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McDonald v. United States

United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Central Division

February 12, 2018

JOSEPH TYLER MCDONALD, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER REGARDING PETITIONER'S MOTION UNDER 28 U.S.C. § 2255 TO VACATE, SET ASIDE, OR CORRECT SENTENCE

          MARK W. BENNETT, U.S. DISTRICT COURT JUDGE.

         TABLE OF CONTENTS

         I. INTRODUCTION ........................................................................... 2

         A. Criminal Proceedings .............................................................. 2

         B. Section 2255 Proceedings ......................................................... 4

         II. LEGAL ANALYSIS ........................................................................ 6

         A. General Standards For § 2255 Relief ........................................... 6

         1. Grounds for § 2255 relief ................................................. 6

         2. Standards for an evidentiary hearing ................................... 8

         B. Petitioner's Claims ................................................................. 9

         1. What claims are at issue? ................................................. 9

         2. Standards for ineffective assistance claims .......................... 11

         3. Failure to file a motion to suppress ................................... 14

         a. Arguments of the parties ....................................... 14

         b. Analysis ............................................................ 15

         4. Failure to disclose any plea offers in writing ....................... 18

         a. Arguments of the parties ....................................... 18

         b. Analysis ............................................................ 18

         5. Failure to discuss the career offender enhancement .............. 19

         a. Arguments of the parties ....................................... 19

         b. Analysis ............................................................ 20

         C. Certificate Of Appealability ..................................................... 23

         III. CONCLUSION ............................................................................ 24

         This case is before me on petitioner Joseph Tyler McDonald's October 17, 2017, Amended Motion Under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 To Vacate, Set Aside, Or Correct Sentence By A Person In Federal Custody (Amended § 2255 Motion), which amended his original October 11, 2016, Pro Se § 2255 Motion. In his Amended § 2255 Motion, McDonald seeks relief based on various allegations of ineffective assistance of counsel, but his appointed habeas counsel has filed a brief pursuant to Anders v. State of California, 386 U.S. 738 (1967), stating habeas counsel's belief that McDonald's claims are without merit. The respondent also denies that McDonald is entitled to any relief on his claims.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         A. Criminal Proceedings

         On February 19, 2014, McDonald was indicted as the sole defendant in a two-count Indictment. Count 1 of the Indictment charged McDonald with conspiracy to distribute 500 grams or more of a methamphetamine mixture which contained 50 grams or more of actual (pure) methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), 841(b)(1)(A), and 846. Count 2 charged McDonald with possession with intent to distribute an unspecified amount of methamphetamine mixture which contained 50 grams or more of actual (pure) methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(A). On February 20, 2014, the prosecution filed an Information providing notice of its intent to seek enhanced penalties on both charged offenses pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 851, identifying two prior convictions on federal drug charges, one in 1994 and one in 2002, but stating the prosecution's intent to use only one (either) of those prior offenses for sentencing enhancement purposes. The prosecution's decision to base a § 851 enhancement on a single prior offense potentially subjected McDonald to a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years and a maximum sentence of life without the possibility of parole. Had the prosecution sought a § 851 enhancement based on both prior drug convictions, McDonald could have faced a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment without possibility of parole. Pursuant to a written arraignment form, signed by McDonald and his appointed counsel, and filed on February 25, 2014, McDonald pleaded not guilty to both counts of the Indictment, and the court entered his pleas of not guilty.

         McDonald proceeded to trial on July 7, 2014. At a pre-trial conference on the first morning of trial, outside the presence of the jury, McDonald personally raised several concerns about his trial counsel and the trial, but I advised him to hold his arguments until the conclusion of the trial. On July 8, 2014, the jury found McDonald guilty on both counts of the Indictment.

         The Presentence Investigation Report (PSIR), filed on September 30, 2014, recommended that McDonald be sentenced as a career offender under U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1. Thus, his advisory guidelines sentencing range was 360 months to life. On September 30, 2014, McDonald's trial counsel filed a Motion For Downward Variance and a Sentencing Memorandum, which challenged guidelines enhancements for obstruction of justice and commission of the current offense while under a criminal sentence, as well as reasons for a downward variance. Specifically, McDonald's trial counsel sought a variance, because the 360-month guideline minimum under the career offender enhancement was “wildly disproportionate to McDonald's offense of conviction, ” and argued that the 20-year statutory mandatory minimum was sufficient. At the sentencing hearing on October 10, 2014, McDonald's trial counsel clarified that McDonald was not arguing that he had been improperly scored as a career offender, but was simply seeking relief from the career offender guideline range through a downward variance. At McDonald's sentencing hearing, I imposed a sentence of 360 months, at the bottom of McDonald's advisory guidelines sentencing range, on each count, to run concurrently. Judgment entered accordingly that same day.

         McDonald filed a Notice of Appeal on October 16, 2014. A panel of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed McDonald's conviction and sentence in a per curiam decision on July 22, 2015. The appellate court rejected McDonald's appellate counsel's arguments that I improperly rejected a requested instruction on determining drug quantity on the offense of possession with intent to distribute and that McDonald's sentence was substantively unreasonable. The appellate court added, “[W]e reject the remaining arguments, all raised in the pro se brief, because the arguments either were not raised below, or do not constitute grounds for reversal and do not warrant extended discussion.” United States v. McDonald, 609 F. App'x 897, 898 (8th Cir. 2015). On September 11, 2015, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals denied McDonald's petition for rehearing en banc and rehearing by the panel, and mandate issued on September 23, 2015. McDonald did not file a petition for a writ of certiorari to the United States Supreme Court.

         B. Section 2255 Proceedings

         Instead, as noted above, McDonald timely filed his pro se § 2255 Motion on October 11, 2016, in which he asserted numerous claims. In an Initial Review Order, filed December 30, 2016, I directed the respondent to file an answer or other appropriate response, and granted McDonald's request for appointment of habeas counsel. The respondent filed its Answer on January 10, 2017, denying some of McDonald's claims and asserting that others are not cognizable § 2255 claims. On January 27, 2017, I granted McDonald's request to view certain sealed documents from his criminal case.

         On April 21, 2017, I directed McDonald, with the aid of counsel, to file his merits brief and set deadlines for that brief, the respondent's response, and any reply. On September 29, 2017, after McDonald's habeas counsel had requested and received various extensions of the deadline for McDonald's merits brief, habeas counsel requested leave to file an amended and substituted § 2255 motion, representing that McDonald had given counsel permission to do so. On September 29, 2017, habeas counsel also filed a Report To The Court, explaining that habeas counsel had communicated with McDonald about his numerous claims in his Pro Se § 2255 Motion, and that McDonald had agreed to narrow his claims to three claims of ineffective assistance of his trial counsel. Habeas counsel also reported that she did not believe that McDonald's claims had merit, but would brief them pursuant to Anders v. State of California, 386 U.S. 738 (1967). Habeas counsel also requested that McDonald be permitted to submit a pro se brief in this matter, if he chose to do so. On October 13, 2017, McDonald filed a pro se request for 180 days to file a § 2255 motion or appointment of another attorney to file a § 2255 motion on his behalf.

         In an Order filed October 17, 2017, I granted McDonald's habeas counsel's motion to amend, noting that the motion sought leave to file an amended and substituted § 2255 motion “narrowing [McDonald's] claims of ineffective assistance of counsel.” I also granted in part and denied in part McDonald's pro se request. Specifically, I set a deadline for McDonald to “file a pro se brief in support of his Amended § 2255 Motion, ” and set deadlines for further briefing, but otherwise denied the pro se request, thus denying McDonald's request for additional time to file a § 2255 motion and appointment of new counsel to do so. McDonald's Amended § 2255 Motion and habeas counsel's Anders brief were filed on October 17, 2017. McDonald filed his pro se brief on November 27, 2017, but that brief was not confined to the ineffective assistance of counsel claims in the Amended § 2255 Motion. Rather, that brief purported to reassert a number of the claims in McDonald's original Pro Se § 2255 Motion, as well as some additional claims. McDonald's habeas counsel sought leave to withdraw on November 30, 2017, and I granted her leave to do so on December 1, 2017. On January 1, 2018, the respondent filed its Memorandum In Support Of ...


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