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United States v. Johnson

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

March 26, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
DARRELL JOHNSON, Defendant.

          ORDER DENYING MOTION TO VACATE AND CORRECT SENTENCE PURSUANT TO 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (ECF #126) AND DENYING CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY

          MATTHEW F. LEITMAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         On December 4, 2014, a jury found Defendant Darrell Johnson guilty of being a felon in possession of a firearm. Johnson subsequently filed a post-trial motion for judgment of acquittal or, in the alternative, for a new trial. (See ECF #80.) In that motion, Johnson challenged the sufficiency of the evidence against him and contended that trial counsel was ineffective. This Court denied that motion by order dated May 12, 2015. (See Order, ECF #82.) Johnson raised his ineffective assistance claims on direct appeal, and the Sixth Circuit rejected some of the claims and determined that it could not rule on others. See United States v. Johnson, 658 Fed.Appx. 236 (6th Cir. 2016). Johnson has now filed a motion to vacate his sentence. (See ECF #126.) He argues that trial counsel was ineffective in several respects. For the reasons explained below, the motion is DENIED.

         I

         The general factual background of this case is set forth in the Court's order denying Johnson's motion for judgment of acquittal. (See ECF #82.) The Court incorporates that Order into this Order and will not repeat the factual background here. The Court sets forth in its analysis below those facts necessary to understand the Court's resolution of Johnson's current claims.

         II

         As noted above, Johnson seeks relief on the ground that his trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance of counsel. In Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984), the United States Supreme Court set forth a two-part test for evaluating claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. First, a defendant must show that his counsel's performance was deficient. See Id. at 687. “This requires showing that counsel made errors so serious that counsel was not functioning as the ‘counsel' guaranteed the defendant by the Sixth Amendment.” Id. Second, the defendant must show “that the deficient performance prejudiced the defense. This requires showing that counsel's errors were so serious as to deprive the defendant of a fair trial, a trial whose result is reliable.” Id.

         To satisfy the performance prong of Strickland, a defendant “must identify the acts or omissions of counsel that are alleged not to have been the result of reasonable professional judgment.” Strickland, 466 U.S. at 690. A court's scrutiny of counsel's performance is highly deferential. See id. at 689. “[C]ounsel is strongly presumed to have rendered adequate assistance and made all significant decisions in the exercise of reasonable professional judgment.” Id. at 690. The burden is on the defendant to overcome the presumption that the challenged action was sound trial strategy. See id. at 689.

         To satisfy the prejudice prong of the Strickland test, a defendant must show “a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different.” Id. at 694. “This does not require a showing that counsel's actions ‘more likely than not altered the outcome, '” but “[t]he likelihood of a different result must be substantial, not just conceivable.” Harrington, 562 U.S. at 112 (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 693).

         A

         Johnson first contends that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to conduct an adequate pretrial investigation. Specifically, Johnson argues that counsel “failed to inquire into the source of the officers['] information that Mr. Johnson resided at 19470 Winston Street.” (Mot., ECF #126 at Pg. ID 1811.) At trial, one of the officers testified that he located Johnson at the Winston Street residence by (1) checking a license plate on a vehicle driven by Johnson, (2) determining that the plate “came back” to the Winston Street address, and (3) based upon that match, then going to the Winston Street residence and finding Johnson there. Johnson says that if that counsel had done an adequate investigation, counsel would have discovered that the plates in question were registered to someone else who did not live at the Winston Street address. (Id.) Johnson says that he is entitled to relief based upon counsel's failure to discover this license plate registration information.

         This claim fails for at least two reasons. First, Johnson has not presented any evidence that trial counsel had any reason to question the officer's testimony that the plate on the vehicle driven by Johnson “came back” to the Winston Street address. For instance, Johnson does not state in his affidavit that he told counsel that the license plate in question was not registered to him. Johnson has not shown that counsel had any particular reason to investigate the registration of the license plates in question, and he has not persuaded the Court that counsel was ineffective for failing to discover, as Johnson claims, that the plate could not have “come back” to the Winston Street address.

         Second (and more importantly), Johnson has not demonstrated any prejudice from counsel's alleged failure to discover that the plates on the vehicle driven by Johnson were registered to someone else who did not live at the Winston Street address. Johnson did not contend at trial that he did not live at that address. Instead, his defense was that while he did live there, he did not reside in the particular bedroom in which police found the firearm in question. Because the fact that Johnson lived at the Winston Street address was not in dispute at trial, Johnson did not suffer any prejudice from his attorney's purported failure to show that the license plates in question were registered to a different person at a different address.

         B

         Johnson argues that his attorney failed to find an important defense witness named Jessica Short. Johnson contends that Short could have provided evidence that she lived in the room in which police found the firearm in question and that Johnson ...


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