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Hunnicutt v. United States

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Chattanooga

September 27, 2017




         This matter comes before the Court on the motion of pro se petitioner Adam M. Hunnicutt (“Petitioner”) to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 [Doc. 503');">503');">503');">503] (“Petition”).[1] Petitioner filed a Memorandum [Doc. 508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508] in support of his Petition and included his Affidavit[2] [Doc. 508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508, pp.3');">p.31-35] and several exhibits with his Memorandum. The Government has responded [Doc. 532');">532] in opposition. Petitioner has filed a Reply [Doc. 537');">537');">537');">537]. After reviewing the arguments of the parties, the exhibits presented by the Petitioner, the entirety of the record, and the relevant case law, the Court determines that the Defendant's request to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence must be DENIED.


         Following his release from prison in 2007 for a federal felony conviction, Petitioner manufactured and distributed methamphetamine and conspired with others to do the same in the Eastern District of Tennessee. [Doc. 373, Amended Factual Basis, p.2');">p.2] During this time, Petitioner also supplied materials, equipment, and the locations for Brian Tittle to cook approximately one hundred sixty (160) grams of methamphetamine. [Doc. 373, p.2');">p.2] Petitioner himself cooked between 280 and 560 grams of methamphetamine in a one-month period. [Doc. 373, p.2');">p.2] Additionally, Petitioner purchased products used in manufacturing methamphetamine, and, according to the Tennessee Methamphetamine Task Force, Petitioner personally purchased 246.72 grams of pseudoephedrine between October 2008 and August 2010. [Doc. 373, p.2');">p.2] According to the Agreed Factual Basis, this amount of pseudoephedrine would yield approximately one hundred twenty-three (123) grams of actual methamphetamine. [Doc. 373, p.2');">p.2]

         On November 29, 2011, Petitioner entered a plea of guilty before United States Magistrate Judge William B. Mitchell Carter to conspiracy to manufacture and distribute fifty (50) grams or more of actual methamphetamine and five hundred (500) grams or more of a mixture or substance containing methamphetamine in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 846 (Count One). [Docs. 390 &amp. 392] Petitioner also entered a plea of guilty to conspiracy to possess and distribute pseudoephedrine and other chemicals used to manufacture methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(c)(2) and 846 (Count Two). [Docs. 390 &amp. 392] The parties did not enter into a written plea agreement but agreed to an Amended Factual Basis [Doc. 373], and the Government dismissed two additional substantive counts charging Petitioner. The Magistrate Judge recommended [Doc. 392] that the Petitioner's guilty pleas be accepted. On December 19, 2011, the undersigned accepted Petitioner's pleas of guilty. [Doc. 397]

         On June 21, 2012, the Court conducted a sentencing hearing for Petitioner. [Doc. 452] Petitioner's Presentence Report calculated his guidelines range as 121 to 151 months of imprisonment. [Doc. 464');">464');">464');">464, Sentencing Hrg. Transcript, p.4');">p.4');">p.4');">p.4] However, a statutory mandatory minimum of 240 months applied in Petitioner's case and, thus, the Court sentenced Petitioner to 240 months of imprisonment. [Doc. 464');">464');">464');">464, pp.4');">p.4');">p.4');">p.4-5, 8] The Judgment of conviction [Doc. 458] was entered on June 29, 2012. Petitioner was represented by Attorney Aldous McCrory (“Counsel”) through the entry of Judgment in this case.

         Petitioner filed a pro se notice [Doc. 457] of direct appeal, and the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit appointed [Docs. 469 & 471] Attorney C. Eugene Shiles (“Appellate Counsel”) to represent Petitioner in his direct appeal. Appellate Counsel moved to withdraw, filing an Anders[3] brief stating that, after examining the record, he discerned no non-frivolous grounds for appeal. [See Doc. 481');">481');">481');">481, Order, p.3');">p.3] Petitioner filed a pro se brief, arguing that (1) “trial counsel promised to challenge the drug quantity at sentencing but did not do so, resulting in a sentence that was higher than [Petitioner] expected” and (2) “the district court failed to properly inquire into whether [Petitioner's] medications rendered him unable to enter a voluntary plea.” [Doc. 481');">481');">481');">481, p.3');">p.3] The appellate court decided both of these issues against Petitioner and affirmed the Judgment. [Doc. 481');">481');">481');">481, p.5');">p.5');">p.5');">p.5]

         Petitioner now contends that his guilty plea was not knowingly and voluntarily made, that his conviction and sentence are based upon erroneous facts, and that he received the ineffective assistance of both trial and appellate counsel.


         Section 2255 of Title 28 of the United States Code permits a prisoner in custody under sentence of a federal court to move the court that imposed the sentence to vacate, correct, or set aside that sentence, on the grounds that

the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States, or that the court was without jurisdiction to impose such sentence, or that the sentence was in excess of the maximum authorized by law, or is otherwise subject to collateral attack . . . .

28 U.S.C. § 2255. This Court has jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Petitioner has the burden of establishing any claim asserted in the petition. See Bowers v. Battles, 568 F.2d 1, 5 (6th Cir. 1977); Mayes v. United States, p.2');">p.2d 882');">93 F.Supp.2');">p.2d 882, 886 (E.D. Tenn. 2000).

         To obtain relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, a petitioner must demonstrate “(1) an error of constitutional magnitude; (2) a sentence imposed outside the statutory limits; or (3) an error of fact or law that was so fundamental as to render the entire proceeding invalid.” Short v. United States, 471 F.3d 686, 691 (6th Cir. 2006) (quoting Mallett v. United States, 334 F.3d 491, 496- 97 (6th Cir. 2003)). He “must clear a significantly higher hurdle than would exist on direct appeal” and establish a “fundamental defect in the proceedings which necessarily results in a complete miscarriage of justice or an egregious error violative of due process.” Fair v. United States, 157 F.3d 427, 430 (6th Cir. 1998). With these principles in mind, the Court turns to the Petitioner's claims.


         Petitioner asserts three errors: (1) That his guilty plea was not knowing and voluntary, because he was under the influence of prescribed medication at his rearraignment hearing;[4] (2) that his conviction and sentence are based upon erroneous facts, [5] and (3) that he received the ineffective assistance of trial and appellate counsel.[6] The Court will consider each of these allegations in turn.

         A. Voluntariness of Guilty Plea

         Petitioner contends that his “plea was not knowing and voluntary, because [he] was medicated.” [Doc. 503');">503');">503');">503, p.5');">p.5');">p.5');">p.5] He claims he was “under the influence of Elavil/Welbutran [sic], both psychotropic drugs, when [he] pled.” [Doc. 503');">503');">503');">503, p.5');">p.5');">p.5');">p.5] He also states that while he raised this issue on direct appeal by “provid[ing] the [appellate] court a pro se supplement - [it] did not hear the issue.” [Doc. 503');">503');">503');">503, p.6');">p.6 (emphasis omitted); see also Doc. 508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508, p.7');">p.7] In Petitioner's memorandum in support of his motion, he states further that “[d]uring the plea colloquy, the Court inquired if Petitioner was on medication at the time. Petitioner answered yes. The inquiry stopped there.” [Doc. 508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508');">508, p.2');">p.24]

         The Court finds this issue to be without merit. The issue was decided on direct appeal, and the magistrate judge conducted a thorough inquiry with regard to the Petitioner's medication. Petitioner's contentions to the contrary are both patently untrue.

         First, the Court agrees with the Government that whether the Petitioner's medication affected the voluntariness of his guilty plea was decided on appeal. This is set out fully in the Government's response:

The petitioner raised this issue in his appeal to the Sixth Circuit, when he argued, ‘[The Petitioner] was not in a position to accept his guilty plea . . . because he was heavily medicated.' (Sixth Circuit Case No. 12-5778, Def. pro se Brief at 6, filed March 28, 2013.) Though the petitioner claims otherwise, the Sixth Circuit did consider this issue:
[The petitioner] also argues that the district court failed to properly inquire into the effects of the medications that he was taking at the time of the plea hearing. But the district court asked the “critical question”-whether the drugs impaired [the petitioner]'s ability to understand the proceedings-and both [the petitioner] and his counsel replied that they did not. United States v. Winnick, 490 F. App'x 718, 720 (6th Cir. 2012) (quoting United States v. Savinon-Acosta, 232 F.3d 265, 268 (1st Cir. 2000)). Further, there is no indication that [the petitioner] had a history of mental illness, and his behavior during the plea colloquy supported his “assurances of competency.” Id. Under these circumstances, the district court was not obligated to conduct a more searching inquiry into [the petitioner]'s competence to plead guilty. See Id. Finally, the district court otherwise complied with the requirements of Rule 11 and ensured that [the petitioner]'s guilty plea was knowing, voluntary, and intelligent. See United States v. Gardner, 417 F.3d 541, 544 (6th Cir. 2005).
(R. 481');">481');">481');">481, Sixth Circuit Case No. 12-5778, Order at PageID# 1809, filed May 5, 2013.) The Sixth Circuit issued a mandate three weeks later. (R. 482, Sixth Circuit Case No. 12-5778, Mandate at PageID# 1812, filed June 6, 2013.) Thus, the Sixth Circuit has adjudicated the voluntariness of the petitioner's guilty plea against the petitioner, and that holding is the law of the case. “Under the doctrine of the law of the case, a decision on an issue made by a court at one stage of a case should be given effect in successive stages of the same litigation.” United States v. Todd, 920 F.2d 399, 403 (6th Cir. 1990) (citing Christianson v. Colt Indus. Operating Corp., 486 U.S. 800, 816 (1988) (additional citations omitted)); see also Davis v. United States, 417 U.S. 333, 342 (1974).

         [Doc. 532');">532, pp. 10-11] Accordingly, the Sixth Circuit specifically found the District Court had “ensured that Hunnicutt's guilty plea was knowing, voluntary, and intelligent” and that this issue did “not warrant relief on direct appeal.” [Doc. 481');">481');">481');">481, pp. 4-5]

         Furthermore, the Court's own examination of the record only confirms the Court of Appeals' ruling. When Petitioner advised the magistrate judge that he was on medication, not only did the inquiry not stop there, but rather an in-depth inquiry was made:

THE COURT: All right, sir. Are you presently under the influence of any drug or medication or alcoholic beverage, anything like that, that would affect your ability to understand?
THE DEFENDANT: I'm on medication at the county jail for-
THE COURT: All right. Well, let's talk about that. You're on some medication at the jail?
THE DEFENDANT: Yes, Your Honor.
THE COURT: All right. About how long have you been on that medication?
THE DEFENDANT: Six months.
THE COURT: All right. And that medication is medication for what ...

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