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Pippin v. United States

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Evansville Division

July 19, 2017




         For the reasons explained in this Entry, the motion of Michelle Pippin for relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 must be denied and the action dismissed with prejudice. In addition, the court finds that a certificate of appealability should not issue.

         I. The § 2255 Motion

         A. Background

         On January 28, 2015, Michelle Pippin (“Pippin”), along with her co-defendants, was charged in No. 3:15-cr-003-RLY-WGH-05 and No. 3:15-cr-006-RLY-WGH-03 with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute 50 grams of methamphetamine or 500 grams of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of methamphetamine, a Schedule II Non-Narcotic Controlled Substance, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), 841(b)(1)(A) and 846. Pippin retained Attorney Dax Womack to represent her in both cases.

         On August 13, 2015, a Sealed Petition to Enter a Plea of Guilty and Plea Agreement, and a Sealed Addendum to the Petition and Plea Agreement was filed in both cases. The Plea Agreement, entered by the parties pursuant to Rule 11(c)(1)(C) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, provided, among other things, that Pippin would cooperate and plead guilty to the two charges of possession with intent to distribute meth and receive a specific sentence of 180 months' imprisonment for each charge, with the sentences running concurrently. In exchange, the government agreed to run the 180-month sentences concurrently, and forego the filing of an Information pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 851, which would have subjected Pippin to a life sentence because of her criminal history. The Plea Agreement noted that the potential maximum penalty Pippin faced was life imprisonment, a $10, 000, 000 fine, and five years' supervised release. It further provided the elements of the offense and the factual basis for the guilty pleas. Also under the terms of the Plea Agreement, Pippin expressly waived her right to appeal the convictions and sentences imposed on “any ground, ” regardless of how her sentences were calculated by the court or under the United States Sentencing Guidelines, if the court accepted the Rule 11(c)(1)(C) binding plea. Except for claims that she received ineffective assistance of counsel in the negotiation of the plea or plea agreement, Pippin waived her right to collaterally challenge her convictions or sentences in an action brought under 28 U.S.C. § 2255.

         Pippin understood that her plea was governed by Rule 11(c)(1)(C) and that the specific sentence of 180 months' imprisonment for the charges in each Indictment, to be served concurrently, as set forth in the Plea Agreement.

         B. Discussion

         A § 2255 motion is the presumptive means by which a federal prisoner can challenge his conviction or sentence. See Davis v. United States, 417 U.S. 333, 343 (1974). The parameters of relief pursuant to § 2255 were reviewed in Young v. United States, 124 F.3d 794, 796 (7th Cir. 1997):

Section 2255 is not a way to advance arguments that could have been presented earlier--especially not when the arguments rest entirely on a statute. See Reed v. Farley, 512 U.S. 339, 114 S.Ct. 2291, 129 L.Ed.2d 277 (1994). Although sec. 2255 para.1 permits a collateral attack on the ground that “the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States, ” only a small portion of statutory claims demonstrate that the sentence or conviction is itself a violation of law. The error must be so fundamental that a “complete miscarriage of justice” has occurred. Reed, 512 U.S. at 348, quoting from Hill v. United States, 368 U.S. 424, 428, 82 S.Ct. 468, 7 L.Ed.2d 417 (1962). Other “non-constitutional errors which could have been raised on appeal but were not, are barred on collateral review--regardless of cause and prejudice.” Bontkowski v. United States, 850 F.2d 306, 313 (7th Cir. 1988).

         Thus, relief pursuant to § 2255 is limited to an error of law that is jurisdictional, constitutional, or constitutes a fundamental defect which inherently results in a complete miscarriage of justice. Borre v. United States, 940 F.2d 215, 217 (7th Cir. 1991).

         Pippin challenges the validity of her guilty plea and claims that she was denied the effective assistance of counsel. She also argues that her enhanced sentence as a career offender is unlawful under Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551, 2557 (2015).

         In order for a plea to be valid, it must be made voluntarily, knowingly, and intelligently. United States v. Hays, 397 F.3d 564, 567 (7th Cir. 2005) (citing United States v. Gilliam, 255 F.3d 428, 432-33 (7th Cir. 2001)). A plea is voluntary when it is not induced by threats or misrepresentations, and the defendant is made aware of the direct consequences of the plea. United States v. Jordan, 870 F.2d 1310, 1317 (7th Cir. 1989) (citing Brady v. United States, 397 U.S. 742, 755 (1970)).

         Pippin's guilty plea was entered in open Court and only after full compliance with the requirements of Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. She acknowledged having received a copy of the Indictments, having discussed the charges with her attorney, and being guilty of the offenses to which she was pleading guilty. Her statements are binding in this proceeding. Hugi v. United States,164 F.3d 378, 381 (7th Cir. 1999). “[V]oluntary responses made by a defendant under oath before an examining judge [are] binding.” United States v. Ellison,835 F.2d 687, 693 (7th Cir. 1987). Pippin acknowledged that she had the right to plead not guilty to the charges, that she was aware that the maximum possible statutory sentences was life imprisonment, that if she went to trial the government would have the burden of proving the elements of the offenses beyond a reasonable doubt, that she had the right to trial by jury and to compel the attendance of ...

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