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Conerly v. United States

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

June 18, 2018



          J. Ronnie Greer United States District Judge

         Pending before the Court is the motion of Lucas Jordan Conerly (“Conerly”), a federal inmate, to vacate, set aside, or correct sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §2255 [Doc. 52].[1] The Court The Court finds the materials thus submitted, together with the record of the underlying criminal case (2:13-CR-15), conclusively show Conerly is not entitled to relief on any of the claims asserted in his petition. Accordingly, the Court will decide this matter without an evidentiary hearing, see United States v. Todaro, 982 F.2d 1025, 1028 (6th Cir.1993), and will DENY Conerly's motion for the following reasons.

         I. Procedural and Factual Background

          A federal grand jury indicted Conerly on February 12, 2013, charging him with coercing a minor into sexual activity in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2422(b) [Doc. 13]. Conerly signed an amended plea agreement, agreeing to plead guilty to the Indictment [Doc. 39]. As a factual basis for his guilty plea, Conerly stipulated to the following facts:

a) At all relevant times, the defendant resided in Sullivan County, in the Eastern District of Tennessee.
b) Beginning in mid-October 2012 and continuing through January 9, 2013, the defendant used means and facilities of interstate commerce including, but not limited to cellular telephones and internet-based social media outlets to contact an individual under the age of 18, in order to engage the minor in illegal sexual activity which is a crime under Tennessee law. The defendant engaged the minor in multiple conversations including text messages, telephone calls, and electronic mail communications.
c) During the foregoing conversations, the defendant induced, enticed, or persuaded, or attempted to induce, entice, or persuade a minor in illegal sexual activity.
d) On Saturday, January 19, 2013, the defendant drove from his home in Blountville, Sullivan County, Tennessee to a public location in Johnson City, Washington County, Tennessee, for the purpose of meeting and engaging an individual under the age of 18 in illegal sexual activity which is a crime under Tennessee [law]. At the time of the foregoing acts, the defendant believed that he was communicating with and meeting a person under the age of 18.
e) The foregoing acts occurred in the Eastern District of Tennessee.

[Id. at 2].

         Conerly entered a plea of guilty on December 9, 2013. The PSR established a total offense level of 27 and a criminal history category of II, resulting in an advisory guideline range of 78 to 97 months imprisonment [Doc. 38]. However, because he faced a minimum mandatory term of imprisonment of 10 years, the guideline range was 120 months. On April 9, 2014, the Court imposed the minimum sentence, a 120 month term of imprisonment. Conerly did not appeal. A judgment was entered on April 22, 2014 [Doc. 49]. On July 2, 2015, Conerly timely filed this §2255 petition.

         II. Standard of Review

         This Court must vacate and set aside Petitioner's sentence if it finds that “the judgment was rendered without jurisdiction, or that the sentence imposed was not authorized by law or otherwise open to collateral attack, or that there has been such a denial or infringement of the constitutional rights of the prisoner as to render the judgment vulnerable to collateral attack…” 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Under Rule 4 of the Governing Rules, the Court is to consider initially whether the fact of the motion itself, together with the annexed exhibits and prior proceedings in the case, reveal the movant is not entitled to relief. If it plainly appears the movant is not entitled to relief, the Court may summarily dismiss the §2255 motion under Rule 4.

         When a defendant files a §2255 motion, he must set forth facts which entitle him to relief. Green v. Wingo, 454 F.2d 52, 53 (6th Cir. 1972); O'Malley v. United States, 285 F.2d 733, 735 (6th Cir. 1961). “Conclusions, not substantiated by allegations of fact with some probability of verity, are not sufficient to warrant a hearing.” O'Malley, 285 F.2d at 735 (citations omitted). A motion that merely states general conclusions of law without substantiating allegations with facts is without legal merit. Loum v. Underwood, 262 F.2d 866, 867 (6th Cir. 1959); United States v. Johnson, 940 F.Supp. 167, 171 (W.D. Tenn. 1996). To warrant relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 because of constitutional error, the error must be one of constitutional magnitude which had a substantial and injurious effect or influence on the proceedings. Brecht v. Abrahamson, 507 U.S. 619, 637 (1993) (citation omitted) (§ 2254 case); Clemmons v. Sowders, 34 F.3d 352, 354 (6th Cir. 1994). See also United States v. Cappas, 29 F.3d 1187, 1193 (7th Cir. 1994) (applying Brecht to a §2255 motion). If the sentencing court lacked jurisdiction, then the conviction is void and must be set aside. Williams v. United States, 582 F.2d 1039, 1041 (6th Cir.), cert. denied, 439 U.S. 988 (1978). To warrant relief for a non-constitutional error, petitioner must show a fundamental defect in the proceeding that resulted in a complete miscarriage of justice or an egregious error inconsistent with the rudimentary demands of fair procedure. Reed v. Farley, 512 U.S. 339, 354 (1994); Grant v. United States, 72 F.3d 503, 506 (6th Cir.), cert. denied, 517 U.S. 152 (1982).

         III. Analysis

         Conerly first claims he received ineffective assistance of counsel because his counsel (1) failed to explain adequately all elements of the alleged crimes, (2) failed to adequately investigate and submit mitigation evidence, and (3) induced him to sign a plea [Doc. 52 at 4]. Second, Conerly claims he was not competent to make decisions on his own behalf at the time of his plea [Doc. 52 at 5]. He claims that his plea was involuntary and unknowingly made. The Court will address each argument in turn.

         A. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

         1. Failure to Explain Elements

         Conerly argues “counsel failed to adequately explain all elements of alleged committed crimes” [Doc. 52 at 4]. This claim is unequivocally contradicted by Conerly's sworn testimony during the change of plea hearing. The District Court advised Conerly that he was charged with “a violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 2422, which prohibits the use of a means of interstate commerce to knowingly persuade, induce, entice or coerce any individual under the age of 18 to engage in any sexual activity for which you could be charged with a crime under state law.” [Doc. 62 at 2].

         The following colloquy then occurred between the Court and Conerly under oath:

Q: Have you read the indictment?
A: Yes, sir.
Q. Have you had sufficient time to discuss this case with your attorney?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. Have you told your lawyer everything you know about this case?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. Has your lawyer advised you as to the nature and meaning of the charge against you?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. Has your lawyer advised or explained to you the meaning of all words used in this indictment about which you had any question? In other words, if there were words in this indictment that you did not fully ...

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