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Dixon v. United States

United States District Court, N.D. Ohio, Eastern Division

January 6, 2017

PARIS DIXON, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER (RESOLVING DOCS. 71 AND 74)

          JOHN R. ADAMS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         The instant matter is before the Court upon Petitioner Paris Dixon's Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence by a Person in Federal Custody, filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Doc. 71. Dixon later filed a motion for leave to file a supplemental memorandum in support of her §2255 motion. This motion for leave to supplement is GRANTED. After reviewing the original motion and supplemental memorandum, along with the record in this case, the §2255 motion is DENIED.

         I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         “To prevail under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, a defendant must show a ‘fundamental defect' in the proceedings which necessarily results in a complete miscarriage of justice or an egregious error violative of due process.” Gall v. United States, 21 F.3d 107, 109 (6th Cir. 1994). A federal district court may grant relief to a prisoner in custody only if the petitioner can “demonstrate the existence of an error of constitutional magnitude which had a substantial and injurious effect or influence on the guilty plea or the jury's verdict.” Griffin v. United States, 330 F.3d 733, 736 (6th Cir. 2003).

         II. FACTS

         On February 28, 2013, Dixon was indicted, along with other co-defendants, for conspiring to commit wire fraud, wire fraud, credit card fraud, and aggravated identity theft. Doc. 1. Specifically, Dixon and her co-conspirators gained access to Giant Eagle Corporation's employee payroll account and transferred money out of the account to pay for goods and services for themselves, family members, and friends. Dixon and her co-conspirators also gained unlawful access to victims' bank accounts and credit cards in order to siphon money from these accounts to benefit themselves and others. Doc. 1.

         Several months later, Dixon plead guilty to one count each of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, credit card fraud, and aggravated identity theft. Doc. 27. While on bond, Dixon tested positive for cocaine and was admonished by the Court. While still on bond, she committed a new-law theft violation, which was prosecuted in state court. These violations were reflected in the pre-sentence report, and it was recommended by the Pretrial and Probation Department that she not be considered for the benefit of “acceptance of responsibility” when calculating her sentencing guideline. Dixon's attorney objected to this recommendation and argued before the Court that Dixon struggled with mental illness and that her violations were a result of being off of her medication. Dixon, herself, reiterated this argument when she was given the opportunity to address the Court directly prior to the pronouncement of sentence.

         The Court did not apply the “acceptance of responsibility” reduction but instead, sentenced Dixon to 30 months, which was the low end of the Guidelines. Dixon later filed the underlying motion for relief arguing ineffective assistance of counsel. She later filed a supplemental memorandum instanter, which was granted and considered by the Court.

         III. LAW AND ARGUMENT

         Dixon asserts three grounds for relief. Each ground is centered on a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. The standard for ineffective assistance is the two-part test set forth by the Supreme Court in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984). First, Dixon must show that her counsel's performance was deficient. Id. at 687. Counsel must not merely have erred, but erred so “serious[ly] that counsel was not functioning as the ‘counsel' guaranteed ... by the Sixth Amendment.” Id.

         Second, Dixon must show that her counsel's deficient performance actually prejudiced her defense. Id. “An error by counsel, even if professionally unreasonable, does not warrant setting aside the judgment of a criminal proceeding if the error had no effect on the judgment.” Id. at 691. In the context of guilty pleas, to establish prejudice under Strickland, a defendant “must show that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's errors, he would not have pleaded guilty and instead would have insisted on going to trial.” Short v. United States, 471 F.3d 686, 691-92 (6th Cir. 2006) (quoting Hill v. Lockhart, 474 U.S. 52, 59 (1985)). “[T]he court should recognize that counsel is strongly presumed to have rendered adequate assistance and made all significant decisions in the exercise of reasonable professional judgment.” Strickland, 466 U.S. at 690, 689 (“Because of the difficulties inherent in making the evaluation, a court must indulge a strong presumption that counsel's conduct falls within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance; that is, the defendant must overcome the presumption that, under the circumstances, the challenged action ‘might be considered sound trial strategy.'”).

         Applying the principles of Strickland to the record before the Court, all grounds for relief are without merit:

         A. First Ground for Relief: “Insanity Defense / Mental Health Condition”

         In her first ground for relief, Dixon contends that she was deprived of effective assistance of counsel related to her sentence. Dixon argues that her attorney, James Gentile, should have given “the court notice of an Insanity Defense after being advised by Dixon of her mental health condition.” Doc. 74-1 at 7. She further argues that “her mental health condition[, ] history, and treatment could have resulted in a downward ...


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