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Brown v. United States

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

April 20, 2017

KEVIN L. BROWN, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          J. PHIL GILBERT U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter comes before the Court on petitioner Kevin L. Brown's Motion to Vacate, Set Aside or Correct Sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (Doc. 1). Also before the Court is Assistant Federal Defender Judith A. Kuenneke's Motion (Doc. 8) to Withdraw as counsel for petitioner and petitioner's Motion [Doc. 9] to Amend his § 2255.

         1. Background.

         On February 27, 2015, Mr. Brown pleaded guilty to conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846. See United States v. Brown, Case No. 14-cr-40098 (Doc. 21). On May 27, 2015, the undersigned Judge sentenced Mr. Brown to 188 months imprisonment, four years supervised release, a $100 special assessment, and a $200 fine. (Doc. 30, 14-cr-40098). Mr. Brown filed a direct appeal. His appellate counsel filed an Anders [1]brief and requested to withdrawn. The United States Court of Appeals granted appellate counsel's motion to withdraw and dismissed the petitioner's appeal on January 7, 2016.

         Mr. Brown's § 2255 motion was timely filed on June 28, 2016. In it, Mr. Brown makes the follows claims:

a. Ground One - that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to negotiate a written plea agreement and failed to argue against the drug quantity attributed to the petitioner in the presentencing report;
b. Ground Two - also that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to negotiate a plea agreement that could have resulted in a lower drug quantity amount being attributed to the petitioner; and
c. Ground Three - that the Supreme Court's holding in Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015) and United States v. Welch, 136 S.Ct. 1257 (2016), required that he should be resentenced without a career offender enhancement. The Court will now consider whether Mr. Brown's allegations survive this threshold review.

         2. Analysis.

         The Court must grant a § 2255 motion when a defendant's “sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 2255. However, “[h]abeas corpus relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 is reserved for extraordinary situations.” Prewitt v. United States, 83 F.3d 812, 816 (7th Cir. 1996). “Relief under § 2255 is available only for errors of constitutional or jurisdictional magnitude, or where the error represents a fundamental defect which inherently results in a complete miscarriage of justice.” Kelly v. United States, 29 F.3d 1107, 1112 (7th Cir. 1994) (quotations omitted). It is proper to deny a § 2255 motion without an evidentiary hearing if, “the motion and the files and records of the case conclusively demonstrate that the prisoner is entitled to no relief.” 28 U.S.C. § 2255(b); see Sandoval v. United States, 574 F.3d 847, 850 (7th Cir. 2009).

         The Sixth Amendment to the Constitution provides that “[i]n all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right . . . to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.” U.S. Const. amend. VI. This right to assistance of counsel encompasses the right to effective assistance of counsel. McMann v. Richardson, 397 U.S. 759, 771, n. 14 (1970); Watson v. Anglin, 560 F.3d 687, 690 (7th Cir. 2009). A party claiming ineffective assistance of counsel bears the burden of showing (1) that counsel's performance fell below objective standards for reasonably effective representation and (2) that this deficiency prejudiced the defense. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 688-94 (1984); United States v. Jones, 635 F.3d 909, 915 (7th Cir. 2011); Wyatt v. United States, 574 F.3d 455, 457 (7th Cir. 2009), cert. denied, 130 S.Ct. 2431 (2010); Fountain v. United States, 211 F.3d 429, 434 (7th Cir. 2000).

         To satisfy the first prong of the Strickland test, the petitioner must direct the Court to specific acts or omissions of his counsel. Wyatt, 574 F.3d at 458. The Court must then consider whether in light of all of the circumstances counsel's performance was outside the wide range of professionally competent assistance. Id. The Court's review of counsel's performance must be “highly deferential[, ] . . . indulg[ing] a strong presumption that counsel's conduct falls within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance.” Strickland, 466 U.S. at 689; accord Wyatt, 574 F.3d at 458. Counsel's performance must be evaluated keeping in mind that an attorney's trial strategies are a matter of professional judgment and often turn on facts not contained in the trial record. Strickland, 466 U.S. at 689. The Court cannot become a “Monday morning quarterback.” Harris v. Reed, 894 F.2d 871, 877 (7th Cir. 1990).

         To satisfy the second prong of the Strickland test, the plaintiff must show that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceedings would have been different, such that the proceedings were fundamentally unfair or unreliable. United States v. Jones, 635 F.3d 909, 915 (7th Cir. 2011); Fountain, 211 F.3d at 434; Adams v. Bertrand, 453 F.3d 428, 435 (7th Cir. 2006). “A reasonable probability is defined as one that is sufficient to undermine confidence in an outcome.” Adams, 453 F.3d at 435 (citing Strickland, 466 U.S. at 694).

         The failure to hear a claim for ineffective assistance of counsel in a § 2255 motion is generally considered to work a fundamental miscarriage of justice because often such claims can be heard in no other forum. They are rarely appropriate for direct review since they often turn on events not contained in the record of a criminal proceeding. Massaro, 538 U.S. at 504-05; Fountain, 211 F.3d 433-34. In addition, the district court before which the original criminal trial occurred, not an appellate court, is in the best position to initially make the determination about the effectiveness of counsel in a particular trial and potential prejudice that stemmed from counsel's ...


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