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Light v. United States

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Terre Haute Division

August 28, 2017

AUGUSTUS QUINTRELL LIGHT, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent.

          ENTRY DENYING MOTION FOR RELIEF PURSUANT TO 28 U.S.C. § 2255 AND DENYING A CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY

          HON. JANE MAGNUS-STINSON, CHIEF JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT.

         Augustus Quintrell Light moves pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to vacate his conviction and set aside his guilty plea in criminal case number 2:13-cr-0011-JMS-CMM-1. For the reasons set forth below, the motion, dkt. [1], is denied and a certificate of appealability is denied.

         I. Background

         In October, 2012, Light was an inmate in the United States Penitentiary Terre Haute, serving a sentence imposed by a federal court in Minnesota, when he was found in possession of a “shank.” On March 6, 2013, an Indiana federal grand jury indicted Light for possessing a prohibited object in a federal correctional facility in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1791(a)(2) and 1791(b)(3). An attorney from the Indiana Federal Community Defenders office was appointed to represent Light. Not satisfied with this attorney, Light asked for a different attorney, so a different attorney was substituted for the first on April 10, 2013. After a year with the second attorney, Light asked for yet a new attorney. The second attorney withdrew and a third attorney entered her appearance for Light. A plea agreement was negotiated and filed on August 6, 2014. Hand-written into the plea agreement was language concerning Light's mental health and the recommendations that would be made:

The government understands that the Defense is requesting that Mr. Light be provided with mental health treatment. The government understands that the Defense is requesting that Mr. Light be placed in a facility where he can receive mental health treatment. The parties are free to present evidence on this issue. The government will not oppose Mr. Light's request for mental health treatment.

United States v. Light, No. 2:13-cr-0011-JMS-CMM, dkt. 68, p. 7. (S.D. Ind.).[1]

         A change of plea hearing was held the same day. Light testified that he could read and write and that he understood the plea agreement. Crim. dkt. 103, pp. 3-4 (transcript of change of plea hearing). Terre Haute prison officials took Light off his mental health medications about a week prior to the hearing, but Light said he knew why he was in Court. Id. at p. 4. He testified, “I know what's going to happen today. I just - I'm all right. I know I'm taking the deal for the 27 months.” Id. Light denied being on any medication, and when asked if the case should proceed, Light answered, “Yeah, I'm all right. I'm hanging in there. I'm good.” Id. at p. 5.

         The Court discussed the indictment and the plea agreement with Light. Light said he was satisfied with his counsel's efforts to negotiate the 27-month plea agreement, and added, “[H]opefully I get some help.” Id. at p. 7. The Court responded, “I can make recommendations, on the day that you're sentenced, about placement and stuff.” Id. Light replied, “Yeah, yeah. I - yeah.” Id.

         Light signed the plea agreement and the factual basis again in open Court. Crim. dkts. 68 & 69. The Court found there was a factual basis for the plea, that Light was fully competent to enter a plea, and that the plea was knowingly and voluntarily entered. Crim. dkt. 103, p. 21.

         After the change of plea but before sentencing, and at the request of defense counsel, Light underwent a competency evaluation. A preliminary report was issued determining that Light was competent. Competency thereafter was not an issue. The Court had throughout the proceedings stayed alert to Light's mental health issues. See, e.g., crim. dkt. 19 (April 4, 2013, Order directing, inter alia, defense counsel to investigate competency issues and take appropriate action); crim. dkt. 24 (Order granting motion for psychiatric examination); crim. dkts. 71 & 75 (Entries addressing Light's medication concerns). At sentencing, the Court noted that Light had “a significant history of mental health issues.” Crim. dkt. 106, p. 4. However, based on the information in the preliminary report from the recent competency evaluation and inquiry made in open court, the Court found Light competent to proceed with sentencing. Id.

         Light and his counsel addressed the Court. Neither had any concern with the factual basis for the plea, the knowing and voluntary nature of the plea, or the agreed-upon sentence. Instead, both spoke about Light's mental health needs and the urgency of removing him from Terre Haute and into a facility that could address Light's myriad mental health issues. The government also addressed the Court, essentially saying that no matter what the Court recommended, in the end it was the Bureau of Prison's sole decision, and under its policies, Light did not qualify for programs such as the mental health step-down program, intensive residential treatment program, or other treatment programs mentioned by Light's counsel. Crim. dkt. 106, pp. 8-14.

         The Court imposed the agreed-upon 27-month term of imprisonment and recommended that Light be moved from Terre Haute. The Court also recommended that Light be allowed to participate in one or more of the Bureau of Prison's programs such as the step-down program, the stages program, and the challenge program. Id., p. 15. The Court's Criminal Judgment sets out the recommendations:

         The court makes the following recommendations to the Bureau of Prisons:

That the defendant be removed from USP Terre Haute as expeditiously as possible. He should be evaluated for borderline personality disorder and offered access to the Step Down Program (at FCI Butner or USP Atlanta), the Challenge Program (at a variety of facilities), and the Stages Program (at USP Florence). The Court also recommends the Bureau of Prisons develop a pharmacological regimen ...

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