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Burnett v. United States

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

December 6, 2019



          TANYA WALTON PRATT, JUDGE United States District Court

         This matter is before the Court on pro se Defendant Pierre Burnett's (“Burnett”) motion for relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. For the reasons set forth below, the Motion must be denied and the action dismissed with prejudice. In addition, the Court finds that a certificate of appealability should not issue.


         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)).


         On March 8, 2016, Burnett was charged in this Court in a four-count Indictment with Count 1 - Conspiracy (to distribute one kilogram or more of heroin and 500 grams or more of cocaine), in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(A)(i), (b)(1)(B)(ii), and 846; Count 2 - Distribution of Heroin, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(A)(i); Count 3 - Distribution of Cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(B)(ii); and Count 4 - Conspiracy to Commit Money Laundering, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1956(a)(1)(B)(i) and (h) (Count 4). United States v. Burnett, 1:16-cr-45-TWP-DKL-1.

         On April 14, 2017, a Petition to Enter Plea of Guilty and Plea Agreement (with stipulated factual basis included) pursuant to Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure 11(c)(1)(C) was filed wherein Burnett agreed to a term of imprisonment of 188 months. (Cr. Dkt. 43.) Burnett agreed to plead guilty to Counts 1 through 4 of the Indictment. Id. He waived the right to appeal the conviction and sentence imposed and waived the right to any collateral attacks on his conviction or sentence with the exception of ineffective assistance of counsel as long as he was sentenced pursuant to the plea agreement. Id.

         On August 1, 2017, the Court accepted Burnett's plea agreement, finding that the plea of guilty was knowing and voluntary, and supported by an independent basis of fact. (Cr. Dkt. 59.) At the plea and sentencing hearing, Burnett confirmed the factual basis for the plea. (Cr. Dkt. 65.) The Court accepted the terms of the plea agreement and sentenced Burnett to 188 months' imprisonment to be followed by five years' supervised release. (Cr. Dkt. 59.) No. objections were presented by either party. Burnett did not appeal.

         Burnett then filed this § 2255 motion arguing that his trial counsel was ineffective. The respondent responded to the Motion and Burnett replied. The Court directed further briefing on one of Burnett's arguments and the motion is now ripe for resolution.


         Burnett asserts that his counsel was ineffective in negotiating the plea agreement by failing to challenge the charges against him and for advising him that he might be subject to a sentence enhancement. During plea negotiations, defendants are “entitled to the effective assistance of competent counsel.” Lafler v. Cooper, 566 U.S. 166, 162 (2012). Thus, “the two-part Strickland v. Washington test applies to challenges to guilty pleas based on ineffective assistance of counsel.” Id. at 162-63. (quoting Hill v. Lockhart, 474 U.S. 52, 58 (1985). Under Strickland, Burnett must show that “counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness.” Id. at 163 (quoting Hill v. Lockhart, 474 U.S. 52, 57 (1985)). To establish prejudice, he must show the outcome of the plea process would have been different with competent advice. Lafler, 566 U.S. at 163. If a petitioner cannot establish one of the Strickland prongs, the court need not consider the other. Groves v. United States, 755 F.3d 588, 591 (7th Cir. 2014).

         A. Drug Quantity and Money Laundering

         Burnett argues that his counsel was ineffective during plea negotiations when he did not investigate the quantity of drugs for which he was indicted and did not investigate the Government's allegation that he engaged in money laundering. (Dkt. 1, p. 5, 8.) He also argues that he did not participate in a conspiracy, did not possess or distribute a kilogram of heroin or 500 grams of cocaine, and did not launder any money. Id., p. 6, 8.

         Burnett's arguments are “belied by his own statements at the change of plea hearing, which are presumed truthful.” Bridgeman v. United States,229 F.3d 589, 592 (7th Cir. 2000); see Hurlow v. United States, 726 F.3d 958, 968 (7th Cir. 2013) (“[R]epresentations made to a court during a plea ...

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