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Schaeffer v. United States

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee

August 2, 2019

TYLER JAMES SCHAEFFER, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          THOMAS A. VARLAN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Petitioner Tyler James Schaeffer has filed a motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 [Doc. 1], [1] and a supplemental pleading that seeks to add a claim based on Sessions v. Dimaya, 138 S.Ct. 1204 (2018) [Doc. 19].[2] The government has responded to each [Docs. 7 & 31]. Because, based on the record before the Court, it plainly appears that Schaeffer is not entitled to relief, it is not necessary to hold an evidentiary hearing, [3] and his motion will be denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Between July 26, 2010, and September 14, 2012, Schaeffer committed seven Hobbs Act robberies, often assisted by others [Doc. 3, No. 3:13-cr-32]. A federal grand jury charged Schaeffer with many offenses: committing each of those robberies, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1951; conspiring to violate the Hobbs Act, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371; four counts of violating 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) for brandishing a firearm during four of those robberies; conspiring to distribute methylone, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 846 and 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(C); and another § 924(c) violation for possessing a firearm in furtherance of that drug-trafficking crime [Id.].

         Schaeffer pleaded guilty to all but the firearms counts and maintained that he would dispute “anything related to firearms, . . . and that's what the trial will be on” [Doc. 116, at 18, No. 3:13-cr-32]. Schaeffer admitted that “something was brandished” during the robberies, but disputed whether that “something” was a real firearm, as opposed to a fake one [Doc. 116, at 18, No. 3:13-cr-32]. A jury convicted Schaeffer as charged [Doc. 100, 3:16-CV-575], except for one § 924(c) count that the government dismissed [Docs. 78 & 84, No. 3:13-cr-32].

         The Court sentenced Schaeffer to a within-guidelines term of 1, 200 months' imprisonment, 960 months of which was statutorily mandated by the four § 924(c) convictions [Doc. 146, No. 3:13-cr-32]. The Sixth Circuit affirmed that judgment on direct appeal, where Schaeffer raised only evidentiary issues. United States v. Schaeffer, 626 Fed.Appx. 604 (6th Cir. 2015). This § 2255 motion followed.

         II. ANALYSIS

         Here Schaeffer alleges that his Sixth Amendment right to counsel was violated by a recording of his statements to a jailhouse informant, that the prosecution allegedly committed several instances misconduct, that his counsel was constitutionally ineffective, and that his Hobbs Act convictions violate the Tenth Amendment [Doc. 1].[4] Schaeffer's supplemental pleading argues that Sessions v. Dimaya, 138 S.Ct. 1204 (2018), invalidated the similarly worded residual clause of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c), upon which he claims his convictions depend.[5] However, for the reasons explained below, none of these claims provides any basis for relief.

         A. Procedural Default

         As an initial matter, each of Schaeffer's claims-except for those asserting ineffective assistance of counsel or attacking his § 924(c) convictions-are procedurally defaulted. “[A] defendant has procedurally defaulted a claim” if he “fail[s] to raise it on direct review.” Bousley v. United States, 523 U.S. 614, 622 (1998). These claims, regarding his Sixth Amendment rights, prosecutorial misconduct, and the constitutionality of the Hobbs Act, could all have been objected to and raised on direct appeal and were not. See United States v. Schaeffer, 626 Fed.Appx. 604 (6th Cir. 2015) (raising only evidentiary issues). Those claims are therefore procedurally defaulted. For Schaeffer's Tenth Amendment claim asserted in Ground Four of his motion, the analysis ends here because he does not assert any cause that would excuse the procedural default of that claim.

         For his other claims to be reviewed, Schaeffer must show, as relevant here, that he had good cause for not raising the claim earlier and would suffer “actual prejudice” if the claim were left unreviewed. United States v. Frady, 456 U.S. 152, 167-68 (1982). The “hurdle” for overcoming procedural default is “intentionally high . . ., for respect for the finality of judgments demands that collateral attack generally not be allowed to do service for an appeal.” Elzy v. United States, 205 F.3d 882, 884 (6th Cir. 2000). Schaeffer asserts that the Sixth Amendment and prosecutorial-misconduct claims were not raised because they “relate to ineffective assistance of counsel claims, ” which refers to his counsel's failure to “object, preserve for appeal, or appeal” these issues [Doc. 1, at 6].

         An ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim can excuse a procedural default, but counsel's performance “must have been so ineffective as to violate the Federal Constitution.” Edwards v. Carpenter, 529 U.S. 446, 451 (2000). In other words, “ineffective assistance adequate to establish cause for the procedural default of some other constitutional claim, ” must be “itself an independent constitutional claim.” Id. Thus, to excuse his procedural default, Schaeffer's ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claims must satisfy the familiar and deferential standard from Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687-88 (1984). “First, the defendant must show that counsel's performance was deficient” as measured by “an objective standard of reasonableness, ” under which “[j]udicial scrutiny of counsel's performance must be highly deferential.” Id. at 687-89. “Second, the defendant must show that the deficient performance prejudiced the defense, ” which means that “[t]he defendant must 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 687, 694. For the reasons explained below, Schaeffer's counsel was not constitutionally ineffective with respect to either Schaeffer's Sixth Amendment right-to-counsel claim or his prosecutorial-misconduct claim, so the procedural default of these claims is therefore unexcused.

         1. Sixth Amendment right-to-counsel claim

         Schaeffer does not have a claim for ineffective assistance of counsel with respect to the Sixth Amendment right-to-counsel issue, which concerns his statements to a jailhouse informant. While awaiting trial, Schaeffer “confess[ed]” to another inmate about “the robberies that he had been committing before he went to jail” [Doc. 161, at 358, No. 3:13-cr-32]. The other inmate reported those conversations to federal agents, who arranged for that inmate to wear a recording device on December 11, 2012, to capture further conversations with Schaeffer [Id. at 349, 358-359]. Schaeffer now alleges that those recorded statements-in which he “clearly and accurately describes most of the robberies that he participated in” [id. at 363; see also id. at 364-66]-violated his right to counsel.

         Even if Schaeffer's Sixth Amendment rights were violated-a matter on which the Court expresses no opinion-there was no ineffective assistance of counsel with respect to this claim because Schaeffer's counsel not objecting on Sixth Amendment grounds did not prejudice Schaeffer. The jailhouse-informant recording apparently only related to Schaeffer's robberies, to which he pleaded guilty, rather than the gun charges, which were the subject of his trial. In fact, Schaeffer's counsel explored this very matter while cross-examining Agent Bukowski, who stated that Schaeffer did not “[say] anything about using [the guns] in anything” during “all of those” conversations involving Schaeffer, which included “[his] interviewing Mr. Schaeffer, some jail calls, and some jailhouse snitches wearing a wire” [Id. at 372-73]. Because these jailhouse-informant statements appear to have related only to robberies that were not at issue during Schaeffer's trial, rather than the gun charges he was facing, he was not prejudiced by his counsel's not objecting to any Sixth Amendment right-to-counsel violation. And even if the jailhouse-informant recording were inculpatory, in light of the extensive evidence of Schaeffer's guilt, suppressing that recording-the remedy for this kind of claim, see United States v. Henry, 447 U.S. 264, 274 (1980)-would have had no effect on his trial. See Brecht v. Abrahamson, 507 U.S. 619, 633 (1993) (error is harmless unless it “had substantial and injurious effect or influence in determining the jury's verdict (quoting Kotteakos v. United States, 328 U.S. 750, 776 (1946))). Because Schaeffer's counsel was therefore not constitutionally ineffective, there is no cause to excuse the procedural default of this underlying Sixth Amendment claim.

         2. Prosecutorial-misconduct claims

         There was also no ineffective assistance of counsel with respect to any of the alleged prosecutorial misconduct. Schaeffer claims that the prosecution engaged in seven separate instances of misconduct. According to Schaeffer, the prosecution impermissibly:

(1) advised the jury during voir dire that “you have to be able to focus on [the charges at issue] and understand that maybe there are things at play that because they happened behind the scenes ...

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