United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Western Division
ORDER DENYING MOTION FOR POSTCONVICTION RELIEF AND CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY
GREG KAYS, Chief District Judge.
This case arises out of Movant Earl Jackson's guilty to plea to being a felon in possession of a firearm. Pending before the Court is Movant's pro se "Motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence by a Person in Federal Custody" (Civ. Doc. 1). Finding Movant's arguments are without merit and an evidentiary hearing is unnecessary, the Court denies the motion and declines to issue a certificate of appealability.
Factual Background and Procedural History
As the Government's statement of facts accurately summarizes the record documents, the Court essentially adopts the majority of the factual and procedural background facts from the Government's Suggestions in Opposition (Civ. Doc. 5).
On July 12, 2011, a grand jury empaneled in the Western District of Missouri returned a one-count indictment charging Jackson with being a felon in possession of a firearm, a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) (Crim. Doc. 1). The indictment also designated Movant as an armed career criminal ("ACC"), making him eligible for a fifteen-year minimum sentence pursuant to the Armed Career Criminal Act ("ACCA"), 18 U.S.C. § 924(e) (Crim. Doc. 1).
On September 10, 2012, Movant pled guilty (Crim. Doc. 52). During the plea hearing, Movant acknowledged that by pleading guilty he could face a fifteen-year statutory minimum sentence (Crim. Doc. 67 at 19). Government Counsel then apprised the Court and Movant that it may file a motion for a downward departure depending on the level of assistance Movant provided in solving another case (Crim. Doc. 67 at 19-20). The Court then informed Movant that the Government was under no obligation to file the motion, nor was the Court bound by any such motion (Crim. Doc. 67 at 21-22). Movant repeatedly confirmed that he understood these reservations (Crim. Doc. 67 at 22).
The United States Probation Office subsequently issued a presentence investigation report ("PSR"). The PSR suggested an advisory sentencing guidelines range of 180 to 188 months' imprisonment, and a statutory range of fifteen years' to life imprisonment (Crim. Doc. 57 at 13). To reach these figures, the PSR found Movant's prior criminal record warranted his classification as an ACC under the ACCA and the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines Manual § 4B1.4 (2011) (Crim. Doc. 57 at 6). To be classified as such, a defendant must have at least three felony convictions for either a serious drug offense or a violent felony. 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(1). The PSR found Movant had seven separate qualifying convictions: (1) a 1974 Illinois burglary conviction, (2) a 1976 Illinois armed robbery conviction, (3) a 1983 Illinois robbery conviction, (4) a 1992 Illinois armed robbery conviction, (5) a 1992 Illinois unlawful use of a weapon conviction, (6) a 1993 Missouri burglary conviction, and (7) a 1993 Illinois burglary conviction (Crim. Doc. 57 at 6). Neither party filed objections to the PSR.
The case proceeded to sentencing on July 3, 2013 (Crim. Doc. 62). Both the Government and Movant's counsel ("Defense Counsel") requested the statutory minimum sentence of fifteen years' imprisonment (Crim. Doc. 68 at 3-4). Defense Counsel did not raise any objection to the PSR findings during the hearing, and Movant voiced his displeasure with Defense Counsel's failure to do so (Crim. Doc. 68 at 6-7). In particular, Movant believed that several convictions should not count towards his ACCA eligibility because they were too old (Crim. Doc. 68 at 7). Defense Counsel apprised the Court that he refused to object because no caselaw supported it, and Movant had admitted to him that he committed, and was convicted of, the three robberies (Crim. Doc. 68 at 6-7). The Court eventually sentenced Movant to 188 months' imprisonment.
Movant did not appeal, but timely filed the instant motion on June 19, 2014. The motion is now ripe for review.
Movant raises two grounds for relief. Movant first contends that Defense Counsel was ineffective during sentencing by refusing to challenge his classification as an ACC. Second, Movant argues that the Court should amend his sentence because the PSR erroneously failed to include a three-point reduction for acceptance of responsibility. The Court addresses each argument in turn.
I. Defense Counsel was not unconstitutionally ineffective for failing to challenge Movant's classification as an ACC.
Movant first argues that Defense Counsel was ineffective for failing to object to the PSR's classification of him as an ACC. Movant posits that if Defense Counsel had properly investigated whether the offenses identified in the PSR actually met the requirements of "violent felonies" under the ACCA, then Defense Counsel would have discovered that several convictions did not qualify. This, according to Movant, would have spurred Defense Counsel to challenge his ACC classification, and the Court to sustain the objection. Thus, Movant concludes that Defense Counsel's failure to investigate and raise this challenge was not only deficient, but also prejudicial.
To succeed on a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, a movant must show that "(1) trial counsel's performance was so deficient as to fall below an objective standard of the customary skill and diligence displayed by a reasonably competent attorney, and (2) trial counsel's deficient performance prejudiced the defense." Armstrong v. Kemna, 534 F.3d 857, 863 (8th Cir. 2008) (citing Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687-94 (1984)). Judicial review of trial counsel's performance is highly deferential, "indulging a strong presumption that counsel's conduct falls within the wide range of reasonable professional judgment." Middleton v. Roper, 455 F.3d 838, 846 (8th Cir. 2006). Trial counsel's "strategic choices made after thorough investigation of law and facts relevant to plausible options are virtually ...