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United States v. Vaughn

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

July 25, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff-Respondent,
v.
MATTHEW LEON VAUGHN, Defendant-Petitioner,

          OPINION AND ORDER DENYING PETITIONER'S MOTION UNDER 28 U.S.C. § 2255 TO VACATE, SET ASIDE, OR CORRECT SENTENCE [31]

          NANCY G. EDMUNDS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In March 2013, the FBI began investigating a workspace for distributing child pornography on the website box.com. A cooperating defendant provided access to the workspace to FBI agents in Alaska, which led to the identification of Defendant- Petitioner Matthew Leon Vaughn as one of the users of the box.com workspace. In May 2014, FBI agents in Detroit executed a search warrant on Petitioner's Ypsilanti apartment where agents seized multiple electronic devices, cell phones, laptop computers, CD-ROMs, and removable hard drives. Given the significant amount of electronic media seized, the FBI released Petitioner pending review of the evidence. Petitioner then moved to Toledo where he continued to collect and download child pornography using peer-to-peer software.

         The FBI arrested Petitioner on February 26, 2015 based on a criminal Complaint filed on February 23, 2015. (Dkt. # 1; Dkt. # 9). On March 10, 2015, a grand jury indicted Petitioner, charging him with Receipt of Child Pornography and Possession of Child Pornography. (Dkt. # 10). On October 1, 2015, Petitioner was charged with three additional counts in a First Superseding Indictment: Distribution of Child Pornography, Production of Child Pornography, and Commission of a Felony Offense Involving a Minor by a Registered Sex Offender. (Dkt. # 17). On April 18, 2016, Petitioner pleaded guilty to one count of Production of Child Pornography in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2251(a), and one count of Commission of a Felony Offense Involving a Minor by a Registered Sex Offender in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2260A pursuant to a Rule 11 Plea Agreement. (Dkt. # 25). The Court sentenced Petitioner to be imprisoned for a term of 420 months, the mandatory minimum sentence required for the crimes Petitioner pleaded guilty to. (Dkt. # 30; Dkt. # 25). Petitioner did not file an appeal in this matter.

         On May 17, 2017, Petitioner filed the instant pro se motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 arguing that Defense Counsel was ineffective. (Dkt. # 31). The Government filed a response on July 10, 2017. (Dkt. # 38). Petitioner filed a reply on August 1, 2017. (Dkt. # 41). Subsequently, the Court granted Petitioner's motion requesting transcript materials, provided him courtesy copies of several transcripts, and granted his request for additional time to supplement his motion. Petitioner then filed a supplemental brief on November 27, 2017. (Dkt. # 42). For the reasons set forth below, the Court now DENIES Petitioner's motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, “[a] prisoner in custody under sentence of a [federal] court . . . claiming the right to be released . . . may move the court which imposed the sentence to vacate, set aside or correct the sentence.” To prevail on a Section 2255 motion, the petitioner must allege: “(1) an error of constitutional magnitude; (2) a sentence imposed outside the statutory limits; or (3) an error of fact or law that was so fundamental as to render the entire proceeding invalid.” Mallett v. United States, 334 F.3d 491, 496-97 (6th Cir. 2003) (internal quotations omitted). Section 2255 motions filed pro se are liberally construed. See Ratliff v. United States, 999 F.2d 1023, 1026 (6th Cir. 1993).

         To prevail on an ineffective assistance claim, Petitioner must show that his counsel's performance was both deficient and prejudicial to his defense. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984). Deficient performance requires a showing that “counsel made errors so serious that counsel was not functioning as the ‘counsel' guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment.” Id. In other words, Petitioner must show that his counsel's representation “fell below an objective standard of reasonableness.” Id. at 688. “This standard is highly deferential, and there is a ‘strong presumption that counsel's conduct falls within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance.'” Mallett, 334 F.3d at 497 (quoting id. at 689). To prevail on the second, or prejudice, prong of the Strickland standard, a petitioner “must show there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different.” 466 U.S. at 694. When a defendant alleges that ineffective assistance of counsel led to the acceptance of a plea agreement, the defendant demonstrates prejudice by showing that “there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's errors, he would not have pleaded guilty and would have insisted on going to trial.” Hill v. Lockhart, 474 U.S. 52, 59 (1985).

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Superseding Indictment and the Speedy Trial Act

         Petitioner first argues that Defense Counsel was ineffective because she failed to move to dismiss the Superseding Indictment as untimely, citing the Speedy Trial Act.[1]The Government responds that there was no Speedy Trial Act violation, and therefore no reason for Defense Counsel to file such a motion. The Government notes that the approximately 30, 000 images and 3, 000 videos of child pornography seized from Petitioner's Ypsilanti apartment took a significant amount of time for the FBI to review. That evidence led to the filing of the Superseding Indictment on October 1, 2015, approximately six and a half months after the original Indictment. Petitioner further argues that Defense Counsel was ineffective because she failed to move to dismiss the case based on trial not commencing in a timely fashion and agreed to continuances. The Government counters that the seventy-day time limit under the Speedy Trial Act was not exceeded because of the continuances granted by the Court and that these continuances benefited Petitioner.

         According to the Speedy Trial Act, an indictment or information must be filed within thirty days from the date of arrest or service of a summons. 18 U.S.C. § 3161(b). Additionally, absent a guilty plea, the defendant's trial must commence within seventy days from the filing of the indictment or information. Id. at § 3161(c)(1). The Speedy Trial Act's time limitations are meant to “limit the possibilities that long delay will impair the ability of an accused to defend himself.” Dickey v. Florida, 398 U.S. 30, 54 (1970) (quoting United States v. Ewell, 383 U.S. 116, 120 (1966)). In making these calculations, certain periods of time are excluded including delays associated with “other proceedings concerning the defendant” and continuances granted by the judge based on “the ends of justice served by taking such action outweigh[ing] the best interest of the public and the defendant in a speedy trial.” 18 U.S.C. § 3161(h)(7)(A). When considering whether to grant a continuance, courts consider “the reasonable time necessary for effective preparation” by the government and defense counsel, amongst other factors. See Id. at § 3161(h)(7)(B)(iv). If the time limitations imposed by the Speedy Trial Act are not met, the charges and indictment shall be dismissed. Id. at § 3162(a).

         The government need not file an indictment within thirty days of arrest for all crimes it has proof of. The Speedy Trial Act “do[es] not require that every offense chargeable from a criminal episode be dismissed for failing to comply with the thirty-day time limit for indictments following an arrest. Rather, [it] only requires the dismissal of the offense charged in the complaint . . . .” United States v. Nabors, 901 F.2d 1351, 1355 (6th Cir. 1990). In Nabors, the only offense charged in the criminal complaint was attempted murder. Id. at 1353. Nabors was indicted on the thirty-third day after his arrest for multiple offenses including attempted murder, felon in possession of a firearm, and possession of cocaine. Id. Because the second indictment was filed after the thirty-day time limit, the district court dismissed the attempted murder count only. Id. at 1355. Despite Nabors arguing that the court should dismiss the entire indictment, the court did not dismiss any other count, and the Sixth Circuit affirmed. Id.

         In the current case, the Government filed a criminal Complaint charging Petitioner with the receipt and possession of child pornography on February 23, 2015. (Dkt. # 1, Pg ID 1-7). Petitioner was arrested and made his initial appearance before the Court on February 26. (Dkt. # 9, Pg ID 16). Twelve days later, on March 10, 2015, the grand jury indicted Petitioner, charging him with the same crimes contained in the Complaint. (Dkt. # 10, Pg ID 17-20). Therefore, Petitioner was indicted within thirty days of his arrest and within the Speedy Trial Act time limit. Likewise, the Superseding Indictment was not filed in violation of the Speedy Trial Act. Regardless of what evidence the Government had in its possession during the thirty-day period following Petitioner's arrest, the Government is not required to file a superseding indictment by a certain time under the Speedy Trial Act. See Nabors, 901 F.2d at 1355. Therefore, Petitioner is incorrect when he claims that “an indictment must be issued within 30 days of the time in which the evidence [] needed to issue the indictment was in the government[']s possession.”[2] (Dkt. # 31, Pg ID 171).

         Additionally, based on the continuances this Court granted, the Speedy Trial Act's seventy-day time limit between indictment and the commencement of trial was not violated in the current case. The filing of a superseding indictment adding new charges has no effect on the Speedy Trial clock for existing charges. Sylvester v. United States, 868 F.3d 503, 508 (6th Cir. 2017). Therefore, the Speedy Trial clock is still calculated from the date of Petitioner's original Indictment, March 10, 2015. From that date, fifty-five days elapsed before the Court granted the first continuance, which specified the period of May 4, 2015 to July 6, 2015 to be deemed “excludable delay under the provisions of the Speedy Trial Act.” (Dkt. # 14, Pg ID 28). The excludable-delay period was extended to end on April 18, 2016 based on a series of continuances granted by the Court. (Dkt. # 15-16, 20-23). Because April 18, 2016 was the day Petitioner pleaded guilty, the Speedy Trial clock only ran for fifty-five days in total, which falls short of the seventy-day time limit.[3]

         Petitioner has not shown that Defense Counsel's performance was deficient or prejudicial based on her agreeing to these continuances. See Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687. Unlike in Dickey, there is evidence that delaying the trial date in this case actually benefited Petitioner. Cf. Dickey, 398 U.S. at 54. As previously mentioned, there was a large amount of evidence Defense Counsel needed to review. The evidence “span[ned] three different jurisdictions over the course of several months.” (Dkt. # 15, Pg ID 32). Given the sensitive nature of the materials, the parties also had to coordinate to allow Defense Counsel to review the evidence at a “secure law enforcement facility.” Id. The Court granted this continuance to provide Defense Counsel with a reasonable amount of time to review the evidence in order to prepare for a possible trial. See id. at Pg ID 31; 18 U.S.C. § 3161(h)(7)(B)(iv). Additionally, the continuances gave Defense Counsel more time to negotiate a universal plea deal. (Dkt. # 23, Pg ID 70-71). The eventual Plea Agreement benefited Petitioner by resolving the current case as well as additional charges the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Northern District of Ohio was contemplating filing (based on examination of evidence from Petitioner's other apartment in Toledo). See id.; Dkt. # 25, Pg ID 85.

         Therefore, based on the deferential standard articulated in Mallett and Strickland, Petitioner has not shown that Defense Counsel's performance was deficient regarding filing a motion to dismiss the Superseding Indictment as untimely or regarding agreeing to the continuances. Additionally, even if disagreeing to a continuance was in the Petitioner's best interest, Defense Counsel's agreement was not required for the Court to grant a continuance. See 18 U.S.C. § 3161(h)(7)(A). The Court concludes that Petitioner was not prejudiced by Defense Counsel agreeing to the continuances.

         B. Plea Agreement and Plea Hearing

         Petitioner also argues that Defense Counsel was ineffective because she failed to object to a difference between the sentence he asserts he agreed to in his Plea Agreement and the sentence that was ultimately presented to the Court. The Government counters that by signing the Plea Agreement submitted to the Court, Petitioner agreed to be bound by it. Petitioner further argues that during his plea hearing the Government committed prosecutorial misconduct by making him admit to an offense that was not included in his Superseding Indictment and that Defense Counsel should have objected.

         Per Baker v. United States, 781 F.2d 85, 90 (6th Cir. 1986) (quoting United States v. Krasn, 614 F.2d 1229, 1233 (9th Cir. 1980)), plea agreements follow the standards of contract law. In Baker, the Sixth Circuit stated that “[t]o allow [a] defendant to attempt to prove by affidavit that the [plea] agreement is otherwise than it appears, unambiguously, on a thorough record would violate established contract-law standards.” Id. Additionally, criminal defendants are bound by their responses given ...


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