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United States v. Kuhnel

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

June 12, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
JOHN EDWIN KUHNEL, Defendant.

          ERICA H. MACDONALD, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, AND MANDA M. SERTICH AND MIRANDA DUGI, ASSISTANT UNITED STATES ATTORNEYS, FOR PLAINTIFF.

          ROBERT M. PAULE, ROBERT M. PAULE, PA, FOR DEFENDANT.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          JOHN R. TUNHEIM CHIEF JUDGE

         Defendant John Kuhnel appeals the Magistrate Judge's order denying his Motion for Substitution of Counsel. Because the Court will conclude that the Magistrate Judge did not clearly err in finding that there is not a justifiable dissatisfaction with Kuhnel's attorney, the Court will affirm the Magistrate Judge's order.

         BACKGROUND

         On July 11, 2017, the United States charged Kuhnel with two counts of Receipt of Child Pornography and one count of Possession of Child Pornography. (Indictment, July 11, 2017, Docket No. 14.) Kuhnel moved to suppress evidence obtained from a warrantless search of his car, which led to the recovery of a laptop containing child pornography. (See Mot. to Suppress, Aug. 8, 2017, Docket No. 20.) The Court denied Kuhnel's motion. (Mem. Op. & Order at 11, Jan. 19, 2018, Docket No. 48.)

         On March 19, 2018, Kuhnel moved for substitution of counsel, claiming that his attorney's representation was ineffective for numerous reasons. (Mot. for Substitution of Counsel at 2, Mar. 19, 2018, Docket No. 54 (citing Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984)). First, Kuhnel argued that his attorney had not requested a detention hearing. (Id. at 1.) Second, Kuhnel argued that his attorney failed to notify him about the nature of the suppression hearing and failed to adequately cross-examine a witness. (Id. at 1-2.) Third, Kuhnel alleged that his attorney did not communicate with him for five months after the suppression hearing. (Id. at 2.) Fourth and finally, Kuhnel argued that his attorney committed a variety of shortcomings in relation to the Memorandum in Support of the Motion to Suppress. (Id. at 2.)

         United States Magistrate Judge Becky R. Thorson held a hearing on April 9, 2018, and issued an order denying Kuhnel's motion. (Order, Apr. 12, 2018, Docket No. 58; Minute Entry, April 9, 2018, Docket No. 56.) The Magistrate Judge concluded that Kuhnel had not shown a complete breakdown in communication warranting a finding of justifiable dissatisfaction. (Order at 2.) According to the Magistrate Judge, although Kuhnel did not hear from his attorney for over five months after the suppression hearing, Kuhnel had consulted with his attorney before the hearing and otherwise had made not efforts after the hearing to initiate contact with his attorney. (Id.) Regarding the remainder of Kuhnel's arguments, the Magistrate Judge concluded that Kuhnel merely disagreed with his attorney's tactical decisions, and these disagreements did not permit a finding of complete breakdown in communication. (Id. at 3.)

         Kuhnel appeals the Magistrate Judge's Order. (Pro Se Appeal, Apr. 25, 2018, Docket No. 59.)

         DISCUSSION

         I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The standard of review applicable to an appeal of a magistrate judge's order on a nondispositive issue is extremely deferential. Reko v. Creative Promotions, Inc., 70 F.Supp.2d 1005, 1007 (D. Minn. 1999). The Court will reverse such an order only if it is clearly erroneous or contrary to law. Fed. R. Crim. P. 59(a); D. Minn. LR 72.2(a).

         II. SUBSTITUTION OF COUNSEL

         The Court must decide whether the Magistrate Judge clearly erred in concluding that (1) there has not been a complete breakdown of communication between Kuhnel and his attorney and (2) Kuhnel's dissatisfaction is a mere disagreement with his counsel's tactical decisions. The ...


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