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Trigg v. United States

January 3, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Nanette K. Laughrey United States District Judge


Pending before the Court is Melissa Sue Trigg's ("Trigg") Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 [Doc. # 1]. For the reasons set forth below, the Court denies Trigg's motion.

I. Factual Background

On March 16, 2006, pursuant to a plea agreement, Trigg pled guilty to conspiracy to distribute 500 grams or more of methamphetamine (Count I) and possession of a firearm in relation to a drug trafficking crime (Count IV). The Court explained that Count I carried a minimum 10-year sentence with a maximum of life in prison, and Count IV carried a minimum five-year sentence. Asked if she understood the statutory range of punishment, Trigg answered, "Yes, ma'am." The Court then explained the rights Trigg would be giving up if she pled guilty, including her rights to trial, to a jury, to a presumption of innocence, to call witnesses, and to appeal. Trigg stated to the Court that she understood she had those rights if she chose to go to trail. Trigg also told the Court she had an opportunity to read the plea agreement in its entirety, that she "fully" understood it, and that she signed the agreement voluntarily. The agreement contained, among other things, the factual basis that the government believed would be sufficient to find her guilty of Counts I and IV, as well as the agreed base offense level of 31 (including a three-level reduction for acceptance of responsibility). The Court told Trigg that the agreement was not binding on the Court, which Trigg said she understood. She also told the Court that no promises had been made to her about what the Court would or would not do at the time of sentencing. Trigg stated she understood that once she pled guilty she would not have a right to withdraw that plea.

At that point, the government summarized the plea agreement. When asked if the government's summary accorded with her understanding of the plea agreement, Trigg answered, "Yes, ma'am." Trigg also stated she had not been coerced by anyone into changing her plea from not guilty to guilty, that she had sufficient time to consult with her attorney and that she was satisfied with the representation that had been provided to her. Trigg then pled guilty. In summarizing the evidence that would have been presented at trial, the government noted, "There would be possibly witnesses who are not indicted in this case and possibly witnesses who would also testify that Ms. Trigg was selling large quantities of methamphetamine during the time period of December 1, 2001, through and including May 20th of 2005." In addition, the government stated the evidence would show that when she was arrested in May of 2005, "she had some methamphetamine on her person and a fully loaded Glock Model 23 .40 caliber semiautomatic pistol in her purse," which she admitted to owning. The government explained it had witnesses that would testify they knew Trigg "had that pistol with her during some of her drug trafficking crimes." The Court then asked Trigg if she agreed that the evidence would be presented by the government, and if she agreed that she committed the acts the government outlined. Trigg answered "Yes ma'am" to both questions.

At this point, Trigg's attorney clarified that "Ms. Trigg's historical involvement in the conspiracy was not as lengthy as December of 2001; however, she was squarely involved in the conspiracy . . . ." Her attorney also explained that the search warrant was conducted at the home of a co-defendant, not Trigg's residence. The Court, having found Trigg understood the charges and penalties, and that she had voluntarily waived her constitutional rights, accepted her guilty plea.

The sentencing hearing was held on June 15, 2006. The government agreed the 10-year mandatory minimum on Count I and the five-year mandatory minimum on Count IV were appropriate. The Court clarified that the sentences were consecutive, not concurrent, which Trigg's attorney agreed was the case. The Court then gave Trigg the opportunity to speak, and she apologized for her conduct and thanked everyone for helping her. The Court then sentenced Trigg to the statutory minimum. The Court granted her attorney's requests to waive the fine and to recommend her to the drug-treatment program.

II. Evidentiary Hearing

On a motion to vacate, a movant is entitled to an evidentiary hearing when the facts alleged, if true, would entitle him to relief. See Payne v. United States, 78 F.3d 343 (8th Cir. 1996). However, a claim may be dismissed without an evidentiary hearing if the claim is inadequate on its face. Id. Moreover, a district court need not hold an evidentiary hearing in a section 2255 case when the files and records conclusively show that the movant is not entitled to relief. See Bradshaw v. United States, 153 F.3d 704 (8th Cir. 1998). After reviewing the records and files, the Court concludes that all of Trigg's claims can be fully and fairly evaluated on the existing record and no evidentiary hearing is necessary.

Trigg's section 2255 motion is based on ineffective assistance of counsel, raising four grounds for relief:

(1) that her attorneys failed to properly investigate the facts relating to Count I; (2) that her attorneys improperly advised her to plead guilty to Count IV, even though she insisted that the firearm was not carried in relation to a drug trafficking crime; (3) that her attorneys failed to advise her that Counts I and IV would run consecutively; and (4) that her attorneys erroneously advised her that she would qualify for a safety-valve reduction.

III. Discussion

To establish ineffective assistance of counsel, a movant must satisfy a two-part test. First, the movant must prove that his counsel's representation was deficient, and second, that the deficient performance prejudiced his case. See Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984). A counsel's performance is deficient if he or she "failed to exercise the customary skills and diligence that a reasonably competent attorney would have exhibited under similar circumstances." United States v. Apfel, 97 F.3d 1074, 1076 (8th Cir. 1996) (internal quotation omitted).

The prejudice component "focuses on the question [of] whether counsel's deficient performance renders the result of the trial unreliable or the proceeding fundamentally unfair." Lockhart v. Fretwell, 506 U.S. 364, 372 (1993). "Unreliability or unfairness does not result if the ineffectiveness of counsel does not deprive the defendant of any substantive or procedural right to which the law entitles him." Id. Further, "[w]hen considering whether the defense suffered prejudice, [the] court must determine whether there is a reasonable probability (sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome) that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different." Blankenship v. United States, 159 F.3d 336, 338 (8th Cir. 1998) (internal quotation omitted). This two-part test also applies where a defendant challenges a guilty plea based on the counsel's purported ineffective assistance. See Hill v. Lockhart, 474 U.S. 52, 58 (1985); see also Iron Wing v. United States, 34 F.3d 662, 664-65 (8th Cir. 1994) (holding there must be reasonable probability that, but for counsel's errors, defendant would not have pled ...

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