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Smith v. United States

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

May 13, 2019

JEFFERSON DARRIN SMITH, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent.

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

          TANYA WALTON PRATT, JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on a Motion to Vacate, Set Aside or Correct a Sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 filed by Petitioner Jefferson D. Smith (“Smith”). For the reasons explained in this Order, the motion is DENIED and dismissed with prejudice. In addition, the Court finds that a certificate of appealability should not issue.

         I. SECTION 2255 MOTION STANDARDS

         A motion pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 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). A court may grant relief from a federal conviction or sentence pursuant to § 2255 “upon the ground that the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States, or that the court was without jurisdiction to impose such sentence, or that the sentence was in excess of the maximum authorized by law, or is otherwise subject to collateral attack.” 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a). “Relief under this statute is available only in extraordinary situations, such as an error of constitutional or jurisdictional magnitude or where a fundamental defect has occurred which results in a complete miscarriage of justice.” Blake v. United States, 723 F.3d 870, 878-79 (7th Cir. 2013) (citing Prewitt v. United States, 83 F.3d 812, 816 (7th Cir. 1996); Barnickel v. United States, 113 F.3d 704, 705 (7th Cir. 1997)).

         II. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On May 9, 2017, Smith was charged in this Court in a two-count Information with: knowingly coercing or enticing a minor, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 2422(b) and 2260(A), (Count One: Coercion or Enticement of a Minor); and, attempted receipt of visual depictions of a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 2252(a)(2) and (b)(1), (Count Two: Attempted Receipt of Visual Depictions of a Minor Engaged in Sexually Explicit Conduct). Crim. Dkt. 24. The Information contained a Special Allegation that charged Smith with penalties because he committed the offenses while registered as a sex offender. See 18 U.S.C. § 2260A; Crim. Dkt. 24. Federal Public Defender, Joseph Cleary, was appointed to represent Smith. Crim. Dkt. 8.

         On May 9, 2017, Smith filed a petition to enter a plea of guilty and plea agreement was filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(c)(1)(B). Crim. Dkt. 30. In the plea agreement, Smith agreed to plead guilty to all the crimes charged in the Information and the Special Allegation. Id. at 1-2. In addition, he stipulated to the facts supporting his plea of guilty, waived his right to file a direct appeal and, other than claims of ineffective assistance of counsel, waived his right to challenge his conviction or sentence in a post-conviction motion. Id. at 10, 13, 18-19. Smith stated that he understood that he was facing a possible life sentence on Count One alone. Id. at 2. However, under the terms of the plea agreement, the United States stipulated that it would recommend a sentence of 444 months' imprisonment and that the minimum sentence Smith could receive was 240 months' imprisonment. Id. at 6. The parties acknowledged that while they were bound by the recommendations, the Court was not, and that the Court could use its discretion to fashion a sentence “higher or lower than any recommendation of either party.” Id. at 4-5.

         Smith declared that: he had read the entire plea agreement and discussed it with his attorney; he understood the terms of the plea agreement; no person had made any promises to him that he would receive a lighter sentence if he would plead guilty except as provided in the agreement; and that, he makes no claim of innocence and was entering the agreement freely and voluntarily because he is guilty. Id. at 20-22. He further asserted that: his attorney informed, counseled, and advised him as to the nature and cause of every accusation against him and to any possible defenses; he was satisfied with his attorney's representation during all phases of his case; and his attorney had done all that he could to counsel and assist him. Id.

         Counsel certified that he had read and fully explained to Smith “all the accusations against [Smith].” Id. at 23. Counsel also stated that Smith's plea of guilty “accords with [his] understanding of the facts as related to [him] by [Smith] and is consistent with [his] advice to [Smith].” Id.

         In exchange for Smith's plea of guilty, the United States agreed to a dismiss a charge of possessing visual depictions of a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 2252(a)(4)(b) and (b)(2), that was charged in an earlier criminal complaint. Crim. Dkt. 2. The United States also agreed to charge Smith with coercion or enticement rather than sexual exploitation of a minor which would have subjected Smith to a mandatory life sentence if found guilty. Crim. Dkt. 55 at 70. The United States also agreed to recommend a sentence of 444 months, instead of the maximum life sentence as provided for in § 2422(b). Crim. Dkt. 30 at 2, 6.

         Smith's combined plea and sentencing hearing occurred on September 5, 2017. At the hearing, Smith again verified that he had discussed the charges against him with his attorney. Crim. Dkt. 55 at 6. He affirmed that he had read the plea agreement and discussed it with his attorney and felt he understood the terms of the agreement. Id. at 9-10. He confirmed that no one had forced him or made any threats to get him to plead guilty, and that he was pleading guilty of his own free will because he was guilty. Id. at 9-10. He acknowledged that he understood that the Court was not bound by the recommendations of the parties and that the Court could “impose a sentence either higher or lower than any recommendation that [Smith or trial counsel] make, or … that [the prosecution] makes.” Id. at 16.

         Following the plea colloquy, and based on Smith's acknowledgments of understanding, the Court accepted Smith's plea of guilty. The Court specifically found that Smith was entering his plea knowingly and voluntarily and that his plea was supported by an independent factual basis that contains each of the essential elements of the offenses. Id. at 35-36. And during the sentencing portion of the combined hearing, Smith apologized to the victims and their families and stated, “There is no one to blame for this but myself. I did this, and I take full responsibility for the crimes I plead to today.” Crim. Dkt. 55 at 52.

         The Court determined that under the advisory Sentencing Guidelines, Smith's guideline range was 235 to 293 months' imprisonment plus 120 months for the special allegation, which was required to be served consecutively. Id. at 39-40. In keeping with the terms of the plea agreement, the Court sentenced Smith to 288 months' imprisonment on Counts One and Two to be served concurrently, and 120 months on the special allegation, to be served consecutively, for an aggregated total of 408 months' imprisonment. Id. at 73-74; Crim. Dkt. 50.

         Judgment was entered on September 14, 2017. Crim. Dkt. 50. Smith did not appeal his conviction and sentence.

         On September 4, 2018, Smith filed the pending motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 alleging ineffective assistance of counsel. Dkt. 1. The United States filed a response. Dkt. 11. Smith did not file a reply, and the time to do so has passed.

         III. ...


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