United States District Court, District of Minnesota
Surya Saxena, Assistant U.S. Attorney, MN 55415, counsel for plaintiff.
Michael Romeo Geraci, No. 16492-041, United States Penitentiary, pro se.
DAVID S. DOTY, JUDGE
This matter is before the court upon the pro se motion by defendant Michael Romeo Geraci to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Based on a review of the file, record, and proceedings herein, and for the following reasons, the court denies the motion and denies a certificate of appealability.
In May 2012, a Grand Jury indicted Geraci with being a felon in possession of a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) (Count 1), and possession of an unregistered firearm, in violation of 26 U.S.C. §§ 5841, 5861(d), and 5871 (Count 2). The charges arose from an April 10, 2012, incident, in which Geraci met with a cooperating individual working with the St. Paul Police Department to barter a sawed-off shotgun in exchange for methamphetamine.
On September 6, 2012, Geraci pleaded guilty to Count 2. ECF No. 45. At sentencing, the court - consistent with the presentence investigation report - concluded that Geraci was a career offender based on two previous state court convictions for crimes of violence. This determination was not contemplated by the parties in the plea agreement. The court adopted a base offense level of 27, but reduced Geraci’s criminal history category from VI to V, finding that his career-offender status over-represented his criminal history. The court concluded that Geraci’s guideline range was 120-150 months’ imprisonment, and that the offense carries a 120-month statutory maximum. The court sentenced Geraci to 120 months’ imprisonment.
Geraci appealed his sentence, arguing that the court did not adequately consider the mitigating factors set forth in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a). Geraci specifically argued that his acceptance of responsibility, overstated criminal history, history of substance abuse, mental illness, and the nature and circumstances of the offense should have counseled in favor of a lower sentence. The Eighth Circuit affirmed, concluding that the court did not abuse its discretion in sentencing Geraci. On October 12, 2014, Geraci filed a motion to vacate under § 2255.
Section 2255 provides a person in federal custody with a limited opportunity to challenge the constitutionality, legality, or jurisdictional basis of a sentence imposed by the court. 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Such collateral relief is an extraordinary remedy, reserved for violations of constitutional rights that could not have been raised on direct appeal and, if uncorrected, would result in a complete miscarriage of justice. United States v. Apfel, 97 F.3d 1074, 1076 (8th Cir. 1996). “A prisoner is entitled to an evidentiary hearing on a section 2255 motion unless the motion, files, and record of the case conclusively show that the prisoner is not entitled to relief.” Engelen v. United States, 68 F.3d 238, 240 (8th Cir. 1995). “A § 2255 motion can be dismissed without a hearing if (1) the petitioner’s allegations, accepted as true, would not entitle the petitioner to relief, or (2) the allegations cannot be accepted as true because they are contradicted by the record, inherently incredible, or conclusions rather than statements of fact.” Sanders v. United States, 341 F.3d 720, 722 (8th Cir. 2003) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).
II. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel
To prevail on a § 2255 motion based on ineffective assistance of counsel, Geraci must meet both prongs of the test set forth in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984). First, Geraci must show that his counsel’s performance was so deficient that it was objectively unreasonable. Id. at 687-88. Because “[t]here are countless ways to provide effective assistance in any given case” and different attorneys “would not defend a particular client in the same way, ” the court reviews the performance of defense counsel with significant deference and with a “strong presumption that counsel’s conduct falls within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance.” Id. at 689. Second, Geraci must demonstrate prejudice by showing “a reasonable probability that, but for counsel’s unprofessional errors, the result of the proceedings would have been different.” Id. at 694. In the context of a guilty plea, this means that but for counsel’s errors, the defendant “would not have pleaded guilty and would have insisted on going to ...