreement; failing to present a "buyer-seller" defense; failing to investigate a government witness's drug use; failing to explain the United States Sentencing Guidelines to him; failing to challenge the use of a general verdict form; and failing to make appropriate challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence and to his sentence. He also alleges that he had a Due Process right to be present when the court affirmed his sentence on remand.

As explained below, Taylor's claims are defeated by the record or by legal principles. His petition [1] is denied, and the court declines to grant a Certificate of Appealability.


Petitioner Mario Taylor was involved in a "sprawling narcotics-distribution network on the west side of Chicago, Illinois, that had been in existence since 1998." Martin, 618 F.3d at 708. A street gang, the "Mafia Insane Vice Lords" or the "Mafia Insanes, " controlled locations where drugs were sold and collected street "taxes" from individuals sold drugs at those locations. Id. Mario Taylor, himself a member of the "Four Corner Hustler" street gang, supplied drugs to the Mafia Insanes operation. Id.

In 2004, the Government filed a 72-count indictment, charging 48 persons involved in the scheme with federal drug and weapons offenses. Taylor was charged with one count of conspiracy to possess and distribute narcotics, 21 U.S.C. § 846, five counts of using a telephone in furtherance of the conspiracy, § 843(b), and five counts of drug possession with intent to distribute, § 841(a). ( See Indictment, United States v. Martin, No. 04-cr-495-38 [200], Counts 1, 48-55, 57-58.) In August 2006, Taylor entered into a plea agreement that would have resulted in a 21-year sentence, but in January 2007 he withdrew his guilty plea and proceeded to trial a few months later. ( See Plea Agreement, United States v. Martin, No. 04-cr-495-38 [1386]; Jan. 25, 2007 Minute Entry, United States v. Martin, No. 04-cr-495-38 [1616].) On May 9, 2007, the jury convicted Taylor of all except two telephone charges; he was sentenced to 360 months' imprisonment. ( See Judgment, United States v. Martin, No. 04-cr-495-38 [1965].)

The Seventh Circuit affirmed Taylor's conviction on appeal, but ordered a limited remand so the district court could consider whether, in light of Kimbrough v. United States, 552 U.S. 85 (2007), "the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine yields a sentence greater than necessary to achieve 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a)'s purpose." Martin, 618 F.3d at 739. This court declined to adjust Taylor's sentence, however, noting that Taylor's sentence was based on quantities of powder, not crack, cocaine, and on his extensive criminal history, including a conviction for attempted murder. ( See Oct. 7, 2011 Order, United States v. Martin, No. 04-cr-495-38 [2483], 5-6.) On November 14, 2011, the Seventh Circuit affirmed this court's decision not to revisit Taylor's sentence. United States v. Martin, 2011 WL 5519811 at *1-3. Taylor did not file a certiorari petition with the Supreme Court, so his "judgment of conviction" became final on February 14, 2012. See 28 U.S.C. § 2255(f)(1); Robinson v. United States, 416 F.3d 645, 647 (7th Cir. 2005). He filed his § 2255 petition within one year of that date, on January 28, 2013, making it timely.


Relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 "is available only in extraordinary situations, such as an error of constitutional or jurisdictional magnitude or where a fundamental defect has occurred which results in a complete miscarriage of justice, " including where the sentence imposed by the court exceeded the maximum sentence authorized by law. Blake v. United States, 723 F.3d 870, 878-79 (7th Cir. 2013); 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a). Generally, before a court may consider a § 2255 petition, the claims brought in it must have been raised and exhausted on direct appeal. Massaro v. United States, 538 U.S. 500, 504 (2003). A claim not previously raised is procedurally defaulted, and a court may not consider it on habeas review unless the petitioner demonstrates both cause and prejudice. Massaro, 538 U.S. at 504. The only exception to this requirement is that a petitioner may raise an ineffective assistance of counsel claim in a § 2255 petition regardless of "whether or not the petitioner could have raised the claim on direct appeal." Id.

I. Ineffective Assistance of Trial Counsel

In assessing a claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel, the court will "strongly presume" that counsel has "rendered adequate assistance and made all significant decisions in the exercise of reasonable professional judgment." Burt v. Titlow, 134 S.Ct. 10, 17 (2013) (citing Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 690 (1984)). The burden to demonstrate a trial counsel's constitutional deficiencies rests with Petitioner, who must establish two elements: "that his counsel's performance fell below an objective standard of reasonableness, and that he was prejudiced as a result." Jones v. Butler, 778 F.3d 575, 583 (7th Cir. 2015) (citing Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687-88). To satisfy the second element, Petitioner must show that there is a reasonable probability that but for counsel's errors, the result of the proceedings would have been different. Id. "A reasonable probability is a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome." Strickland, 466 U.S. at 694.

Petitioner brings several ineffective assistance of trial counsel claims, which the court discusses below.

A. Grounds One, Seven

In Ground One of his petition, Taylor contends that trial attorneys Paul Wagner, Keri Ambrosio, and Bradley Harris were ineffective for not filing a motion to dismiss or quash the "defective" indictment. (Habeas Pet. Mem. [3], 4.) Ground Seven levies the same charge against attorney James Young. ( Id. at 17.) The indictment was defective, according to Petitioner, because it "was so vague and poorly framed [that] it failed to provide adequate notice of the charges against Petitioner, " as required by the Due Process Clause. ( Id. at 4.)

The claim lacks merit. "An indictment is legally sufficient if it (1) states all the elements of the crime charged; (2) adequately informs the defendant of the nature of the charges so that he may prepare a defense; and (3) allows the defendant to plead the judgment as a bar to any future prosecutions." United States v. White, 610 F.3d 956, 958 (7th Cir. 2010). The indictment in this case satisfies this standard: it "tracked" the words of the statute by stating the elements of each crime charged, id. at 958-59. ( See Indictment, United States v. Martin, No. 04-cr-495-38.) And the document described more than enough "factual particulars" to alert Taylor to "the specific conduct against which he w[ould] have to defend himself at trial, " id. at 959. ( See Indictment, United States v. Martin, No. 04-cr-495-38.) For example, the conspiracy count alone set out 22 paragraphs, each alleging specific details about the sophisticated drug distribution conspiracy involving dozens of individuals, including Taylor. ( See Indictment, United States v. Martin at al., No. 04-cr-495-38 [200], ¶¶ 1-22.) Taylor's telephone and possession charges provided dates and times for the calls, as well as dates for the drug possession allegations. ( See, e.g., id. at Counts 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 57, 58.) The indictment's ...

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