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Baumgartner v. United States

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

May 21, 2019



         Petitioner Kaitlyn Baumgartner has filed a motion to vacate, set aside, or correct sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Respondent has filed a response in opposition to the motion, to which Baumgartner has responded. Having considered the pleadings and the record, along with the relevant law, the Court finds that it is unnecessary to hold an evidentiary hearing[1], and Baumgartner's § 2255 motion will be denied.


         In February 2016, Baumgartner served as the getaway driver for co-defendant Randy Mestre's armed robbery of four business establishments [Doc. 33 ¶ 4 in No. 3:16-CR-77]. Baumgartner knew in advance that Mestre “planned to rob the respective businesses [and] . . . planned to use a firearm to commit the robberies” [Id.]. In November 2016, Baumgartner pleaded guilty to four counts of aiding and abetting Hobbs Act robbery in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1951, and one count of aiding and abetting the use and brandishing of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) [Doc. 35 in No. 3:16-CR-77]. Pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(c)(1)(C), the parties negotiated a total sentence of 15 years' imprisonment, consisting of concurrent terms of 8 years' imprisonment for the robberies followed by the statutorily mandated consecutive 7-year term for the firearm offense [Doc. 33 ¶ 6 in No. 3:16-CR-77].

         Baumgartner's advisory Guidelines range was calculated to be 162 to 181 months' imprisonment, based on a total offense level of 26 and a criminal history category of III [Doc. 53 ¶ 96 in No. 3:16-CR-77]. The Court sentenced Baumgartner to the 180-month sentence of imprisonment agreed to by the parties [Doc. 56 in No. 3:16-CR-77]. Consistent with the appeal-waiver provision in the plea agreement, Baumgartner did not appeal [See Doc. 33 ¶ 10(a) in No. 3:16-CR-77].

         Thereafter, Baumgartner filed the instant § 2255 motion, alleging four instances of ineffective assistance by her counsel [Doc. 1]. The United States was ordered to respond, and it complied with the order and filed its response in opposition to the motion on July 11, 2018 [Doc. 6]. Baumgartner submitted a reply on July 30, 2018 [Doc. 7].


         After a defendant has been convicted and exhausted her appeal rights, a court may presume that “[s]he stands fairly and finally convicted.” United States v. Frady, 456 U.S. 152, 164 (1982). A court may grant relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, but the statute “does not encompass all claimed errors in conviction and sentencing.” United States v. Addonizio, 442 U.S. 178, 185 (1979). Rather, collateral attack limits a movant's allegations to those of constitutional or jurisdictional magnitude, or those containing factual or legal errors “so fundamental as to render the entire proceeding invalid.” Short v. United States, 471 F.3d 686, 691 (6th Cir. 2006) (citation omitted); see also 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a).


         In Strickland v. Washington, the Supreme Court set forth a two-pronged test for determining whether a convicted defendant has received the ineffective assistance of counsel. See Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984). Strickland holds that a petitioner alleging the ineffective assistance of counsel must establish (1) that counsel's performance was deficient, such that counsel did not render reasonably effective assistance as measured by prevailing professional norms; and (2) that she was prejudiced by the deficiency, i.e., that there exists a reasonable probability that but for counsel's alleged acts or omissions, the results of the proceedings would have been different. See Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687-88, 694; Huff v. United States, 734 F.3d 600, 606 (6th Cir. 2013) (applying Strickland test to § 2255 claims). The failure to satisfy either prong of Strickland requires dismissal of the claim and relieves the reviewing court of a duty to consider the other prong. Nichols v. United States, 563 F.3d 240, 249 (6th Cir. 2009); see also Strickland, 466 U.S. at 697.

         A. Robbery of the Pilot Travel Center

         Baumgartner first argues that the robbery of the Pilot Travel Center, which exists “solely within the State of Tennessee, ” did not “affect[] interstate commerce” and was thus not a federal crime, and that counsel was constitutionally ineffective for failing to conduct sufficient investigation to discover that alleged fact [Doc. 1 p. 5]. However, the Hobbs Act proscribes robbery that affects interstate commerce “in any way or degree.” 18 U.S.C. § 1951(a). The Sixth Circuit has held that there is “no requirement that there be an actual effect on interstate commerce.” United States v. Peete, 919 F.2d 1168, 1174 (6th Cir. 1990). Rather, the Hobbs Act is “read broadly to allow purely intrastate activity to be regulated under the theory that there was a realistic probability that the activity would have affected interstate commerce.” Id. at 1175 (emphasis in original). For example, the interstate-commerce nexus is satisfied where a business purchases items that have moved through interstate commerce. See, e.g., United States v. Brown, 959 F.2d 63, 68 (6th Cir. 1992). The Pilot Travel Center undoubtedly purchased items that had been manufactured outside of Tennessee. Therefore, the requisite interstate-commerce link existed, and counsel was not ineffective for failing to argue otherwise.

         B. Coercion or duress

         Baumgartner next argues that counsel should have presented a defense that she was coerced and acted in duress [Doc. 1 p. 6]. Coercion is an affirmative defense that excuses a crime if the defendant proves that she (1) “reasonably believed there was a present, imminent, and impeding threat of death or serious bodily injury” to herself or another, (2) “had not recklessly or negligently placed [her]self in a situation in which it was probable that [s]he would be forced to choose the criminal conduct, ” (3) had “no reasonable, legal alternative to violating the law, ” (4) “reasonably believed [her] criminal conduct would avoid the threatened harm, ” and (5) “did not maintain the illegal conduct any longer than absolutely necessary.” 6th Cir. Crim. Pattern Jury Instruction 6.05; see also Dixon v. United States, 548 U.S. 1, 8-9 (2006).

         Baumgartner states that her co-defendant was also her boyfriend, pimp, and drug supplier, who had choked her and placed a gun to her head several times, and who had “threatened to harm her family if she were to refuse to engage in criminal misconduct” [Doc. 7 p. 6]. However, a generalized fear of a manipulative, abusive boyfriend is not sufficient to excuse a two-day spree of criminal conduct in the absence of an imminent threat that Baumgartner was unavailable to avoid. The facts of this case fail to demonstrate a viable coercion defense, and counsel's failure to assert such a defense is not ineffective assistance of counsel. Moreover, before sentencing, Baumgartner's counsel argued that Baumgartner's relationship with the co-defendant “was of a nature that she did not feel she could refuse his instructions to drive him to and from these ...

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