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Vaughan v. United States

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Columbia Division

September 26, 2017

BEAU C. VAUGHAN, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          WAVERLY D. CRENSHAW, JR. CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is the sole remaining claim of ineffective assistance of counsel from Beau C. Vaughan's Motion to Vacate Judgment Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. (Doc. No. 1.) On April 7, 2017, the Court held an evidentiary hearing on this claim. For the following reasons, this claim is DENIED and this action is DISMISSED.

         I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         In the underlying criminal case, a federal jury convicted Vaughan of conspiracy to distribute or possess with intent to distribute 100 kilograms or more of marijuana. United States of America v. Beau C. Vaughan, No. 1:10-cr-00006, ECF No. 51 (M.D. Tenn. Aug. 11, 2011). He was sentenced to a term of 300 months' imprisonment. Id., ECF. No. 76 (M.D. Tenn. Jan. 18, 2012).

         The Court denied Vaughan's Motion to Vacate Judgment Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (Doc. No. 1), except for one of his claims of ineffective assistance of trial counsel-John Colley. (Doc. No. 15.) Specifically, Vaughan argues that Colley's failure to communicate “led him to reject a plea offer pursuant to Rule 11(c)(1)(C) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure with a recommended sentence of twelve years.” (Doc. No. 1 at 15.) Respondent argues that the Government did not make such an offer, though it did advise Colley in March 2011 that “it could be possible to obtain approval . . . for a sentence of fifteen years . . . .” (Doc. No. 5 at 9-10.) The Court concluded that, “[g]iven the ambiguity created from the timing between the . . . emails, . . . an evidentiary hearing is necessary to resolve whether [Vaughan's] counsel effectively communicated Respondent's 15 year plea offer and the consequences of rejecting the offer.” (Id.)

         II. FINDINGS OF FACT

         Vaughan and Colley testified at the April 7, 2017 hearing. The record establishes by a preponderance of the evidence the following:

         In August 2010, Vaughan and Colley discussed plea options, but Colley did not engage plea discussions with the Government because Vaughan did not want to serve time in federal prison. Vaughan spoke to Colley again at the suppression hearing on December 6, 2010. Vaughan and Colley disagree on whether they spoke between August and December 2010.

         Vaughan's motion to suppress was denied on February 28, 2011. He maintains that his brother told him that the motion to suppress had been denied, but Colley believes that he provided Vaughan a copy of the Court's order denying the motion to suppress either directly or through Vaughan's family.

         Colley entered plea discussions with the Government after the denial of the motion to suppress. He testified that Vaughan told him that he would accept a deal to serve a sentence of 7 or 8 years imprisonment, but to begin by offering 5 years. Colley told Vaughan that the Government would not accept the first offer, and asked Vaughan to tell Colley the maximum sentence he would accept. Colley understood that Vaughan would go to trial before agreeing to serve more than 10 years.

         On March 3, 2011 at 10:19 a.m., Colley sent an email to the Government stating “I have spoken with Mr. Vaughan. He is agreeable to a sentence in the 5 year range.” (Ev. Hr'g Ex. 1 at 2.) At 11:34 a.m., the Government responded that it intended to file an “851” if he did not plead guilty. (Id. at 1-2.) The Government stated that it could not “agree to a sentence in the range of five years. If [Vaughan] is interested in a plea agreement which would result in a sentence of 15 years - which would be below his Guidelines range, I expect I could get approval for that from my supervisor. If he is not interested in a sentence in that range, please let me know and we can ask the court to set a trial date.” (Id. at 2.) At 12:01 p.m., Colley responded, “Let's get a trial date.” (Id. at 1.) At 12:16 p.m., the Government responded, “Just so I am clear, Mr. Vaughan is not going to plead guilty and intends to proceed to trial?” (Id.) At 12:45 p.m., Colley responded, “Yes, Mr. Vaughan intends to go to trial rather than plead and take 15.” (Id.) Vaughan testified, however, that he would have been interested in a plea deal for 15 years at that point, but he would have sought to preserve the right to appeal the denial of his motion to suppress.

         On July 22, 2011 at 11:17 a.m., the Government sent an email to Colley asking “if Mr. Vaughan does intend to go to trial, whether [he had] objections to” transcripts of jail calls that the Government intended to use as evidence. (Id. at 3.) On July 25 at 7:42 a.m., Colley responded, “You are at 15, and we are at 10, and if we can't bridge that gap, we shall try the case, I suppose.” (Id.)

         After he sent the email at 7:42 a.m., Colley met with Vaughan in person and they discussed a possible plea agreement to serve a 15 year sentence. Vaughan was not willing to accept such a possible agreement, unless he could preserve his right to appeal the denial of his motion to suppress. Colley believed that Vaughan made it clear that he would go to trial if the Government would not agree to such an offer. Vaughan testified that, at this meeting, Colley informed him that he faced a 30 year sentence if he was found guilty. Vaughan then authorized Colley to offer an open guilty plea if he was allowed to appeal the denial of his motion to suppress. Colley told him that he would contact the Government, and told Vaughan to call Colley to find out the Government's decision.

         At 6:14 p.m. on July 25, Colley sent an email to the Government stating, “Mr. Vaughan is seriously considering pleading open if the Government will consent to a Rule 11 (a)(3) appeal of the Court's ruling on our suppression motion. Will it?” (Id. at 4.) At 11:01 p.m., the Government responded, “We won't agree [] that Mr. Vaughan can plead open with our agreement that he can appeal the ruling on the suppression issue.” (Id.) At 7:12 a.m. the next morning, Colley responded, “No, we'll try it. End of discussions.” (Id.) Colley testified that he told Vaughan the Government's decision, either directly or through Vaughan's family. Vaughan testified, however, his brother informed him on July 27 that the Government filed an “851, ” and this led Vaughan to assume that the Government had rejected the offer. In any case, Vaughan and Colley agree that they did not communicate after their July 25 meeting until the morning of trial, which was August 9, 2011. ...


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