HARMON v. USA
Entry Granting Second Amended Motion for Relief Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 - For the reasons explained in this Entry, the second amended motion of Danny Harmon for relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, dkt. 67 , is GRANTED. The foregoi ng circumstances show that Mr. Harmon is entitled to relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. The motion for relief pursuant to § 2255 is therefore GRANTED. Mr. Harmon is entitled to be re-sentenced, and he may argue for the benefit of a two level reduction for acceptance of responsibility and the reduction already granted through the 782 Amendment. This matter will be set for re-sentencing, and an updated presentence report will be ordered. Judgment consistent with this Entry shall now issue. This Entry shall also be entered on the docket in the underlying criminal action, No. 1:11-cr-00084-JMS-DKL-1. (SEE ENTRY). Signed by Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson on 3/6/2018.(APD)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF INDIANA
DANNY G. HARMON,
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
Entry Granting Second Amended Motion for Relief Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255
For the reasons explained in this Entry, the second amended motion of Danny Harmon for
relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, dkt. , is GRANTED.
An indictment was filed on May 10, 2011, charging Mr. Harmon with conspiracy to
distribute 100 kilograms or more of marijuana, three counts of attempting to possess with intent to
distribute marijuana, and one count of using a telephone to facilitate drug trafficking, in violation
of 21 U.S.C. §§ 846, 841, and 843. No. 1:11-cr-0084-JMS-DKL-1; Crim. Case; dkt. 1. An
Information pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 851(A)(1) alleging a prior felony drug conviction was filed
on May 18, 2011. Id., dkt. 16.
Mr. Harmon hired defense attorney Jack Crawford, who appeared in the case on May 31,
2011. Id., dkt. 20. With the filing of the § 851, Mr. Harmon was facing ten years to life.
The government sought a single continuance of the trial on June 30, 2011. Id., dkt. 26. Mr.
Harmon objected and a hearing was conducted on July 11, 2011. After the hearing, the Court
granted the government’s motion to continue the trial and reset the trial for August 22, 2011. Id.,
On July 28, 2011, a Superseding Indictment was filed adding charges of attempting to kill
and intimidate a witness and increasing the amount of marijuana charged to 1,000 kilograms or
more, which increased Mr. Harmon’s potential sentence to 20 years to life. Id., dkt. 53. Following
a four day trial that began on August 22, 2011, a jury found Mr. Harmon guilty on the drug offenses
and acquitted him on the additional charges. On January 20, 2012, the Court sentenced him to 360
months in prison. Id., dkt. 119.
The Seventh Circuit affirmed Mr. Harmon’s convictions and sentence. United States v.
Harmon, 721 F.3d 877, 885, 887, 892 (7th Cir. 2013). The United States Supreme Court denied
Mr. Harmon’s petition for writ of certiorari. Harmon v. United States, 134 S. Ct. 1014 (Jan. 21,
On March 25, 2015, the Court granted Mr. Harmon’s motion to reduce sentence pursuant
to U.S.S.G. Amendment 782. His sentence of imprisonment of 360 months was reduced to 324
months. Crim. Case; dkt. 231.
On January 22, 2015, Mr. Harmon, by counsel, filed a motion to vacate under 28 U.S.C.
§ 2255 in this civil case, asserting claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. Counsel’s motion to
withdraw was granted on March 17, 2015. Dkt. 9. Mr. Harmon, pro se, filed an amended motion
to vacate on April 27, 2015. Dkt. 14. After the government responded and Mr. Harmon replied,
the Court set the matter for a hearing on August 31, 2016, and appointed counsel to represent Mr.
Harmon. Dkt. 34. After four continuances were granted, the evidentiary hearing was conducted on
February 6, 2018.
Mr. Harmon’s motion for leave to file a second amended motion to vacate, filed on
February 2, 2018, was granted. In his second amended motion, Mr. Harmon brought two claims
of ineffective assistance of counsel. Dkt. 67. On the day of the hearing, however, Mr. Harmon
abandoned one of his claims and proceeded with a single claim of ineffective assistance of counsel,
that trial counsel failed to properly advise Mr. Harmon during the pretrial period.
II. § 2255 Hearing
At the evidentiary hearing conducted on February 2, 2018, Mr. Harmon called two
witnesses: trial counsel Jack Crawford and himself. In addition to the testimony, several audio
recordings of conversations between Mr. Crawford and Mr. Harmon were played and entered into
evidence. The Court listened to the recordings of the entire phone calls admitted into evidence
after the hearing.
As an initial matter, the Court can appreciate that it must be challenging to have allegations
of ineffective assistance of counsel made against an experienced defense attorney, but from the
moment the hearing began, Mr. Crawford displayed considerable hostility toward Mr. Harmon’s
counsel. His defensive attitude made the fact-finding process more difficult than necessary and
arguably reflected a bias toward the government.
During the hearing, both Mr. Crawford and Mr. Harmon testified that throughout the
pretrial phase of the case, Mr. Crawford viewed the government’s case as weak, and he did not
believe they had a case against Mr. Harmon. Hearing in § 2255 Case, Transcript, February 6, 2018,
(“Trans.”); dkt. 71, pp. 12-13, 31, 45-46, 73, 87. Mr. Crawford stated that this was a “historical
case,” meaning the government could not place any marijuana in Mr. Harmon’s possession. Id., p.
73. “It was all in somebody else’s possession.” Id. Mr. Crawford testified that his opinion as to
the weakness of the case did not ever change. Id., pp. 81, 87.
Mr. Crawford testified that he had never before, as a strategy, sought a speedy trial on the
first trial setting. Id., p. 41. He stated that he “certainly would have liked more time, but I felt that
time was working against Mr. Harmon. The longer this case pended, the more the Government
would find out about a lot of things that would hurt my client.” Id. Mr. Crawford testified that the
Superseding Indictment adding the charges of attempted murder of Mr. Meadows “only increased
my desire to get this case to trial.” Id., p. 40. Mr. Crawford “was very concerned about what might
happen.” Id. He testified that the government was “learning day by day by day as to how vast [Mr.
Harmon’s marijuana business] was and what it involved and the people it involved.” Id., p. 42.
Mr. Crawford thought that with the “correspondent threats to the witnesses,” “the picture was
getting darker and darker for Danny Harmon with each succeeding week, and we needed to put
this case to its proof as soon as possible.” Id.
Mr. Crawford explained that “[t]he Government’s case was getting stronger each day that
passed, and I felt that it would be important for Mr. Harmon to ask for a speedy trial, demand his
right to a speedy trial, and proceed to trial as quickly as he could.” Id., p. 35. He testified that he
had discussed this with Mr. Harmon “several times” and Mr. Harmon was “in complete agreement
that we needed to get this case to trial. In fact, he, he told me several times. He said, ‘Well, you
know they are out talking to all my people in New Castle and in Henry County. They are bugging
them. Agent Steele is out there. He is scaring the hell out of them.’” Id., pp. 35-36. Mr. Harmon
told Mr. Crawford that his people were “going to cave in. They can’t withstand this anymore. We
have got to get this case over with.” Id., pp. 36-37.
During the hearing, Mr. Crawford was asked, “[d]id the U.S. attorney’s office ever offer
you a plea for Mr. Harmon of any kind?” Id., p. 29. Mr. Crawford responded, “Not a formal plea.
I had discussions with [Assistant United States Attorney] Ms. Conour about plea negotiations, and
she told me we would have to start at 30, 30 years in prison.” Id. Mr. Crawford testified that he
“told Danny the government’s offer was 30 years. He said, ‘Forget that.’” Id., p. 30.
Once the Superseding Indictment was filed, Mr. Harmon would not accept any sort of plea
that would involve him being convicted for attempted murder. Mr. Crawford testified that Mr.
Harmon said, “I had nothing to do with that. I didn’t do it, and I would never plead to that.” Id., p.
43. Mr. Crawford testified that he told Mr. Harmon that if he pled guilty to all charges, he would
“guideline out” at life in prison. Id. Mr. Harmon told him, “I am not going to do that.” Id.
With regard to the possibility of pleading guilty, Mr. Harmon testified that Mr. Crawford
told him that “the only way that I could plead guilty [sic] if I, if I wanted to cooperate.” Id., p. 50.
Mr. Harmon testified that in late June 2011, after Mr. Crawford had reviewed the discovery
materials, Mr. Crawford again told him that “[t]he only way that you are going to be able to plead
guilty is if you cooperate.” Id., p. 52. It was Mr. Harmon’s understanding that by “cooperating,”
the government wanted to “get to my supplier and people around me.” Id. He was not willing to
cooperate. Id. Each time they talked about pleading guilty, Mr. Crawford “would always tell me,
‘You can’t plead guilty unless you cooperate.’” Id.; see also, id., pp. 55, 58, 61, 67.
Mr. Crawford testified that from the beginning of the case, Mr. Harmon told him “he would
not do any cooperation deal with the government, so forget that.” Id., p. 35. Mr. Crawford told Mr.
Harmon about a Sentencing Guideline 5K1.1 option through which a defendant might be able to
receive a reduction in sentence if he cooperated with the government concerning the defendant’s
supplier. Id. Mr. Crawford testified that Mr. Harmon told him he would not tell the government
who his supplier was. Mr. Harmon told Mr. Crawford, “Absolutely not. I will not snitch.” Id.
Mr. Crawford was asked, “Danny told you from the beginning of the case he was guilty of
the drug charges; was that correct?” Id., p. 30. He testified, “He never said the word ‘guilty.’ He
described what he had done. Guilty is a finding of a court or a jury, but as to establishing culpability
for the charges, he was very open and told me openly – about his involvement, yes.” Id., pp. 3031.
When asked whether he discussed the possibility of an open plea with Mr. Harmon, Mr.
Crawford testified, “Usually I do with my clients. I don’t remember with Mr. Harmon if I
specifically discussed the possibility of him pleading open. Probably I didn’t - - I know I didn’t
discuss it after the charges were brought for attempting to kill a witness, because he wasn’t going
to plead to that. So the answer is, I don’t remember.” Id., p. 39. When asked by the government
“if he had done an open plea as to the case, would that have had to be to all pending charges?,”
Mr. Crawford testified, “yes.” Id.
Mr. Crawford testified that it is a defendant’s option to plead open to the Court “[i]f he is
trying to get acceptance of responsibility, yes.” Id., p. 44. He stated that “that was not on the table
in this case because acceptance of responsibility requires an honest and truthful statement as to
other relevant conduct over - - at least not a false denial of other relevant conduct. And Danny
wasn’t going to admit to a hundred thousand kilograms of marijuana.” Id.
Mr. Crawford denied telling Mr. Harmon that he could not enter into a guilty plea without
cooperating. Id., p. 68. Mr. Crawford testified that he advised Mr. Harmon that he shouldn’t enter
into a guilty plea because Mr. Harmon “wouldn’t get acceptance of responsibility and two levels
off on his offense level unless he was truthful or not intentionally false - - did not intentionally
falsify other relevant conduct.” Id., pp. 68-69. He continued, “[t]he Government had charged him
with 100 kilograms which they later raised to a thousand kilograms.” Id., p. 69. “The fact is, during
the course of his marijuana business, Mr. Harmon had tens of thousands of kilograms, probably
30,000 kilograms, much more than was even alleged.” Id. “He would have to give a statement
about relevant conduct…and if he was not truthful he wouldn’t get two levels off, No. 1.” Id. “And
No. 2, if he pled guilty he would be at an offense level 44 or 46, probably getting a life sentence.
And that is what - - that is what the United States probation found in their first PSI report is that
his, his penalty level was life.” Id. “What good would it do to plead guilty without an agreement
from the government, some type of agreement and get life? To me, it made absolutely no sense.”
Id. Again in asserting that he did not tell Mr. Harmon that he could not plead guilty without
cooperating, Mr. Crawford stated, “I wouldn’t tell somebody that they didn’t have the right to
plead guilty. I would say, ‘It would be of no benefit to you, Danny, in this case. If you plead guilty
outright, including Count VI and VII, you are going to get life,’ and he ended up getting 30 years.
So the end result was better than an outright plea of guilty.” Id., p. 70.
When asked whether Mr. Harmon could have made a choice to plead open to the drug
charges, Mr. Crawford responded, “Could he have pled to just the drug charges? No.” Id., p. 44.
Mr. Crawford did not remember whether he talked to the U.S. Attorney to determine whether that
would have been an option. Id., pp. 44-45.
After the government filed the motion to continue the trial on June 30, 2011, Mr. Crawford
told Mr. Harmon that the government believed Mr. Harmon was attempting to kill or intimidate a
witness, that these accusations were probably the only way the government could get a
continuance, and that the government did not want to go to trial and was not ready to go to trial.
Id. at pp. 23-25.
As one reason for the continuance, the government asserted that “the parties have not had
an opportunity to discuss possible resolution without trial and additional time is needed to
thoroughly explore that possibility and to complete those discussions.” Crim. Case; dkt. 26, ¶ 5.
In his objection to the motion for the continuance, Mr. Crawford asserted that “[t]he defendant
does not believe that discussion to resolve this short of trial would be beneficial.” Crim. Case; dkt.
28, ¶ 4. During the hearing conducted on the motion for continuance, the government
acknowledged the defendant’s position on plea negotiations. “Even though Mr. Crawford has
indicated that there should be no plea negotiations, once again, that is something that we probably
should have the opportunity to at least engage in or make an opportunity to Mr. Crawford to have
those conversations; and we simply have not had adequate time to do so.” Crim. Case; dkt. 146, p.
65. In granting the motion for continuance on July 12, 2011, the Court noted that “[t]o the extent
that the Government contends that it should receive a continuance to permit it to undertake plea
negotiations, the Court rejects that proposition because Mr. Harmon has indicated that he is not
interested in a plea.” Crim. Case; dkt. 42, p. 7.
With regard to the strength of the case, testimony during the hearing confirmed that
although Mr. Harmon told Mr. Crawford that he did not believe John Meadows, a courier in the
drug conspiracy, would ever show up in court, as of June 27, 2011, Mr. Crawford knew that Mr.
Meadows was “flipping” on Mr. Harmon and was listed as a witness. Dkt. 71, pp. 13-14. Mr.
Crawford knew that Mr. Meadows had been arrested in 2009 with 100 pounds of marijuana in
Tulsa, Oklahoma and was arrested again in 2011 with approximately 100 pounds of marijuana in
Colby, Kansas. Id., p. 14. Mr. Crawford knew that information had been gathered that Mr.
Meadows had made multiple trips to Arizona, which information included hotel, car rental, and
flight information. Id. Mr. Crawford also knew that during Mr. Meadows’ last trip in 2011, there
were many texts or phone calls between Mr. Meadows and Mr. Harmon. Id., pp. 15-16.
Mr. Crawford also knew that Mr. Wilkinson, a courier in the conspiracy, would very likely
testify against Mr. Harmon. Id., p. 16. He knew that Mr. Wilkinson had been arrested in August
of 2009 in Arizona with 200 pounds of marijuana and over $6,000 in cash. Id. He also knew that
the government had gathered information establishing that Mr. Wilkinson made multiple trips to
Arizona. Id., pp. 16-17. He knew that the government had seized notes taken by Mr. Wilkinson
reflecting how much he was owed from his last two trips. Id., p. 18.
Mr. Crawford knew that the government had searched Mr. Harmon’s residence in New
Castle, as well as his son’s residence and a rural property. Id. He knew that documents, a piece of
paper with numbers on it that was described as a “drug ledger” at trial, multiple vehicles, a radio
frequency tracer, and a prepaid phone card, were taken from Mr. Harmon’s residence. Id., pp. 1820. Mr. Crawford knew that four cell phones were taken from Mr. Harmon and his son when they
were arrested. Id., p. 20. In May 2011, Mr. Crawford also knew that the government had gathered
bank records, credit card records, and tax returns for Mr. Harmon. Id., p. 21. He knew financial
records revealed large cash transactions. Id., p. 22. Mr. Crawford knew that Mr. Harmon’s cash
flow far exceeded his legitimate income, and Mr. Crawford was worried about that. Id.
Mr. Crawford knew as of June 14, 2011, that there was a high probability that Brad Raines,
a member of the conspiracy, would testify against Mr. Harmon. Id., pp. 22-23. Mr. Crawford also
knew that the government had searched Mr. Raines’ residence and found marijuana, scales, Ziploc
bags, firearms, and $14,000 in cash. Id., p. 23. Yet on June 27, 2011, after Mr. Crawford reviewed
1,000 pages of discovery, he told Mr. Harmon that the government’s case against him was
“bullshit.” Id., p. 23; see also id., pp. 45-46 (after reviewing 1,000 pages of discovery, Mr.
Crawford told Mr. Harmon that the case against him was “weak.”).
Mr. Harmon testified “yes” when asked whether he would have pled guilty if he knew he
“could plead without cooperating?” Id., p. 54. He testified “yes” when asked whether he would
have “pled guilty at that point if you had known the strength of the Government’s case against
To succeed with a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, a petitioner must show both
that (1) “counsel’s representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness,” and (2)
“there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel’s unprofessional errors, the result of the
proceeding would have been different.” Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 688, 694 (1984).
“A reasonable probability is a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome.” Id.
at 694. “[W]e apply a strong presumption that counsel’s conduct falls within the wide range of
reasonable professional assistance.” Anderson v. United States, 865 F.3d 914, 921 (7th Cir. 2017)
(internal quotation omitted).
The Sixth Amendment entitles criminal defendants to the effective assistance of competent
counsel during the plea bargaining process. Lafler v. Cooper, 566 U.S. 156, 162 (2012). It is true
that “defendants have no right to be offered a plea … nor a federal right that the judge accept it.”
Id. at 168 (internal quotation omitted). “[A]s a general rule, defense counsel has the duty to
communicate formal offers from the prosecution to accept a plea on terms and conditions that may
be favorable to the accused.” Missouri v. Frye, 566 U.S. 134, 145 (2012). “To a large
extent…horse trading [between prosecutor and defense counsel] determines who goes to jail and
for how long.” Id. at 144 (internal quotation omitted). Plea bargaining “is not some adjunct to the
criminal justice system; it is the criminal justice system.” Id. (internal quotation omitted). “In
today’s criminal justice system, therefore, the negotiation of a plea bargain, rather than the
unfolding of a trial, is almost always the critical point for a defendant.” Id.
To succeed on his specific claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, Mr. Harmon “must
show that his counsel’s advice to reject the plea agreement and go to trial was objectively
unreasonable, and that absent this advice he would have accepted the plea offer.” Torres-Chavez
v. United States, 828 F.3d 582, 585 (7th Cir. 2016). “While there is a wide range of conduct that
constitutes reasonable performance, an attorney’s performance is deficient if the attorney grossly
mischaracterizes the evidence or advises a client to reject a plea offer and go to trial in the face of
overwhelming evidence and no viable defenses.” Id. In the plea-bargaining context, “a reasonably
competent lawyer will attempt to learn all of the relevant facts of the case, make an estimate of a
likely sentence, and communicate the results of that analysis to the client….” Spiller v. United
States, 855 F.3d 751, 755 (7th Cir. 2017) (internal quotation omitted). “In the context of plea
agreements, the prejudice prong focuses on whether the deficient information was the decisive
factor in a defendant’s decision to plead guilty or to proceed to trial.” Julian v. Bartley, 495 F.3d
487, 498 (7th Cir. 2007).
Here, counsel’s performance was objectively unreasonable in four ways. First, he failed to
recognize and communicate to Mr. Harmon the strength of the government’s case as it changed
over time. Second, he advised his client either that he could only plead guilty if he cooperated with
the government (according to Mr. Harmon), or that he should not plead guilty because the
acceptance of responsibility reduction would not be of any benefit to him (according to Mr.
Crawford). Third, he failed to extend and participate in plea negotiations with the government.
Fourth, he operated under the belief that if Mr. Harmon wanted to plead guilty, Mr. Harmon would
have to plead guilty to all charges, not just the drug charges.
Mr. Crawford’s testimony about the strength of the government’s case was striking in its
contradictions. He testified that even after reviewing the discovery that revealed the government’s
case against Mr. Harmon, he told Mr. Harmon that the government’s case was “weak.” Mr.
Crawford continued to believe that the added charges, even though they increased his client’s
potential minimum sentence from 10 to 20 years in prison, were merely attempts to stall for time
and to get a continuance of the trial date. At the same time, he was concerned that the government’s
case was getting stronger each day against Mr. Harmon. Mr. Harmon himself was concerned about
how many of his former customers were being contacted by the authorities. As noted, on direct
appeal, the Seventh Circuit described the evidence of Mr. Harmon’s guilt on the counts of
conviction as “overwhelming.” Harmon, 721 F.3d at 887. To communicate to Mr. Harmon that
the case was “bullshit” or “weak” without adjusting that opinion based on the Superseding
Indictment that increased the charge of possession with intent to distribute from 100 to 1,000
kilograms, the identity and number of witnesses, the amounts of marijuana uncovered during
various searches, the fact that Mr. Harmon’s credit card was used to pay for Meadows’ 25 trips,
and the discovery of financial records showing the excessive cash flow in relation to Mr. Harmon’s
legitimate stump removal business, was deficient under these circumstances. Although Mr.
Crawford did prepare some countervailing evidence of witnesses for whom Mr. Harmon did tree
removal work and of Mr. Harmon having used his home equity and credit cards, to account for the
amount of income attributed to Mr. Harmon by the government, the volume of work could not
have accounted for Mr. Harmon’s spending. Euphemistically, he would have to have removed
every stump in Indiana. In sum, Mr. Crawford “grossly mischaracterized” the evidence and
allowed his client to go to trial in the face of overwhelming evidence and no viable defense to the
drug charges. Torres-Chavez, 828 F.3d at 585.
Next, under the United States Sentencing Guidelines, there is a distinction between
“cooperating” with the Government and “accepting responsibility.” Mr. Crawford overstated to
his client what would be required to plead guilty. Mr. Harmon understood cooperation to mean
identifying his supplier and other people around him. Mr. Crawford mentioned telling Mr. Harmon
about the 5K1.1 substantial assistance guideline, but that reduction is allowed upon motion of the
government and is not the only method by which Mr. Harmon could have received a sentence
reduction by pleading guilty.
To obtain a two level decrease in offense level, the Acceptance of Responsibility guideline,
U.S.S.G. 3E1.1, provides that
If the defendant clearly demonstrates acceptance of responsibility for his offense,
decrease the offense level by 2 levels.
If the defendant qualifies for a decrease under subsection (a), the offense level
determined prior to the operation of subsection (a) is level 16 or greater, and upon motion of the
government stating that the defendant has assisted authorities in the investigation or prosecution
of his own misconduct by timely notifying authorities of his intention to enter a plea of guilty,
thereby permitting the government to avoid preparing for trial and permitting the government and
the court to allocate their resources efficiently, decrease the offense level by 1 additional level.
In determining whether a defendant qualifies under subsection (a), appropriate
considerations include, but are not limited to, the following:
truthfully admitting the conduct comprising the offense(s) of conviction, and
truthfully admitting or not falsely denying any additional relevant conduct for which the defendant
is accountable under §1B1.3 (Relevant Conduct). Note that a defendant is not required to
volunteer, or affirmatively admit, relevant conduct beyond the offense of conviction in order to
obtain a reduction under subsection (a). A defendant may remain silent in respect to relevant
conduct beyond the offense of conviction without affecting his ability to obtain a reduction under
this subsection. However, a defendant who falsely denies, or frivolously contests, relevant conduct
that the court determines to be true has acted in a manner inconsistent with acceptance of
In other words, to accept responsibility and obtain a two level reduction under 3E1.1(a), a
defendant must be truthful in admitting the conduct with which he was charged. Id. He is not
required to volunteer or admit relevant conduct beyond the offense of conviction, though he cannot
falsely deny it. Nothing in the Acceptance of Responsibility guideline requires the identification
of suppliers. Under subpart (b) of the § 3E1.1 guideline, an additional one level reduction could
be obtained upon motion of the government if it is timely notified of the defendant’s intention to
plead guilty and thereby allowing the government to avoid preparing for trial. Id. As noted, there
is a discrepancy between the advice Mr. Crawford claimed he gave about acceptance of
responsibility, and the advice Mr. Harmon believed he received about a requirement of
cooperation. This Court is not aware of any requirement that such legal advice concerning the
contours of the plea offer must be memorialized in writing and perhaps there are strategic reasons
for not doing so. That said, absent strategic reasons to not place the content of plea negotiations in
a written document, the Court encourages defense counsel to consider the benefits of written
communication of both plea offers and the potential consequences of rejecting those offers.
As the government’s case became stronger “day by day,” it was objectively unreasonable
for Mr. Crawford not to discuss with Mr. Harmon on what terms he might be willing to plead
guilty. Mr. Crawford never engaged in the process of negotiation. Rather, the initial and cursory
mention of “30 years” was soundly rejected without any further inquiry or counter-proposal. In a
somewhat unusual circumstance, there is evidence in this record that the government wanted to
have an opportunity to further negotiatea plea agreement, but defense counsel failed to explore any
such options. An attempt at negotiation should have been made.
Finally, an open plea is simply a guilty plea without a plea agreement. Contrary to Mr.
Crawford’s testimony, a defendant may enter into an open guilty plea as to only a subset of all
counts charged in an indictment. See United States v. Martin, 528 F.3d 746, 750 (10th Cir. 2008)
(doubting that court could reject unconditional guilty plea as to certain charges “to avoid confusing
the jury or complicating the evidentiary issues” as to the remaining claims where the requirements
of Rule 11(b) were met). Indeed, that proposition is so well established that the Seventh Circuit
has addressed the situation many times without hesitation. See, e.g., United States v. Pittman, 642
F.3d 583 (7th Cir. 2011) (rejecting vindictive prosecution argument where government continued
to prosecute remaining counts in indictment after defendant pleaded guilty to only a “subset of the
counts set forth in his indictment”); United States v. Edwards, 606 F. App’x 851, 852 (7th Cir.
2015) (discussing guilty plea to some but not all charged counts); United States v. Cox, 59 F. App’x
144, 145 (7th Cir. 2003) (same); Stewart v. Peters, 958 F.2d 1379, 1386 (7th Cir. 1992) (discussing
impact of contemplated partial guilty plea); see also 1A Charles Allen Wright et al., Federal
Practice & Procedure § 171 (4th ed. 2007) (discussing evidentiary issues implicated by partial
guilty plea without questioning basis for the partial plea). Exacerbating this circumstance was Mr.
Crawford’s unfounded belief that Mr. Harmon would have to cooperate in the sense of disclosing
the identity of his supplier. He never tested this theory with the government.
“Adequate preparation of a defense includes the ability to intelligently weigh one’s plea
options.” United States v. Mackin, 793 F.3d 703, 711 (7th Cir. 2015); United States v. Lee, 573
F.3d 155, 165 (7th Cir. 2009) (“Lee might have chosen to enter into plea negotiations with the
Government if he had accurate information about the strength of its case,” stated in the context of
the government’s failure to disclose evidence during discovery that would likely defeat
As noted, if counsel advises a defendant to reject a plea offer, a petitioner “must show first,
that his counsel’s performance fell below an objective standard of reasonableness; and second, that
the outcome of the plea process would have been different with competent advice.” Sawyer v.
United States, 874 F.3d 276, 278-79 (7th Cir. 2017) (internal quotation omitted). In this context,
the second prong of the test requires the petitioner “to show that there is a reasonable probability
that the plea offer would have been presented to the court, the court would have accepted it, and
that the conviction or sentence or both would have been less severe than the judgment imposed.”
Id. at 279. (internal quotation omitted). Here, Mr. Harmon testified that if he had been advised that
he could plead guilty without “cooperating,” i.e., revealing his supplier, he would have pled guilty.
Mr. Harmon also testified that if he had known the strength of the government’s case against him,
he would have pled guilty.
If Mr. Harmon had made an open plea to the drug charges only, with the two level reduction
available under 3E1.1, it is probable that Mr. Harmon’s sentence would have been based on an
adjusted offense level of 40 (instead of 42) and a criminal history category of II. The guideline
range would then be reduced from 360 months to life, to 324 to 405 months. The Court, having
sentenced Mr. Harmon to the low end of the guidelines, Crim. Case; dkt. 151, p. 105 (sentencing
transcript), may have sentenced him to 324 months instead of 360. If this were the sentence at the
time the 782 Amendment were filed and granted, Mr. Harmon would have then been eligible for
a guideline range of 262 to 327 months. The Court finds that Mr. Harmon has shown that absent
counsel’s deficient performance, the outcome of the plea process would have been different and
he has therefore been prejudiced.
The foregoing circumstances show that Mr. Harmon is entitled to relief pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 2255. The motion for relief pursuant to § 2255 is therefore GRANTED. Mr. Harmon is
entitled to be re-sentenced, and he may argue for the benefit of a two level reduction for acceptance
of responsibility and the reduction already granted through the 782 Amendment. This matter will
be set for re-sentencing, and an updated presentence report will be ordered. . Judgment consistent
with this Entry shall now issue.
This Entry shall also be entered on the docket in the underlying criminal action, No.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
Michelle Patricia Brady
UNITED STATES ATTORNEY'S OFFICE
Pamela S. Domash
UNITED STATES ATTORNEY'S OFFICE (Evansville)
Brian L. Reitz
UNITED STATES ATTORNEY'S OFFICE (Indianapolis)
Sara J. Varner
INDIANA FEDERAL COMMUNITY DEFENDERS
Joe Howard Vaughn
UNITED STATES ATTORNEY'S OFFICE
James Robert Wood
UNITED STATES ATTORNEY'S OFFICE
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