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Brooks v. United States

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

August 28, 2017

RENEE BROOKS, Petitioner,


          JOHN R. ADAMS, JUDGE.

         The instant matter is before the Court upon Petitioner Renee Brooks' Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Doc. 47. Petitioner later filed a Brief in Support of her Motion to Vacate where she sets forth certain case citations she believes relevant to her motion. Doc. 51. Respondent United States of America filed a motion to dismiss Petitioner's motion to vacate her sentence. For the following reasons, the Court DENIES Respondent's motion to dismiss and also DENIES Petitioner's motion to vacate on the merits.

         I. Factual and procedural background

         On June 17, 2014, Petitioner, who was represented by counsel, pled guilty to theft of government property exceeding $1, 000, which belonged to the Social Security Administration by fraudulently claiming Social Security benefits. She was sentenced to 37 months' imprisonment on September 24, 2014. Petitioner filed an appeal of her sentence alleging substantive unreasonableness of her sentence. On April 7, 2015, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed Petitioner's sentence.

         On July 18, 2016, Petitioner filed a § 2255 motion to vacate her sentence because she claims she was denied due process and other constitutional rights throughout her case before this Court. She raises 28 grounds for relief, some of which are duplicative or overlapping. Respondent filed a motion to dismiss Petitioner's motion for being untimely. The Petitioner responded. Both motions are now ripe for decision.

         II. Standard of Review

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, a federal inmate is provided with a means of collaterally attacking her conviction or sentence. In re Gregory, 181 F.3d 713, 714 (6th Cir. 1999). Motions brought under § 2255 are the sole means by which a federal prisoner can collaterally attack a conviction or sentence that she alleges to be in violation of federal law. See Davis v. United States, 417 U.S. 333 (1974); Cohen v. United States, 593 F.2d 766, 770 (6th Cir. 1979).

         A petitioner seeking to vacate, set aside or correct a sentence under § 2255 “has the burden of sustaining his contentions by a preponderance of the evidence.” Wright v. United States, 624 F.2d 557, 558 (5th Cir. 1980). In order to prevail on a § 2255 motion alleging constitutional error, the petitioner must establish that an error of constitutional magnitude occurred that had a substantial and injurious effect or influence on the proceedings. McNeil v. United States, 72 F.Supp.2d 801, 803 (N.D. Ohio 1999) (citing Watson v. United States, 165 F.3d 486, 488 (6th Cir. 1999)). In order to prevail on a § 2255 motion alleging non-constitutional error, the petitioner must establish a “‘fundamental defect which inherently results in a complete miscarriage of justice, ' or, an error so egregious that it amounts to a violation of due process.” United States v. Ferguson, 918 F.2d 627, 630 (6th Cir. 1990) (quoting Hill v. United States, 368 U.S. 424, 428 (1962)). Non-constitutional errors are generally not cognizable on collateral review. McNeil, 72 F.Supp.2d at 805 (citing Grant v. United States, 72 F.3d 503, 506 (6th Cir. 1996)). Accordingly, courts rarely grant relief with respect to non-constitutional errors. Grant, 72 F.3d at 506.

         A guilty plea by a petitioner “‘forecloses his ability to raise any constitutional claims arising prior to its entry.'” McNeil, 72 F.Supp.2d at 808 (quoting Lane v. United States, 65 F.Supp.2d 587, 589 (E.D. Mich. 1999)). When a petitioner seeks to challenge his sentence, the inquiry focuses on whether the petitioner made a voluntary and informed plea, not on whether a constitutional infirmity existed prior to the plea. Tollett v. Henderson, 411 U.S. 258, 266 (1973). A guilty plea by the petitioner acts as a break in the chain of events in criminal proceedings. Id. at 267. Once a criminal defendant admits in open court that he is guilty of the charged offenses, the only avenue available for him to attack his guilty plea is to prove the ineffective assistance of his counsel. Id.

         III. Legal Analysis

         A. Timeliness

         Petitioner's motion was filed on July 18, 2016. Respondent argues that Petitioner's motion should be dismissed, because it needed to be filed prior to July 6, 2016. Under the mailbox rule, a petition is deemed filed when the prisoner gives the petition to prison officials for filing in the federal courts. Cook v. Stegall, 295 F.3d 517, 521 (6th Cir. 2002). Petitioner states that her motion was placed in the prison mailbox on July 1, 2016 and therefore timely. Doc. 56. The Court will accept Petitioner's statement as true and review the motion on its merits. Respondent's motion to dismiss is DENIED.

         B. Grounds 1-7, 9, 11-15, 18-22, and 24-28: Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

         Petitioner's grounds one through seven, nine, 11-15, 18-22, and 24-28 all generally state claims for ineffective assistance of counsel, and most reference her claim to have a mental disability. In Strickland v. Washington, the Supreme Court established the requirements for an ineffective assistance of counsel claim: i.e. Petitioner must demonstrate both (1) deficient performance by counsel and (2) prejudice resulting from the inadequate performance. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984). To establish deficient performance by counsel, Petitioner must show her “counsel made errors so serious that counsel was not functioning as the ‘counsel' guaranteed the defendant by the Sixth Amendment.” Id. In attempting to establish her attorney's deficient performance, Petitioner “must show that counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness.” Id. at 688-687. A reviewing court must ensure “every effort is made to eliminate the distorting effects of hindsight, to reconstruct the circumstances of counsel's challenged conduct, and to evaluate the conduct from counsel's perspective at the time.” Id. at 689. The reviewing court must also “indulge a strong presumption that counsel's conduct falls within a wide range of reasonable professional assistance.” Id.

         An error by counsel, even if professionally unreasonable, does not warrant setting aside judgment in a criminal proceeding if the error had no effect on the judgment. Strickland, 466 U.S. at 691. Petitioner must also satisfy the second prong by proving the deficient performance prejudiced the defense. This requires showing counsel's errors were so serious as to deprive Petitioner of a fair trial with a reliable result. Id. at 687. When a defendant challenges his sentence on the grounds of ineffective assistance of counsel, a court asks whether there is a reasonable probability, absent the errors, that the court would have sentenced Petitioner differently. See Griffin v. United States, 330 F.3d 733, 736 (6th Cir. 2003). “A reasonable probability is a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome.” Id. (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 694).

         In evaluating whether the errors of counsel violated the petitioner's Sixth Amendment right, the Court should focus on whether the adversarial process broke down, affecting the fundamental fairness of the trial and the reliability of the result. Strickland, 466 U.S. at 696. Bare allegations of ineffectiveness are insufficient. Before a hearing can be held, “the petition must be accompanied by a detailed and specific affidavit which shows the petitioner has actual proof of the allegations going beyond mere unsupported assertions.” Barry v. United States, 528 F.2d 1094, 1101 (7th Cir. 1976) (emphasis added).

         Here, Petitioner generally alleges that her attorney prejudiced the court against her and failed to meaningfully represent her throughout the judicial process. Her claims include failing to investigate her case, failing to advance mental competency defenses, and making false ...

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