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Taylor v. United States

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

July 31, 2019

DANIEL JAMES TAYLOR, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent.

          Christopher H. Steger, Magistrate Judge

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          TRAVIS R. MCDONOUGH, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is Petitioner Daniel James Taylor's pro se motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence pursuant to Title 28, United States Code, Section 2255 (Doc. 1 in No. 1:19-cv-15; Doc. 62 in No. 1:16-cr-58). For the following reasons, the Court will DENY Petitioner's motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On April 26, 2016, a federal grand jury charged Petitioner with one count of carjacking, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 2119. (Doc. 1 in No. 1:16-cr-58.) On October 24, 2016, Petitioner pleaded guilty pursuant to a written plea agreement, which included an agreed sentence of 156 months' imprisonment pursuant to Rule 11(c)(1)(C) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. (Doc. 23 in No. 1:16-cr-58.) During Petitioner's rearraignment hearing, he swore that: (1) he understood the terms of his plea agreement; (2) no one made any promises or assurances to him not contained in the plea agreement; (3) he was not threatened or coerced into pleading guilty; and (4) he was pleading guilty of his own free will (Doc. 35 in No. 1:16-cv-58, at 7‒8, 13.)

         On December 19, 2016, Petitioner moved to withdraw his guilty plea. (Doc. 31 in No. 1:16-cr-58.) After conducting a hearing, the Court denied Petitioner's motion to withdraw his guilty plea, noting that the rearraignment transcript indicated that Petitioner pleaded guilty with full knowledge and understanding of what he was doing and that he made a knowing and intentional decision to plead guilty. (Doc. 54 in No. 1:16-cr-58, at 25‒27.)

         At the plea-withdrawal hearing, Petitioner also moved for the Court to appoint him new counsel. (Id. at 5.) As the basis for this request, Petitioner explained that he believed his counsel was ineffective because he permitted Petitioner to waive conflicts involving the magistrate judge and because he failed to obtain additional discovery Petitioner believed existed. (Id. at 15.) Although the Court initially deferred ruling on Petitioner's request for new counsel, it eventually granted Petitioner's request, citing a breakdown in the relationship between Petitioner and his initial attorney. (Doc. 44 in No. 1:16-cr-58.)

         At Petitioner's sentencing hearing, his new counsel renewed his motion to withdraw his guilty plea. (Doc. 56 in No. 1:16-cr-58, at 3.) The Court denied Petitioner's motion, finding no reason to revisit its prior decision and sentenced Petitioner to 156 months' imprisonment. (Id. at 4‒5.)

         Petitioner then appealed the Court's judgment and the denial of his motion to withdraw his guilty plea to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. (See Doc. 49 in No. 1:16-cr-58.) The Sixth Circuit affirmed this Court's judgment, holding that the Court did not abuse its discretion in denying Petitioner's motion to withdraw his guilty plea. (Doc. 58 in No. 1:16-cr-58.) On April 6, 2018, Petitioner filed a petition for writ of certiorari in the Supreme Court of the United States, which the Supreme Court denied on April 30, 2018. (Doc. 60 in No. 1:16-cr-58.)

         On January 9, 2019, Petitioner filed a motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence pursuant to Title 28, United States Code, Section 2255 (Doc. 1 in No. 1:19-cv-15; Doc. 62 in No. 1:16-cr-58). In his motion, Petitioner asserts that he received ineffective assistance of counsel because his counsel gave him “bad advice leading up to the plea agreement, ” which resulted in a guilty plea that was “unlawfully induced” or not made voluntarily. (Doc. 1 in No. 1:19-cv-15, at 4.) Petitioner's motion is now ripe for the Court's review.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         To obtain relief under 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 . . . 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).

         III. ANALYSIS

         To collaterally attack his conviction based on ineffective assistance of counsel, Petitioner must establish “that [his] lawyers performed well below the norm of competence in the profession and that this failing prejudiced [his] case.” Caudill v. Conover, 881 F.3d 454, 460 (6th Cir. 2018) (citing Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984)). The performance inquiry requires the petitioner to “show that counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness.” Strickland, 466 U.S. at 688. The prejudice inquiry requires the petitioner to “show that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different.” Id. at 694. “A reasonable probability is a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome.” See Rodriguez-Penton v. United States, 905 F.3d 481, 487 (6th Cir. 2018) (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 694). “[T]he inability [of the petitioner] to prove either of the prongs-regardless of which one- relieves the reviewing court of any duty to consider the other.” Nichols v. United States, 563 F.3d 240, 249 (6th Cir. 2009) (en banc). Additionally, there is a “strong presumption that counsel's conduct falls within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance.” Strickland, 466 U.S. at 689. Therefore, the court should resist “the temptation to rely on hindsight . . . in the context of ineffective assistance ...


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