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Johnson v. United States

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

February 14, 2018




         This matter is before the Court on Petitioner Walter Johnson's motion filed under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence. On August 28, 2013, Petitioner pled guilty to the lesser included offense of conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 846 and 841(a)(1). On February 20, 2014, the Court sentenced Petitioner to 102 months in prison and three years of supervised release.

         In his pro se motion to vacate and set aside his conviction and sentence, Petitioner claims that: (1) the Government engaged in prosecutorial misconduct by pursuing a case in which agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (“ATF”) exhibited outrageous government misconduct; and (2) plea counsel was ineffective for failing to assert the defenses of prosecutorial misconduct/outrageous government conduct and entrapment. For the reasons set forth below, habeas relief will be denied.


         Criminal Proceedings

         On May 22, 2013, Petitioner and seven other co-defendants were indicted on two counts: (1) conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 846 and 841(a)(1); and (2) conspiracy to possess a firearm during and in relation to a drug-trafficking crime, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(o). The charges arose out of a reverse sting operation, in which Petitioner and the other defendants agreed to rob and steal a substantial amount of cocaine from what they believed to be a drug stash house. As charged, Count One carried a mandatory minimum sentence of at least ten years, and not more than life.

         During the pretrial phase of the case, the prosecutors disclosed discovery to Petitioner, and Petitioner was given the opportunity to file pretrial motions. Petitioner did not elect to file pretrial motions, however, and instead appeared before the Magistrate Judge and knowingly and voluntarily waived his right to file pretrial motions. United States v. Johnson, et al, No. 4:13-CR-192-AGF-1, ECF Nos. 158, 159 (E.D. Mo.). As reflected in the audio recording of the hearing, Petitioner represented, under oath, that he had discussed his case with defense counsel, that he was satisfied with his representation by counsel, that he was aware of his right to file pretrial motions, and that he was electing to waive that right. Id. at ECF No. 158.

         On August 28, 2013, Petitioner entered into a guilty plea under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(c)(1)(A). Pursuant to the parties' Guilty Plea Agreement, in exchange for Petitioner's voluntary plea of guilty to the lesser included offense in Count One, the Government agreed to dismiss Count Two. With respect to the sentence, the parties agreed that so long as Defendant did not request a sentence of less than 96 months, Defendant could request a sentence below the United States Sentencing Guideline (the “Guideline”) range. The Government agreed not to seek a sentence above the applicable Guideline range. By permitting Petitioner to plead to the lesser included offense, Petitioner was no longer subject to the ten-year mandatory minimum sentence.

         In the Guilty Plea Agreement, signed by both parties, Petitioner stipulated to the following facts. On or about May 2, 2013, Petitioner told a confidential informant of the ATF (“informant”) that Petitioner intended to rob a marijuana dealer.[1] The informant advised Petitioner that the informant knew a person (hereinafter the “undercover agent”) who could set up Mexican drug traffickers to be robbed of a large amount of cocaine. Petitioner met with the undercover agent, who told Petitioner that he was a disgruntled drug courier for a Mexican drug trafficking organization, and that he (undercover agent) would be picking up about four to five kilos of cocaine from the stash house in the next week or so. The undercover agent told Petitioner that he would inform Petitioner of the stash house's location in order for Petitioner and any of his recruited associates to rob it. The undercover agent told Petitioner that Petitioner and his associates would have to devise their own plan as to how to execute the robbery. Petitioner agreed to conduct the robbery and told the undercover agent that he would recruit associates.

         On May 13, 2013, Petitioner and some of his associates met the undercover agent at a gas station, at which time the undercover agent explained the basic operations of the Mexican drug cartel and the dangers associated with their plan. Petitioner and his associates all acknowledged that they wished to participate in the robbery, agreed to pay the undercover agent eight kilograms of cocaine in exchange for brokering the robbery, and confirmed that they had access to firearms. Petitioner and his associates decided at some point after this meeting to recruit more individuals to assist in the robbery and the acquisition of the cocaine.

         On May 15, 2013, the undercover agent advised Petitioner that he had been contacted by the Mexican drug cartel and was told to pick up cocaine from the stash house on May 16, 2013. That day, the undercover agent met with Petitioner and his associates an hour before the alleged drug pick-up to ensure that they were prepared to do the robbery. Petitioner advised the undercover agent that everyone was ready, and the undercover agent went through the plan for the robbery. Petitioner had the undercover agent drive him to collect additional associates to assist in the robbery, and the undercover agent then met with Petitioner and all of his associates in a fenced-in parking lot for a final meeting. The undercover agent again reviewed the plan, and Petitioner and his associates acknowledged the plan and agreed to proceed. The undercover agent then received a phone call from another ATF agent. The undercover agent pretended that the call was from a member of the Mexican drug cartel providing him with the address of the stash house. ATF agents who were located in the immediate area then moved in and arrested Petitioner and his seven associates. Id. at ECF No. 195.

         At the change-of-plea hearing, Petitioner represented to the Court that he had enough time to discuss the charges, his case, and the plea agreement with his attorney. He further represented that he was satisfied with the representation he received from his attorney, and that there was nothing he wanted his attorney to do for him that the attorney had not done in representing Petitioner. Id. at ECF No. 375, at 7-8. Additionally, Petitioner represented that he had sufficient time to review the terms of the plea agreement with his attorney and address any questions Petitioner had about the plea agreement, and that he understood the terms of the plea agreement. The facts recited in the plea agreement were also reviewed, in detail, and Petitioner agreed, under oath, that the statements contained in the plea agreement were true. Id. at 11-13. Petitioner also represented that he understood that he would normally have the right to appeal both his conviction and his sentence, but that in the plea agreement, he was waiving his right to appeal all non-jurisdictional, non-sentencing issues, and all sentencing issues other than the calculation of his criminal history. Id. at 13-14. Petitioner also waived his right to contest his conviction and sentence in any post-trial proceedings, except for claims of prosecutorial misconduct and ineffective assistance of counsel. Id.

         The Court ascertained the factual basis for the guilty plea and accepted the plea as knowing, intelligent, and voluntary. Id. at 39-40.

         At the sentencing on February 20, 2014, the Court granted Petitioner's motion for a variance from the Guideline range, [2] and sentenced Petitioner to 102 months in prison, and a three-year term of supervised release. At the sentencing hearing, the Court again advised Petitioner that he had entered into a plea agreement that waived some or all of his rights to appeal his sentence, but advised Petitioner that if he believed that the waiver was not valid or did not cover some ground he wished to raise, he could present that theory to the appellate court. Petitioner was also advised that he could appeal his conviction if he believed that his guilty plea was somehow unlawful or ...

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