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Richardson v. United States

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

June 13, 2019



          Hon. Jane Magnus-Stinson, Chief Judge

         For the reasons explained in this Entry, the motion of Michael James Richardson to vacate his conviction and sentence 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 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). The scope of relief available under § 2255 is narrow, 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) (internal citations omitted).

         II. Factual Background

         On August 21, 2015, a four-count Information was filed in United States v. Richardson, 1:15-cr-161-JMS-MJD-1 (hereinafter “Crim. Dkt.”), Dkt. 26, naming Richardson as the defendant. Counts 1 through 3 alleged he sexually exploited a child between March and July 2014, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2251(a). Count 4 alleges he conspired to distribute and receive child pornography between March 2014 and February 25, 2015, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2252A(a)(2) and 2552A(b)(1). Crim. Dkt. 26 at p. 7.

         Richardson sent emails from an account registered to “Tiff Rich” to roughly 80 people on July 25, 2014. Presentence Investigation Report, Crim. Dkt. 54, (hereinafter “PSR”) at ¶ 9. The email said, “[t]his folder is just pics of all ages and all desires… write back with pics and vids of 0-12 yo hard pen, oral, swallowing, brutal, rape, anal, anything goes and tell me what you like. I also have some very ‘special' personal vids of me and my daddy:)”. Id. The email included a link to a deactivated Dropbox file location. Id.

         On October 26, 2014, the same account sent an email containing over 180 images depicting minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct. Id. at ¶ 10. On January 30, 2015, the same account sent another email that read: “lots of pics in this link, all very good:) sending all of you a link for vids too very soon. Please send something back. really love 0-6 full pen and swallowing.” Id. at ¶ 11. This email also included a Dropbox link which was no longer available. Id. That same day, another email was sent including links to multiple videos of kids and teens engaged in sexually explicit conduct including digital and real sex between children and adults. Id. at ¶¶ 12-14. This account would send two more emails with thousands more images and dozens more videos. Id. at ¶¶ 15-16.

         Police determined that the IP address associated with the account was registered to Richardson's girlfriend, who housed Richardson as her live-in boyfriend beginning in November of 2014. PSR at ¶ 17. Based on this evidence, agents executed a search warrant on February 27, 2015, at the residential address. Id. at ¶ 18. Richardson admitted to being the user of the email account which had sent the illegal material. Id. He gave the agents his passwords and admitted to using a laptop computer hidden under the couch to access child pornography. Id. A photograph taken of Richardson's leg during the search matched images seen in the child pornography sent. Id.

         Officers determined that Richardson kept thousands of images, many of which were sadistic and masochistic, of child pornography in the cloud. Id. at ¶ 19.

         On June 1, 2016, Richardson filed a petition to enter a plea of guilty to all four counts charged in the Information (following waiver of Indictment). Crim. Dkt. 38. In exchange for concessions made by the government, Richardson waived his right to directly and collaterally appeal his conviction if sentenced to 40 years or less. Crim. Dkt. 47 at ¶ 81-82. This “waiver does not encompass claims, either on direct or collateral review, that [Richardson] received ineffective assistance of counsel.” Id. at ¶ 82.

         The Court accepted Richardson's guilty plea and sentenced him to exactly 40 years imprisonment. Judgment was entered on November 8, 2016. Richardson did not file a direct appeal.

         III. Motion to Vacate

         Richardson filed this Motion to Vacate or Set Aside Sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 on November 22, 2017. He raises fifteen grounds for relief. See dkt. 2. In response, the United States argues that Richardson's claims for relief fail because (1) the motion is time-barred, (2) he signed an appellate waiver that foreclosed all appeals except ineffective assistance of counsel, and this motion violates that waiver, [1] (3) his plea deal was knowing and voluntary, and (4) his counsel was effective. The statute of limitations defense was rejected in the Entry of June 13, 2018. For the reasons explained below, none of the claims raised by Richardson entitle him to any relief.

         A. The Plea Agreement

         Richardson first attacks the validity of the plea agreement. The plea agreement specifically states that if the Court accepts the plea and sentences Richardson to 40 years of imprisonment or any lesser term, then Richardson,

agrees not to contest, or seek to modify, his conviction or sentence or the manner in which either was determined any proceeding, including, but not limited to, an action brought under 18 U.S.C. § 3582 or 28 U.S.C. § 2255. . . . As concerns the Section 2255 waiver, the waiver does not encompass claims, either on direct or collateral review, that he received ineffective assistance of counsel.

Crim. Dkt. 47 at p. 24-25. The United States argues that the appeal waiver in the plea agreement forecloses Richardson's right to appeal his conviction or sentence on any ground besides ineffective assistance of counsel.

         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)). This Court found, when it accepted Richardson's plea of guilty, that the plea was entered knowingly and voluntarily. Specifically, at the conclusion of the plea hearing, the Court stated:

THE COURT: It is, therefore, the finding of the Court in the case of the United States v. Michael Richardson, that the Defendant is fully competent and capable of entering an informed plea, that he is aware of the nature of the charges to which he is pleading guilty and the consequences of the plea and that his plea of guilty is a knowing and voluntary plea, supported by an independent basis in fact, containing each of the essential elements of the offense. The plea is, therefore, accepted, and the Defendant is now adjudged guilty of Counts I through IV.

         Plea Transcript, Crim. Dkt. 69 at p. 35-36.

         Richardson's brief in support of his § 2255 motion argues that this Court's finding was erroneous because his psychiatric impairments foreclosed his ability to enter into a knowing, intelligent or voluntary plea agreement. Dkt. 2 at p. 13-14. Richardson further asserts that had he been healthy he would not have pleaded guilty. Id. at 14. In addition, Richardson argues in his reply brief that his guilty plea was not knowing, intelligent and voluntary because his attorney failed to discover facts that would have “shown ...

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