United States District Court, D. Minnesota
M. Provinzino and Melinda A. Williams, Assistant United
States Attorneys, United States Attorney's Office,
counsel for Plaintiff.
D. Richman, Esq., counsel for Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
DONOVAN W. FRANK UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter is before the Court on Defendant Michael
Morris'(“Morris”) Motion for New Trial based
on ineffective assistance of counsel. (Doc. No. 1280
(“Motion”).) The United States of America (the
“Government”) opposes the Motion. (Doc. No. 1433
(“Govt. Opp.”).) For the reasons set forth below,
the Court respectfully denies Morris' Motion.
Third Superseding Indictment in the above entitled matter
charged Morris with Conspiracy to Commit Sex Trafficking
(Count 1), Sex Trafficking by Use of Force, Threats of Force,
Fraud, or Coercion (Count 2), Conspiracy to Commit
Transportation to Engage in Prostitution (Count 3),
Conspiracy to Engage in Money Laundering (Count 4), and
Conspiracy to Use a Communication Facility to Promote
Prostitution (Count 5). (See Doc. No. 830.) All five
counts proceeded to trial by jury. On December 12, 2018, the
jury returned its verdict, finding Morris guilty of all
counts. (Doc. No. 997.) Morris moved for judgment of
acquittal on December 21, 2018. (Doc. No. 1007.) The Court
denied his motion for judgment of acquittal on February 20,
2019. (Doc. No. 1049.)
2019, Morris alleged that his trial counsel, Robert D. Sicoli
(“Sicoli”), was ineffective. (See Doc.
Nos. 1172-1174.) In light of Morris' allegations, Sicoli
moved to withdraw as his counsel. (Doc. No. 1167.) The Court
granted Sicoli's motion on July 2, 2019 and appointed new
counsel. (Doc. No. 1203.) On September 17, 2019, the Court
held an evidentiary hearing on Morris'
allegations. (Doc. No. 1350.)
is currently awaiting sentencing; however, sentencing has
been postponed pending resolution of his current claim.
Morris faces a guideline sentence range of 324 to 405 months
with a 15-year mandatory minimum for Count 2.
now moves, pursuant to Fed. R. Crim. P. 33(a), to vacate his
convictions on Counts 2, 3, and 5 on the ground that Sicoli
failed to communicate to Morris a favorable plea deal
(“Deal”) that the Government had made. (Motion at
1.) Morris alleges that under the terms of the Deal, the
Government agreed that Morris could plead guilty to Counts 1
and 4, and that the Government would dismiss the remaining
counts. (Id.) Morris contends that had he been
properly advised, he would have accepted the Deal and pleaded
guilty, in part because the Deal eliminated the prospect of a
mandatory minimum 15-year sentence on Count 2. (Id.)
Accordingly, Morris asks the court to place him back in the
position he would have been in “had he not been
deprived of effective assistance of counsel and had been able
to accept the [G]overnment's [Deal].” (Id.)
alleges that he had every incentive to resolve his case by
plea; however, “the stumbling block was Count 2, which
called for a sentence of 15 years to life.” (Doc. No.
1281 (“First Morris Memo.”) at 1.) Morris argues
that unless the Government agreed to dismiss Count 2, he had
no choice but to stand trial. (Id.)
Pro Se Filings
addition to his Pro se Motion, Morris filed a
self-styled letter to the Court (Doc. No. 1172
(“Letter”), and a supporting affidavit (Doc. No.
1174 (“Morris Aff.”)). In his Letter, Morris
stated that “a major issue [ ] came up shortly after my
jury trial that ended on December 12, 2018.” (Letter at
2.) Morris alleged that during a conversation with Sicoli in
December 2018, he learned about the Deal for the first time.
(Id.) Morris also proclaimed his innocence with
respect to various aspects of sex trafficking:
I believe that the trial testimony from Agents in the case
for the government show I was not involved in ma-tac or any
personal force, threats of force, or fraud or coercion,
because there is no evidence that exists where I have. I
honestly wish I knew that these ladies were being threatened
because if I knew I would have tried to help them. If nothing
else, I could have given them advice on what they should do.
I always tried to help them with any of their wants or needs
as was testified to at trial. There is no way that this was
reasonably foreseeable to me.
(Letter at 3-4.) In his Affidavit, Morris reiterated his
allegations with respect to the Deal, and asserted more
generally that Sicoli failed to inform him about various
aspects of the criminal justice system. (Morris Aff. ¶
6.) Morris also maintained his innocence with respect to sex
I had absolutely no knowledge that the women involved in this
case had any pressure or force in the acts they were
performing. I was aware that they transferred money to their
home country for their families and other reasons, but not
under any duress. I also had absolutely no meetings or
meaningful discussions with anyone in regards to any type of
debt or coercion. Because of the nature of the allegations, I
understood that the jury would have potentially found me
guilty because of the prostitution that was taking place, and
not for the erroneous charges the government was attempting
(Morris Aff. ¶ 10.)