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United States v. Dekruif

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

January 22, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff/Respondent,
v.
CHRISTOPHER G.N. DEKRUIF, Defendant/Petitioner.

          OPINION AND ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO VACATE, SET ASIDE, OR CORRECT SENTENCE [37]

          LAURIE J. MICHELSON DISTRICT JUDGE

         Defendant Christopher DeKruif was facing multiple charges of sexual exploitation of underage girls in numerous jurisdictions. His sentencing guidelines range was life. As a global resolution for all charges, DeKruif entered into a Rule 11 Plea Agreement that mandated a prison sentence of 35 years. The Court accepted the plea agreement, granted DeKruif's request for a downward variance, and imposed the agreed upon 35-year sentence.

         DeKruif now moves to vacate, set aside, or correct that sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. He claims his counsel was ineffective in several ways during the plea proceedings and that the Court erred in its sentencing decision. A hearing on the motion is not necessary. The petition, Rule 11 plea agreement, and transcripts of the change in plea and sentencing hearings “conclusively show that [DeKruif] is entitled to no relief.” 28 U.S.C. § 2255(b). Thus, the motion will be DENIED.

         I.

         On April 8, 2014, DeKruif was charged in a criminal complaint with sexual exploitation of children and other related offenses. (R. 1.) Following a court-ordered examination by a licensed clinical psychologist and a hearing to address his report, DeKruif was found competent to stand trial. (R. 18.) He was subsequently charged in a two-count Information with Production of Child Pornography in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2251(a). (R. 22.) Count one charged that DeKruif coerced a 17-year-old minor in the Eastern District of Michigan, A.L., “into allowing A.L.'s grandfather to perform oral sex on her and instructed A.L. to send a photograph” of the event to DeKruif in New Jersey. (Id. at PID 78.) Count two charged that DeKruif “coerced A.L. into having sexual intercourse with her grandfather in the Eastern District of Michigan and further coerced A.L. to transmit a live, visual depiction of this event to him over the internet using a webcam or her computer.” (Id. at PID 79.)

         On April 16, 2015, this Court arraigned DeKruif on the charges in the Information. DeKruif signed an Acknowledgement indicating that he received the Information, read it, and understood the contents. (R. 26.) In response to the Court's questions, DeKruif further verified that he reviewed the Information, discussed the charges with his counsel, and that he understood the charges. (R. 45, PID 219.) He also advised that he understood the penalties he faced if he was convicted or pled guilty-imprisonment for a minimum of 15 years and a maximum of 30 years on each count. (Id. at 220; R. 26.) For purposes of the arraignment, a plea of not guilty was entered on DeKruif's behalf. (R. 45, PID 220.)

         Immediately after the arraignment, DeKruif requested a change of plea hearing. (Id. at PID 220-21.) That same day, DeKruif had signed a Rule 11 Plea Agreement with the Government. (R. 28.) The Plea Agreement provided that DeKruif would plead guilty to the two counts in the Information. He also agreed to stipulate to relevant conduct in eight other counts that would be included in calculating his sentencing guidelines. (R. 28, PID 94-98.) This relevant conduct involved minor victims in the Western District of Michigan, New Jersey, and Colorado. (Id.) It included additional charges of sexual exploitation of children, extortion, and receipt/possession of child pornography. (Id.) For example, several of the charges involved minors that had online relationships with DeKruif and were coerced by him to provide sexually exploitive images. (Id.) The worksheets attached to the Rule 11 plea agreement explained how this conduct would factor into the guidelines calculation. (Id. at PID 109-124).[1]

         The parties agreed that DeKruif's guidelines range was life (but the statutory maximums resulted in a range of 720 months or 60 years). (Id. at PID 92, 130). They further agreed that, “[p]ursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(c)(1)(C), the sentence of imprisonment in this case must be 35 years.” (Id. at PID 98.) If the Court accepted the plea agreement, the Government agreed not to bring any additional charges based on the conduct reflected in the attached worksheets and the other districts involved in the relevant conduct agreed not to prosecute DeKruif for that conduct. (Id. at PID 101.) DeKruif agreed to waive his right to appeal the sentence if it did not exceed 35 years. (Id. at PID 102.)

         During the change of plea hearing, the Court questioned DeKruif pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11. DeKruif was advised of the charges against him and the essential elements of the offense, the consequences of pleading guilty, and the terms of the plea agreement. (R. 45.) The Court also determined that DeKruif was mentally competent to enter into a guilty plea, that his plea was knowing and voluntary, and that it was supported by an adequate factual basis. (Id.) The Court thus accepted DeKruif's plea of guilty. (Id.) The Court took the Rule 11 plea agreement under advisement and referred the matter to the Probation Department for the preparation of a Presentence Investigation Report. (Id.) No. objections were lodged.

         The parties submitted sentencing memoranda and DeKruif also moved for a downward variance. He asked the Court to accept the 35 year prison term provided in the plea agreement. (R. 30, 31.) The Court heard from counsel and DeKruif at the sentencing. After going through the factors in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a), the Court accepted the Rule 11 plea agreement and sentenced DeKruif to 35 years. (R. 33, 46.)

         Under the terms of the plea agreement, DeKruif waived his right to directly appeal this sentence. (R. 28, PID 102.) But he did not waive his right to bring a claim for ineffective assistance of counsel pursuant to § 2255. (Id.) He now claims his counsel was ineffective in several ways. (R. 37.) But his claims at the change of plea hearing and the sentencing belie his current representations. So Dekruif's motion does not warrant any change in his sentence.

         II.

         To prevail on a § 2255 motion, “a petitioner must demonstrate the existence of an error of constitutional magnitude which has a substantial and injurious effect or influence on the guilty plea or the jury's verdict.” Humphress v. United States, 398 F.3d 855, 858 (6th Cir. 2005).

         In making these inquiries, an evidentiary hearing is not required if the petitioner's allegations “cannot be accepted as true because they are contradicted by the record, inherently incredible, or conclusions rather than statements of fact.” Valentine v. United States, 488 F.3d 325, 333 (6th Cir. 2007) (quotation omitted). “If it plainly appears from the motion, any attached exhibits, and the record of prior proceedings that the moving party is not entitled to relief, the judge must dismiss the motion.” Rules Governing § 2255 Cases, Rule 4(b).

         III.

         DeKruif contends that he received ineffective assistance of counsel during both the plea proceeding and sentencing.

         Ineffective assistance of counsel claims are an appropriate basis for relief under § 2255. See United States v. Caver, 470 F.3d 220, 250 (6th Cir. 2006). To establish ineffective assistance of counsel, DeKruif must show (1) that counsel's performance was deficient and (2) that the deficient performance prejudiced the defense. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984). In this case, prejudice means ‚Äúthat there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's errors, ...


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