United States District Court, D. Minnesota
S. Dunne, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, for plaintiff.
S. Garvis, KOCH & GARVIS, LLC, for defendant.
PATRICK J. SCHILTZ UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
convicted defendant John Douglas of being a felon in
possession of a firearm. ECF No. 64. Douglas filed a motion
for a new trial, which the Court denied after an evidentiary
hearing. ECF No. 105. The Court then sentenced Douglas under
the Armed Career Criminal Act (18 U.S.C. § 924(e)) to
240 months in prison and 5 years of supervised release. ECF
No. 112. The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth
Circuit affirmed Douglas's conviction on direct appeal.
United States v. Douglas, 744 F.3d 1065 (8th Cir.
matter is before the Court on Douglas's motion to vacate,
set aside, or correct his sentence under 28 U.S.C. §
2255. The Court appointed counsel to assist Douglas and held
an evidentiary hearing on Douglas's claims. For the reasons
that follow, the Court denies relief on all of Douglas's
claims save for his claim under Johnson v. United
States, 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015). As to that claim, the
Court will defer ruling until the Supreme Court decides
whether and how Johnson applies to the career-
offender guideline-a decision that should come before the end
of the present Term. See Beckles v. United States,
136 S.Ct. 2510 (2016).
attended a graduation party on the afternoon of May 30,
2011. Also attending the party were, among
others, Raina Hoiland,  Rachel Ryberg, Anthony Petric, Mark
Dorstad, and Dorstad's young son. Later that evening,
Douglas, Hoiland, Ryberg, Petric, and the Dorstads drove to a
wooded lot owned by Douglas's aunt and uncle, Paul and
Mary Easter. The group sat around a bonfire, drinking beer.
Douglas asked the others if they would like to see his
“toy.” He went off into the woods, returned with
a sawed-off shotgun wrapped in a plastic bag, took the gun
out of the bag, and shot the gun multiple times. Douglas then
helped Hoiland shoot the gun a few times and returned the gun
to its hiding place in the woods.
neighbor heard the gunshots and called the police, who
arrived on the Easter property about five minutes after the
last shot was fired. On seeing the police approach, Hoiland
and Ryberg hid behind a car because they were not of legal
drinking age. After the officers arrived, Douglas was
agitated and hostile, repeatedly demanding that the officers
get off of the property and even calling his aunt to try to
enlist her help in getting the police to leave. Several of
those present denied that anyone had fired a gun, but Hoiland
and Ryberg eventually told the officers that Douglas had done
so. The officers searched the property, found the shotgun,
and arrested Douglas on a probation violation. The Court
denied Douglas's motion to suppress the gun.
focus of the trial was the testimony of three
eyewitnesses-Hoiland, Ryberg, and Petric-all of whom told the
jury that Douglas had retrieved and fired the
shotgun.Douglas's defense attorney, Frederick
Goetz, worked hard to discredit their testimony. Goetz was
able to elicit evidence that the shotgun actually belonged to
Dorstad; that Dorstad was in the habit of keeping the gun in
his car and calling it his “little buddy”; and
that Dorstad liked to show off the gun. Goetz also elicited
evidence that Dorstad had asked Petric to lie to the police.
Specifically, Petric testified that, at Dorstad's
request, he had falsely told police that it was Douglas who
had sawed off the shotgun. Petric also admitted that he had
persisted in this lie until, shortly before trial, Dorstad
admitted that he (not Douglas) had sawed off the gun.
addition to eliciting this evidence, Goetz highlighted
inconsistencies in the eyewitnesses' statements, and
Goetz forcefully argued that, comparatively speaking, Douglas
was the outsider in the group and thus an easy scapegoat.
Goetz pointed out that both Dorstad and Petric had a lot to
lose if they were convicted of a gun charge. Dorstad was
entangled in child-custody proceedings, and Petric admitted
that he could lose his job. Finally, Goetz cross-examined the
government's expert on gunshot residue, emphasizing the
lack of forensic evidence that Douglas had fired the gun.
Goetz got the expert to admit that particles found on
Douglas's hands were consistent with shooting off
fireworks, which Douglas had done earlier in the evening.
jury convicted Douglas. A few months later, Douglas moved for
a new trial on the basis of newly discovered
evidence-specifically, an affidavit from Petric in which he
recanted his trial testimony and claimed that only he, and
not Douglas, had fired the gun. Two other trial
witnesses-Dorstad's sister and niece-also offered
affidavits stating that, after the trial, Dorstad admitted to
them that he had hidden the gun on the Easter property and
that it was Petric who had been shooting it on the night in
question. (By contrast, Hoiland and Ryberg submitted
affidavits affirming that their trial testimony had been
conducting an evidentiary hearing, the Court denied
Douglas's new-trial motion. The Court identified numerous
reasons why Petric's recantation was not credible and
likely the result of pressure from Douglas's family and
friends. The Court later sentenced Douglas to 240 months in
prison, a substantial downward variance from the
360-months-to-life sentence recommended by the United States
Sentencing Guidelines. After an unsuccessful appeal that
focused on the denial of Douglas's suppression motion,
Douglas filed this motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to
vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence.
Standard of Review
Sixth Amendment guarantees criminal defendants the right to
effective assistance of counsel. U.S. Const. amend. VI;
Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 686 (1984).
To prevail on a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, a
defendant must show that (1) his counsel's performance
fell below an objective standard of reasonableness and (2)
there is a reasonable probability that, but for his
counsel's errors, the result of the proceeding would have
been different. Id. at 687-88, 694.
benchmark for judging any claim of ineffectiveness must be
whether counsel's conduct so undermined the proper
functioning of the adversarial process that the trial cannot
be relied on as having produced a just result.”
Id. at 686. In reviewing ineffective-assistance
claims, a court must be careful to avoid second-guessing
counsel's strategic decisions. “Judicial scrutiny
of counsel's performance must be highly deferential. . .
. [A] court must indulge a strong presumption that
counsel's conduct falls within the wide range of
reasonable professional assistance . . . .”
Id. at 689. “We look at counsel's
challenged conduct at the time of his representation of the
defendant and we avoid making judgments based on
hindsight.” Ragland v. United States, 756 F.3d
597, 600 (8th Cir. 2014) (citation and quotations omitted).
“The defendant bears the burden to overcome the strong
presumption that counsel's performance was
reasonable.” Thomas v. United States, 737 F.3d
1202, 1207 (8th Cir. 2013).
Rejected Guilty Plea
first contends that, if Goetz had properly explained the
concept of constructive possession to him, Douglas would have
accepted the ...