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Wilson v. United States

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

March 21, 2017

TRAVIS L. WILSON, Petitioner,
UNITED STATES, Respondent.


          Michael J. Reagan United States District Judge

         I. Introduction

         This matter is now before the Court on Petitioner Travis Wilson's motion to vacate, set aside, or correct sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (Doc. 1).[1] The Government opposes Wilson's Petition arguing that the cases he seeks to rely upon are not retroactively applicable to his sentence, and even if the cases were retroactive, they do not apply to the precise factors that led to his enhanced sentence (Doc. 13). The Government reserves argument on Wilson's appeal waiver in his plea agreement (Doc. 13 at 3). Appointed counsel for Wilson replied to the Government's response, agreeing with the Government's interpretation that Petitioner Wilson was not eligible for relief (Doc. 15). Petitioner Wilson subsequently filed his own reply brief arguing that he was further entitled to relief due to changes in controlling precedent that had occurred from the time of the Government and his Counsel's filings and the date of his latest brief (Doc. 19). The matter is now before the Court for a decision. For the reasons set forth herein, the Court finds that Petitioner Wilson is not entitled to the relief he seeks, nor does this case warrant an evidentiary hearing.

         II. Facts

         Pursuant to a plea agreement, Wilson pled guilty to a single-count indictment for possession with the intent to distribute methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(c). (CM/ECF, S.D. Ill., Case No. 13-CR-30036-MJR, Doc. 1). Wilson's plea agreement contained an appeal waiver for direct and collateral appeals (See Id. Doc. 43). Following a presentence investigation and an opportunity for counsel to respond, Wilson was committed to the custody of the Bureau of Prisons for a term of 180 months, to be followed by five years of supervised release (See Id. Doc. 55).

         Wilson lodged a direct appeal of his conviction and sentence, despite his appeal waiver. (See Id. Doc. 59). His original counsel filed an Anders brief with the Seventh Circuit seeking to withdraw because the waiver barred the issues Wilson wished to raise (See Id. Doc. 71). Wilson was given an opportunity to respond to the Anders brief, but did not do so. (Id.). Wilson's counsel informed the Seventh Circuit that the only grounds for his wish to appeal was to challenge his sentence-a challenge strictly foreclosed by his appeal waiver. Accordingly, the Seventh Circuit granted counsel's Anders motion and dismissed the appeal. (Id.).

         Wilson did not file a petition for habeas corpus within a year of his conviction and sentence becoming final, as is typically required by § 2255(f). Instead, he waited until October 2, 2015, to file his § 2255 petition, in reliance on “a supreme court decision in 2015 that career criminal guidelines are unconstitutional and void for vagueness, and it is applicable to the residual clause”. (CM/ECF, S.D. Ill., Case No. 15-1086-MJR, Doc. 1 at 5). Unquestionably, his Petition was filed within a year of any 2015 Supreme Court decision.

         In his Petition, Wilson contends that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to challenge the finding that he was a career criminal. (Doc. 1 at 6). Additionally, Wilson contends that his due process rights were violated because the sentencing judge did not follow the joint sentencing recommendation from the Government, and instead departed upward based on the career criminal designation. (Id.).

         The Government filed an extensive brief in opposition to Wilson's Petition (Doc. 13). The Government reserved reliance on the appeal waiver, and instead argued that Petitioner Wilson had no meritorious substantive grounds for relief because his trial counsel was not ineffective for failing to preserve a due process challenge to the sentencing guidelines. Additionally, the Government argued that subsequent changes in the law regarding armed career criminal statutes do not cross apply to the sentencing guidelines, or even if they do, the changes are procedural in nature and thus are not retroactively applicable. Though the Government acknowledges a variety of changes in its own position of the constitutionality of various sentencing provisions and statutes, it argued that all of the recent changes have no net effect on Petitioner's sentence.

         Pursuant to a Local Administrative Order 176, the Court appointed a Federal Public Defender to assess the potential career criminal issues with Petitioner's sentence. Counsel filed a reply to the Government's response. (Doc. 15). Counsel averred that he did not believe Petitioner was entitled to relief because two of the prior convictions used to designate him as a career offender did not involve the residual clause-the portion of a sentencing statute found invalid by the Supreme Court. (Id. at 3-5). As a result, Counsel opined that Petitioner was not eligible for relief on his petition. (Id.).

         In September 2016, Petitioner filed a pro se reply (Doc. 19) to the Government's Response (Doc. 13). In his reply, Petitioner elaborated upon his initial arguments and sought to supplement those arguments by reference to changes in Seventh Circuit precedent. (Doc. 19). He argued that he should not have been classified as a career criminal, and that he deserves a resentencing. (Id.).

         III. Legal Analysis

         Typically, a Section 2255 petition must be lodged within one year of the petitioner's conviction and sentence becoming final. 28 U.S.C. § 2255(f)(1). However, there are a number of exceptions, such as, Section 2255(f)(3) allowing for an extended one year period to file from “the date on which the right asserted was initially recognized by the Supreme Court, if that right has been newly recognized by the Supreme Court and made retroactively applicable to cases on collateral review.” In addition to the one year limitations period for filing a petition, there is also a standard requirement that in order to bring a constitutional claim on collateral appeal, the petitioner must also have raised that claim on direct appeal. See Massaro v. United States, 538 U.S. 500, 504 (2003). Despite this general requirement, defendants are not required to raise ineffective assistance of counsel claims on direct appeal in order to preserve them for collateral appeal purposes. Id. Additionally, this requirement may be excused if the petitioner can demonstrate good cause for the failure to raise the claims on direct appeal and actual prejudice from the failure to raise those claims; or that the district court's refusal to consider the claims would lead to a fundamental miscarriage of justice. See e.g. Bousley v. United States, 523 U.S. 614, 622 (1998); Fountain v. United States, 211 F.3d 429, 433 (7th Cir. 2000).

         As for ineffective assistance of counsel claims, in order to prevail on such a claim on collateral review, a petitioner must establish that: “(1) his counsel's performance fell below an objective standard of reasonableness; and, (2) the deficient performance so prejudiced his defense that it deprived him of a fair trial.” Fountain, 211 F.3d at 434, quoting Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 688-94 (1984). Specifically in the context of a claim that counsel was ineffective during plea negotiations, a petitioner must show that “counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness' when measured against' prevailing professional norms.'” Gaylord v. United States, 829 F.3d 500, 506 (7th Cir. 2016). Competent counsel will “attempt to learn all of the facts of the case, make an estimate of a likely sentence, and communicate the results of that analysis before allowing his client to plead guilty.” Id. The petitioner must also show that absent counsel's deficient performance, there is a reasonable likelihood that he would not have pleaded guilty, and would have instead gone to trial. Id. ...

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