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Miller v. United States

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

June 10, 2019



          Robert L. Miller, Jr. Judge.

         Jeffrey P. Miller pleaded guilty to a criminal information charging him with interstate transport of stolen goods in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2314 and money laundering in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1956(a)(1)(B)(i). The court sentenced Mr. Miller to a term of 135 months' imprisonment and two years' supervised release. Mr. Miller was also ordered to pay back over one million dollars in restitution. The judgment was affirmed on appeal and Mr. Miller is now before the court requesting that the court vacate his conviction and sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. [Doc. No. 72]. For the following reasons, the court denies Mr. Miller's motion.

         I. Background

         From the summer 2012 through January 2014, Jeffrey Miller stole large amounts of copper wire from his employer in Indiana, sold the wire in Michigan, and laundered some of his profits through casinos. After Mr. Miller's arrest, Mr. Fred Hains was appointed as his counsel. Mr. Hains then conducted numerous meetings and communications with Mr. Miller and the Government, and represented Mr. Miller throughout the entirety of the case.

         Mr. Hains met with Mr. Miller several times to discuss the case and possible plea agreement. This discussion included information and evidence surrounding the charges as well as specific terms and conditions of the plea agreement. Mr. Hains also explained the impact of the United States Sentencing Guidelines and outlined Mr. Miller's probable offense level. During this conversation, possible offense level reductions and enhancements were discussed. Mr. Hains opined that acceptance of responsibility reduction would lower Mr. Miller's offense level by three and didn't anticipate any enhancements for being an “organizer” of the alleged criminal activity. Mr. Hains explained to Mr. Miller that the offense level calculation could change if more unfavorable facts came to light.

         Mr. Hains also communicated with the prosecution multiple times in tries to challenge various parts of the case and proposed plea agreement, including a recommendation for a lower sentence. These attempts were ultimately unsuccessful. The government showed willingness to provide Mr. Miller with a benefit if he continued to provide helpful information about other possible individuals associated with the charged theft and money laundering. Mr. Hains communicated his efforts and the governments posture to Mr. Miller. As Mr. Miller drew nearer to signing the proposed plea agreement, Mr. Hains further warned that Mr. Miller shouldn't sign the agreement if any questions or concerns arose. Mr. Miller claims that Mr. Hains said that signing the plea agreement would result in a lower term of incarceration, and that this convinced Mr. Miller to sign the agreement, and it would have had Mr. Miller not continued with illegal activity (manufacturing and using methamphetamine).

         The plea contained numerous provision, including one about Mr. Miller's acceptance of responsibility. The provision stated that such acceptance was contingent on Mr. Miller's continued cooperation. The government could also be released from the crediting Mr. Miller with acceptance of responsibility if Mr. Miller engaged in more criminal conduct including the use of controlled substances. During Mr. Miller's change of plea hearing, he indicated that he had enough time to discuss the plea agreement and case with Mr. Hains and that Mr. Hains had satisfactorily represented him. Mr. Miller further stated that he was not under the influence of any substances.

         At sentencing, the government told the court that Mr. Miller had manufactured and used methamphetamine during the time between his change of plea and sentencing hearings. In light of this information the court rejected Mr. Miller's acceptance of responsibility reduction and imposed a total of six levels of enhancement for use of sophisticated means and organizer status relating to Mr. Miller's initial charges. Mr. Miller was sentenced to a total of 135 months. Mr. Miller then directly appealed, asking he be resentenced. The Seventh Circuit rejected the appeal and affirmed this court's sentence. United States v. Miller, 641 Fed. App'x. 563 (7th Cir. 2016).

         II. Discussion

         Mr. Miller alleges that: 1) Mr. Hains never told him that continued substance abuse could result in the loss of relevant sentencing reductions; 2) Mr. Hains didn't conduct a thorough investigation of the case; 3) Mr. Hains didn't try to dismiss the criminal charges; 4) the plea agreement he signed was vague and absurd, and that no one explained to him the consequences of the plea; and 5) Mr. Hains didn't tell him that he faced the possibility of a sentencing enhancement for being an “organizer.” The rules governing petitions filed under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 provide that once a motion is filed:

The motion, together with all the files, records, transcripts, and correspondence relating to the judgment under attack, shall be examined promptly by the judge to whom it is assigned. If it plainly appears from the face of the motion and any annexed exhibits and the prior proceedings in the case that the movant is not entitled to relief in the district court, the judge shall make an order for its summary dismissal and cause the movant to be notified.

         Rule 4(b) of the Rules Governing Section 2255 Proceedings for the United States District Courts. After reviewing the record in this case, the court finds that Mr. Miller's petition can be resolved without a hearing. See Bruce v. United States, 256 F.3d 592, 597 (7th Cir. 2001); Daniels v. United States, 54 F.3d 290, 293 (7th Cir. 1995).

         The court construes Mr. Miller's pro se petition liberally. Jackson v. Duckworth, 112 F.3d 878, 881 (7th Cir. 1997). Mr. Miller essentially alleges deficiencies in his representation with regards to the plea process through an ineffective assistance of counsel argument. Ineffective assistance of counsel claims applies to pleas. Lafler v. Cooper, 566 U.S. 156, 162 (citing Missouri v. Frye, 566 U.S. 134, 134-135 (2012)). To prevail on an ineffective assistance of counsel claim, Mr. Miller must show both that his attorney's performance “fell below an objective standard of reasonableness” and that there is a reasonable probability that, but for his attorney's errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 688-693 (1984). This is a difficult standard to meet; to prevail, Mr. Miller must show both “that counsel made errors so serious that ‘counsel' was not functioning as the counsel guaranteed the defendant by the Sixth Amendment” and “that counsel's errors were so serious as to deprive [Mr. Miller] of a fair [result].” Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. at 687. Mr. Miller “bears a heavy burden” in proving that his counsel was consitutionally ineffective. Barker v. United States, F.3d 629, 633 (7th Cir. 1993). The court can address the Strickland prongs in the order it sees fit, because an insufficient showing as to either of the prongs is fatal to a claim. Strickland, 466 U.S. at 697; McDaniel v. Polley, 847 F.3d 887, 893 (7th Cir. 2017).

         There is a strong presumption that counsel performed effectively. See Berkey v. United States, 318 F.3d 768, 772 (7th Cir. 2003). “A court's scrutiny of an attorney's performance is ‘highly deferential' to eliminate as much as possible the distorting effects of hindsight, and we ‘must indulge a strong presumption that counsel's conduct falls within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance.'” Vinyard v. United States, 804 F.3d at 1225 (quoting Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. at 687). In the context of guilty pleas, competent counsel “will attempt to learn all of the facts of the case, make an estimate of a likely sentence, and communicate the results of that analysis before allowing his client to plead guilty.” Moore v. Bryant, 348 F.3d 238, 241 (7th Cir. 2003). Counsel doesn't need to “provide a precisely accurate prediction of the respective consequences of pleading guilty or going to trial.” United States v. Barnes, 83 F.3d 934, 939 (7th Cir. 1996). Because ...

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