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Johnson v. United States

United States District Court, D. Maryland

January 18, 2019

MICHAEL MECO JOHNSON, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          THEODORE D. CHUANG UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Petitioner Michael Meco Johnson has filed a Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. S 2255 ("2255 Motion"). In his Motion, Johnson challenges his conviction in the underlying criminal action on the basis that his trial counsel was constitutionally deficient during plea negotiations and in failing to communicate with Johnson. Having reviewed the submitted materials, the Court finds that no hearing is necessary. See Rule 8(a), Rules Governing Section 2255 Proceedings for the United States District Courts; D. Md. Local R. 105.6. For the reasons set forth below, the Motion is DENIED.

         BACKGROUND

         On February 1, 2016, a federal grand jury returned a one-count Indictment charging Johnson with Possession of Controlled Substances with Intent to Distribute, in violation of 21 U.S.C. S 841(a)(1). The Indictment issued after law enforcement executed search warrants on an apartment and two garages used by Johnson and found 15.2 grams of crack cocaine, 2.3 kilograms of powder cocaine, 94.6 grams of heroin, paraphernalia used to manufacture and distribute these substances, items of jewelry believed to be worth at least $129, 660, and $98, 200 in U.S. Currency. The Indictment also included a forfeiture allegation covering the seized jewelry and currency, as well as all other property "obtained directly or indirectly as a result of any such violation" or "used, or intended to be used, in any manner or part to commit and to facilitate the commission of any such violation charged." Indictment at 2, ECF No. 1.

         After Johnson was arrested, he retained Jennifer Matthews as his attorney ("Counsel"). At his initial appearance on April 13, 2016, Johnson was temporally detained. Counsel then filed a Petition for Bail Review, which the Court (Day, M.J.) granted on May 24, 2016. Johnson was then released to the custody of his mother and required to remain at her residence subject to location monitoring.

         On July 18, 2016, Johnson signed a plea agreement in which he agreed to plead guilty to the single count of the Indictment. The plea agreement stated the elements of the offense and detailed that Johnson understood that he had waived his right to a jury trial. The plea agreement also provided that the parties agreed that the total offense level under the United States Sentencing Guidelines ("Guidelines"), after a three-level reduction for acceptance of responsibility, would be 25. In the plea agreement, Johnson waived his right to appeal his conviction and sentence, unless the sentence was higher than the applicable Guidelines range for offense level 25. Johnson also consented to the entry of a criminal forfeiture order for the currency and jewelry seized from his residence and allegedly related to the offense.

         In signing the plea agreement, Johnson attested that he had "read this agreement" and "carefully reviewed every part of it with my attorney." Plea Agreement at 8, ECF No. 22. His attorney made a comparable attestation. Johnson further affirmed that he understood the plea agreement, voluntarily agreed to it, and was "completely satisfied with the representation of my attorney." Id. At Johnson's guilty plea hearing on July 18, 2016, he stated under oath that he had discussed the charges, his case, and the plea agreement with his attorney, and that he understood them and wished to enter a guilty plea. Again, he stated that he was fully satisfied with his attorney.

         On November 16, 2016, prior to his sentencing, Johnson requested that new counsel be appointed. On November 22, 206,, the Court (Connelly, M.J.) held an attorney inquiry hearing, during which it relieved Matthews as counsel and appointed the Federal Public Defender as new counsel for Johnson. At sentencing on April 5, 2017, the Court agreed with the parties that the total offense level was 25 and calculated the Guidelines range as 57-71 months but granted a downward variance and sentenced Johnson to 48 months of imprisonment. Johnson does not allege that the Federal Public Defender was deficient as counsel.

         At the sentencing hearing, the Court learned that the jewelry, as well as two vehicles that Johnson claimed belonged to other individuals, had previously been forfeited and sold, even though the Court had not yet signed the proposed criminal forfeiture order relating to the currency and jewelry. The Court ordered the Government to file supplemental materials explaining the process and authority under which the jewelry was forfeited. Based upon the materials submitted by the Government, the Court found that the United States Drug Enforcement Administration had seized the jewelry and vehicles pursuant to a nonjudicial administrative forfeiture process. See 18 U.S.C. S 983 (2012); 19 U.S.C. SS 1602-1619 (2012); 21 U.S.C. S 881 (2012) (applying Title 19 customs forfeiture process to Title 21 drug cases). Thus, while the indictment included a criminal forfeiture allegation relating to the cash and jewelry pursuant to 21 U.S.C. S 853 and 28 U.S.C. S 2461(c), the Government chose to utilize the administrative forfeiture process rather than the criminal forfeiture process to gain title to the jewelry and the vehicles. In light of this finding, the Court held that Johnson's challenge to the administrative forfeitures could not proceed in his criminal case. Johnson has since filed a separate civil action challenging the administrative forfeiture. See Civil Action No. TDC-18-0951.

         Nearly a year after Johnson's sentencing, on April 2, 2018, he filed the pending 2255 Motion. That same day, he also filed a self-styled "Pro-Se Emergency Motion Due to Ineffective Assistance of Counsel and Withdraw Guilty Plea Pursuant to 18 U.S.C. 2255," which the Court will construe as a memorandum in support of his 2255 Motion.

         DISCUSSION

         In his 2255 Motion, Johnson collaterally attacks his conviction based on four alleged forms of ineffective assistance of counsel: (1) "Lack of communication during critical times," (2) "Failed to process any documents," (3) "Motions Plea Agreement improperly filed," and (4) "Unethical Representation"" 2255 Motion at 4-5, ECF No. 72. The Government argues that Johnson's Motion should be denied because he does not identify any harm that is cognizable under S 2255 or request any specific relief available under that provision.

         I. Legal Standards

         A. ...


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