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United States v. Laird

United States District Court, D. Montana, Great Falls Division

September 13, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff/Respondent,
v.
MICHAEL CHRISTOPHER LAIRD, Defendant/Movant.

          ORDER DENYING § 2255 MOTION AND GRANTING CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY

          Brian Morris, United States District Court Judge

         The Court received from Defendant Laird, a federal prisoner proceeding pro se, a brief statement on March 14, 2019, that he was “trying to file a 2255” because he believes his attorney “was working against me” and “use[d]” Laird's disability “to his advantage.” Laird said counsel “would contradict about every thing he told me” and asked for “help.” Mot. § 2255 (Doc. 36) at 1.

         The Court advised Laird that it would consider his letter as a motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. See Order (Doc. 38) at 1-2. The Court gave Laird an opportunity to amend his allegations and add any more claims that he wanted to make. Id. Laird responded by submitting several more documents explaining how he believes that his counsel provided ineffective assistance.

         Transcripts of the change of plea hearing, held August 23, 2018, and the sentencing hearing, held November 28, 2018, are needed to decide the issues that Laird presents. The United States will be required to order these transcripts for the record and to deliver a copy to Laird. See 28 U.S.C. § 753(f).

         I. Preliminary Review

         The Court must determine whether “the motion and the files and records of the case conclusively show that the prisoner is entitled to no relief” before the United States must respond. 28 U.S.C. § 2255(b); see also Rule 4(b), Rules Governing Section 2255 Proceedings for the United States District Courts. A petitioner “who is able to state facts showing a real possibility of constitutional error should survive Rule 4 review.” Calderon v. United States Dist. Court, 98 F.3d 1102, 1109 (9th Cir. 1996) (“Nicolas”) (Schroeder, C.J., concurring) (referring to Rules Governing § 2254 Cases). The Court should “eliminate the burden that would be placed on the respondent by ordering an unnecessary answer.” Advisory Committee Note (1976), Rule 4, Rules Governing § 2254 Cases, cited in Advisory Committee Note (1976), Rule 4, Rules Governing § 2255 Proceedings.

         II. Background

         Laird's legal troubles in Montana began on April 24, 2018, when he was arrested on the Rocky Boy's Reservation and charged with assault with a dangerous weapon in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 113(a)(3). See Compl. (Doc. 1); Return on Warrant (Doc. 9), United States v. Laird, No. CR 18-39-GF-BMM (D. Mont. Apr. 20 and 25, 2018). A grand jury indicted Laird on May 17, 2018, on the assault charge. See Indictment (CR 18-39-GF Doc. 14) at 1-2. Laird faced up to ten years in prison if convicted. See 18 U.S.C. § 113(a)(3). The Court set trial for July 23, 2018, and then continued the trial to October 1, 2018. See Orders (CR 18-39-GF Docs. 17, 19).

         The grand jury indicted Laird in this case, No. CR 18-48-GF-BMM, on June 21, 2018, on one count of conspiring to possess 50 grams or more of actual methamphetamine with intent to distribute it in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846 (Count 1); and one count of possessing the same with intent to distribute it, or aiding and abetting the same in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and 18 U.S.C. § 2 (Count 2). Both counts allegedly occurred from February 2018 to April 2018. See Indictment (Doc. 1) at 2-3. Laird faced a mandatory minimum sentence of ten years, or a maximum sentence of life in prison, if convicted on either Count 1 or Count 2. See 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(A)(viii).

         The parties reached a plea agreement. Laird agreed to plead guilty to a superseding information that charged him with possessing 50 grams or more of actual methamphetamine with intent to distribute it, or aiding and abetting the same in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and 18 U.S.C. § 2. The United States agreed to dismiss the indictments in this case and the assault case, No. CR 18-39-GF. See Plea Agreement (Doc. 13) at 2 ¶ 2, 6-7 ¶ 6. Laird pled guilty in open court on August 23, 2018. See Minutes (Doc. 19).

         Based on all the information available to investigating officers concerning Laird's drug trafficking with co-conspirators Centeno, Ramirez, Denny, and others, between February and April 2018, Laird was held responsible for 1, 000 to 3, 000 kilograms of converted drug weight.[1] This drug weight resulted in a base offense level of 30. The Court imposed a two-level upward adjustment for possession of firearms and ammunition in connection with the offense and a three-level downward adjustment for acceptance of responsibility and timely notification of plea. With a total offense level of 29 and a criminal history category of III, Laird's advisory guideline range sat at 120 to 135 months. See Presentence Report ¶¶ 38-47, 48-55; Am. Statement of Reasons (Doc. 34) §§ I(A), III; U.S.S.G. ch. 5 Part A (Sentencing Table). The Court sentenced Laird on November 28, 2018, to serve the statutory mandatory minimum sentence of 120 months to be followed by a five-year term of supervised release. See Am. Judgment (Doc. 33) at 2-3.

         Laird did not appeal. His conviction became final on December 8, 2018. See Gonzalez v. Thaler, 565 U.S. 134, 150 (2012). He timely filed his § 2255 motion on March 14, 2019. See 28 U.S.C. § 2255(f)(1).

         III. Claims and Analysis

         Laird claims that counsel provided ineffective assistance in various respects. The Supreme Court's decision in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984), governs claims for ineffective assistance of counsel. At this stage of the proceedings, Laird must allege facts sufficient to support an inference (1) that counsel's performance fell outside the wide range of reasonable professional assistance, id. at 687-88; and (2) that no reasonable probability ...


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