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United States v. Haslam

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division

April 23, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
DANIEL HASLAM

          OPINION AND ORDER

          JON E. DEGUILIO Judge United States District Court

         Daniel Haslam was charged with a variety of firearm and controlled substance offenses arising out of his manufacturing of methamphetamine and his possession of firearms and silencers. He pled guilty in return for the government's agreement to dismiss a count that would have carried a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 years. The parties agreed in the plea agreement to a binding floor of 180 months of imprisonment, and the Court accepted that agreement. Mr. Haslam later moved to withdraw his plea, but the Court denied that motion and ultimately sentenced Mr. Haslam to a term of 181 months. On appeal, Mr. Haslam argued that his plea was not knowing and voluntary and that the government breached the plea agreement. The court of appeals rejected both arguments and affirmed.

         Mr. Haslam now seeks to vacate his convictions under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. He argues that he is innocent of one count, that his sentence on another count is unlawful, and that he misunderstood the government's ability to present evidence of other alleged criminal conduct at sentencing. He argues that each of these issues was the result of his attorney's ineffective assistance. For the following reasons, the Court finds that Mr. Haslam is not entitled to relief and that no hearing is required on these claims, so it denies Mr. Haslam's motion.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Mr. Haslam came to the attention of law enforcement when a woman named Laci Sample reported that he battered her and confined her at his home. Ms. Sample had been dating Mr. Haslam for a couple weeks at the time of the incident. She reported that Mr. Haslam became suspicious that she was an undercover officer, after which he began beating her and held her against her will over two days. She further reported that, during that time, Mr. Haslam repeatedly screwed and unscrewed several homemade silencers onto the end of a gun barrel, and that he fired multiple shots into the floor. In response to Ms. Sample's report, officers executed a search warrant at Mr. Haslam's home. They found evidence that he had been manufacturing methamphetamine. They also discovered several firearms and a number of devices that appeared to be homemade silencers. [DE 1].

         Mr. Haslam was federally indicted on four counts. Count 1 charged that Mr. Haslam possessed an unregistered silencer, in violation of 26 U.S.C. § 5861(d). Count 2 charged that he manufactured methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1). Count 3 charged that he possessed firearms equipped with a silencer in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c). Count 4 charged that he possessed firearms as an unlawful user of controlled substances, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(3). Most notably, Count 3 carried a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 years of imprisonment because it involved a firearm equipped with a silencer. 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(B)(ii).

         Leading up to trial, the parties began negotiating a plea agreement under which the government would agree to dismiss Count 3 in return for an agreement to a binding floor of 15 years of imprisonment. See Fed. R. Crim. P. 11(c)(1)(C). The first plea agreement offered by the government had Mr. Haslam agreeing to plead guilty to the remaining three counts and to an information charging him with discharging a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, which carried a 10-year minimum sentence, § 924(c)(1)(A)(iii), as compared to the 30-year minimum in Count 3. The factual basis set forth in that plea agreement recounted Ms. Sample's allegations of battery and confinement. [DE 146-1 p. 6-7]. However, while Mr. Haslam was willing to admit to unlawfully possessing firearms and silencers and to manufacturing methamphetamine, he denied Ms. Sample's allegations, so he was unwilling to accept that agreement.

         The government therefore offered an amended plea agreement that removed Ms. Sample's allegations from the factual basis. The agreement still required Mr. Haslam to plead guilty to the information charging that he discharged a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. Mr. Haslam denied that he discharged the firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, though. Accordingly, the government offered a third plea agreement under which the information charged only that Mr. Haslam possessed the firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, which carries a minimum sentence of 5 years. § 924(c)(1)(A)(i).

         Mr. Haslam accepted that version of the plea agreement, and the Court referred the plea to a magistrate judge to conduct a change of plea hearing. At that hearing on September 19, 2013, Mr. Haslam stated under oath that he had read and understood the plea agreement. [DE 92 p. 18]. He also stated that there were not any promises that were causing him to plead guilty that were not contained in the written plea agreement. Id. p. 18-19. The plea agreement itself likewise stated, “[o]ther than what is contained in this plea agreement, no predictions, promises, or representations have been made to me as to the specific sentence that will be imposed or any other matter, ” and that “no promises have been made to me other than those contained in this petition.” [DE 52 ¶¶ 9(1), 12]. The agreement further noted, “The defendant fully understands that the United States of America has reserved the right to tell the Sentencing Court the good things about him, and the bad things about him, and has reserved the right to fully inform the Court of the nature and extent of his offense(s).” Id. ¶ 9(g). After receiving all of the advisements under Rule 11, Mr. Haslam pled guilty to possessing unregistered silencers (Count 1); manufacturing methamphetamine (Count 2); possessing firearms as an unlawful user of controlled substances (Count 4); and possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime (the information). The magistrate judge recommended that the Court accept the pleas.

         At that point, the government sent the probation office a memorandum containing its version of the offense conduct, for use in preparing the Presentence Report. The government's memorandum included Ms. Sample's allegations of battery and confinement. Based on those allegations, the Presentence Report calculated the Sentencing Guidelines by using a cross-reference to the guideline for unlawful restraint, and it also applied enhancements for serious bodily injury and restraining a victim, among other enhancements. Mr. Haslam, by counsel, submitted a number of objections to the Presentence Report. As relevant here, he argued that the Sample allegations were outside the scope of relevant conduct for his offenses of conviction, and he also denied the truth of those allegations. The Court thus set an evidentiary hearing, which spanned two days of testimony, and took the objections under advisement. At the commencement of that hearing on December 20, 2013, the Court accepted Mr. Haslam's guilty pleas and the plea agreement. Up until that point, Mr. Haslam had an absolute right to withdraw his plea for any reason. Fed. R. Crim. P. 11(d)(1). He did not do so during that time, even after becoming aware that the government was raising the Sample incident and that those details were included in the Presentence Report.

         After the conclusion of hearing, though, Mr. Haslam did move to withdraw his guilty plea. His primary argument was that the government breached the plea agreement. He contended that, by deleting Ms. Sample's allegations from the factual basis in the plea agreement, the government was agreeing not to raise any of those allegations at sentencing, and that the government breached that agreement. He also argued in passing that, regardless of any promise by the government, his plea was not knowing and voluntary. The Court rejected both arguments. There was no evidence, either in the plea agreement itself or otherwise, that the government had ever agreed not to raise the Sample allegations at sentencing; though deleting those allegations from the plea agreement preserved Mr. Haslam's right to contest those allegations at sentencing, it did not also prohibit the government from seeking to prove them. Thus, the government did not breach the agreement by presenting evidence in support of Ms. Sample's allegations at sentencing. In addition, Mr. Haslam's statements under oath at the change of plea hearing confirmed that his plea was knowing and voluntary, so the Court denied the motion to withdraw the plea.

         The Court thus proceeded to resolve the objections to the presentence report. It sustained some of Mr. Haslam's and overruled others, but it generally credited Ms. Sample's testimony that Mr. Haslam had beaten and confined her. The Court's rulings resulted in a total guideline range of 211 to 248 months of imprisonment (151 to 188 months on the three counts of the indictment, plus 60 months on the § 924(c) count in the information). The Court then reconvened the sentencing hearing. After considering the aggravating and mitigating factors, the Court varied downward from that advisory guideline range and imposed a total sentence of 181 months of imprisonment-only one month above the binding floor in the parties' plea agreement.

         Mr. Haslam appealed his convictions. He first argued that the government had breached an agreement not to raise the Sample incident at sentencing. He also argued that, even if the government had not made such an agreement, he believed that the government had done so and that Ms. Sample's allegations could not be raised at sentencing, so his plea was not knowing and voluntary. The Seventh Circuit rejected both arguments and affirmed. United States v. Haslam, 833 F.3d 840 (7th Cir. 2016). Mr. Haslam's convictions became final when the Supreme Court denied his petition for certiorari on January 23, 2017. Haslam v. United States, 137 S.Ct. 840 (2017). Mr. Haslam then timely filed a motion to vacate his convictions under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, and that motion has been fully briefed.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Section 2255(a) of Title 28 provides that a federal prisoner “claiming the right to be released upon the ground that the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States . . . may move the court which imposed the sentence to vacate, set aside or correct the sentence.” 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a). The Seventh Circuit has recognized that § 2255 relief is appropriate only for “an error of law that is jurisdictional, constitutional, or constitutes a fundamental defect which inherently results in a complete miscarriage of justice.” Harris v. United States, 366 F.3d 593, 594 (7th Cir. 2004). Relief under ยง 2255 is extraordinary because it seeks to reopen the criminal process ...


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