Singletary v. USA
ORDER entered by Judge Nanette Laughrey. Russel Lee Singletary's pro se Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 [Doc. # 1] is DENIED. (Kanies, Renea)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE
WESTERN DISTRICT OF MISSOURI
RUSSEL LEE SINGLETARY
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
Case No. 12-0314-CV-W-NKL-P
Crim. No. 09-00058-01-CR-W-NKL
Before the Court is Russel Lee Singletary’s pro se Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or
Correct his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 [Doc. # 1]. For the reasons set forth
below, the Court DENIES the motion.
Background and Procedural History
On February 24, 2009, a federal grand jury indicted Singletary on four counts, two for
armed robbery in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 2113(a) and (d) (Counts One and Three), and two
for brandishing a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence in violation of §
924(c) (Counts Two and Four). Counts One and Two were based on Singletary’s alleged
robbery of a U.S. Bank on December 1, 2008. Counts Three and Four were based on
Singletary’s alleged robbery of a U.S. Bank on February 9, 2009.
On December 29, 2009, the Court accepted Singletary’s pleas of guilty to Counts
Three and Four. As part of a plea agreement, the government agreed to dismiss Counts
One and Two of the indictment.
On May 6, 2010, the Court adopted the presentence investigation report (“PSR”),
which recommended a guidelines sentencing range of 130-141 months’ imprisonment.
The PSR noted that Singletary’s guideline sentence would have been 441-455 months
had he been convicted on all four counts. It also contained a summary of the December
1, 2008 robbery under the heading, “Offense Behavior Not Part of Relevant Conduct.”
On May 25, 2010, the Court sentenced Singletary to imprisonment for a term of
120 months on Count Three and 84 months on Count Four, to be served consecutively for
a total term of 204 months. The Court also imposed a supervised release term of five
years on each count, to run concurrently. The Court varied upward from the guidelines
because it found that the PSR’s Criminal History Category did not adequately reflect
Singletary’s criminal background.
Singletary has now filed a timely pro se motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his
sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 based on defense counsel’s erroneous prediction that
Singletary would be sentenced as a career offender. Grounds One and Two of the motion
allege that defense counsel’s assistance was constitutionally ineffective because of this
mistake.1 Ground Three claims that Singletary’s plea was neither knowing nor voluntary
Ground One alleges broadly that defense counsel’s performance was deficient and that
Singletary was prejudiced, but presents no factual allegations. This ground contains only
Singletary’s description of the case law on ineffective assistance of counsel claims. Ground Two
because of counsel’s error. In Ground Four, Singletary claims to be actually innocent of
the December 1, 2008 robbery and that his defense counsel was ineffective for failing to
investigate his alibi defense.
Standard for an Evidentiary Hearing
An evidentiary hearing on a motion filed under 18 U.S.C. § 2255 is necessary
unless the motion, files, and records of the case conclusively show that the movant is not
entitled to relief. Anjulo-Lopez v. United States, 541 F.3d 814, 817 (8th Cir. 2008).
Thus, a claim under § 2255 may be summarily dismissed without an evidentiary hearing
if it is insufficient on its face or the record affirmatively refutes the factual allegations
contained in the motion. Id. Accordingly, an evidentiary hearing is not required if the
allegations in the motion “are contradicted by the record, inherently incredible, or
conclusions rather than statements of fact.” Engelen v. United States, 68 F.3d 238, 24041 (8th Cir. 1995). Upon review of the motion, files, and records, the Court finds that all
of Singletary’s claims can be fully and fairly evaluated on the existing record and no
evidentiary hearing is required.
Ineffective Assistance of Counsel
To prevail on a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, the movant must prove
both: 1) that defense counsel’s representation was deficient; and 2) that the deficient
presents the alleged factual basis for Singletary’s ineffective assistance claim. Consequently, the
Court will consider Grounds One and Two as one claim.
performance prejudiced the movant’s case. United States v. Apfel, 97 F.3d 1074, 1076
(8th Cir. 1996). Failure to prove “either deficient performance or sufficient prejudice
defeats the ineffectiveness claim.” Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 700 (1984).
To show prejudice, a claimant who alleges that counsel’s deficiency caused him to plead
guilty must show that “there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel’s errors, [the
claimant] would not have pleaded guilty and would have insisted on going to trial.” Hill
v. Lockhart, 474 U.S. 52, 58-59 (1985); see also Missouri v. Frye, 132 S. Ct. 1399, 1419
(2012). “In many guilty plea cases,” this determination will depend on the likelihood that
defense counsel would have made a different recommendation about the plea if not for
the alleged deficiency. See Hill, 474 U.S. at 59. This showing may, in turn, depend on
whether the claimant can prove that she was objectively likely to succeed at trial. See id.
Singletary argues that defense counsel was ineffective because counsel
erroneously predicted that Singletary would be treated as a career offender under the
Federal Sentencing Guidelines and thus induced him to plead guilty. It is true that
defense counsel advised Singletary that he was a career offender and presented the
possible penalties Singletary would face if sentenced as a career offender. It is also true
that the PSR did not classify Singletary as a career offender. Singletary claims that this
error prejudiced him because his decision to plead guilty turned entirely on defense
counsel’s advice about his career offender status.
The prejudice issue is dispositive in this case because Singletary’s allegation that
he would have insisted on going to trial if not for counsel’s belief that he was a career
offender is contradicted by the record. Singletary claims that he decided to plead based
on counsel’s advice that a guilty plea was necessary “to avoid a prison sentence
tantamount to Life imprisonment.” [Doc. # 1 at 26]. But it is clear from the record that
counsel’s advice in this respect did not depend singularly, or even materially, on the
career offender determination.
Even if Singletary was not designated a career offender, he still risked a potential
life sentence if he went to trial and was convicted on all four counts. If Singletary had
been convicted on both counts of violating § 924(c), he would have faced a statutory
minimum sentence of 32 years and a statutory maximum of life in prison, consecutive to
any sentence imposed for the robberies. Counsel avers in her affidavit, “My advice to
Mr. Singletary was for him to plead guilty in order to avoid a mandatory 32 year sentence
on the two [§ 924(c)] counts.” [Doc. # 5-1 at 2]. In addition, the PSR noted that if
Singletary had gone to trial and been convicted on all counts, his guideline sentence
would have been 441-455 months. [Crim. Doc. # 45 at 24]. During sentencing, defense
counsel described Singletary as “a 66-year-old man in poor health.” [Crim. Doc. # 51 at
9]. Thus, even if Singletary received the minimum guideline sentence, it would still have
been tantamount to life in prison. See [Crim. Doc. # 42 at 18] (His defense counsel said:
“Significantly at his age, 25 years is basically a life sentence.”). Moreover, after a trial,
the sentencing court could have chosen to depart upward from the guidelines. This
possibility seems particularly likely considering that the Court did in fact depart upward
during sentencing after Singletary pleaded guilty.
Consequently, counsel’s admonishment to Singletary that “if we go to trial and
lose, you are going to die in prison,” [Doc. # 9-1 at 4], was accurate regardless of
counsel’s opinion on Singletary’s career offender status. There is no reason to believe
that counsel’s advice would have been different if not for her mistaken prediction that
Singletary would be sentenced as a career offender.
Furthermore, defense counsel’s recommendation that Singletary negotiate a plea
was based largely on Singletary’s bleak prospects for success at trial. In a letter to
Singletary dated May 20, 2009, counsel wrote:
I don’t feel like we have a lot of good things to say at a trial. . . . Things are
bleak, especially on the second robbery. You are arrested in a car that
matches the description of the car, with clothes matching the description of
the robber, wearing glasses that match the glasses the robber was wearing,
and there’s a bunch of money in the glove box. The pictures from the first
robbery look every bit as much like you as from the second robbery. The
teller will say it was the same person.
[Doc. # 9-1 at 4]. Likewise, in a letter to Singletary dated July 21, 2009, defense counsel
wrote, “I don’t think we have a strong suppression issue or, ultimately, a strong defense.
I think you should seriously consider allowing me to offer a plea . . . .” [Doc. # 9-1 at 6].
Singletary has not made any allegations that contradict this dour picture of his
chances of success at trial. Singletary suggests that he had an alibi defense to the
December 1, 2008 robbery that counsel did not properly investigate, but this claim is
contradicted by the record. In the May 20, 2009 letter quoted above, defense counsel
wrote, “The hospital didn’t give us a lot of help with an alibi, and they said that you
would have been able to (and presumably did) drive yourself home after the procedure on
December 1.” [Doc. # 9-1 at 4]. Similarly, defense counsel avers in her affidavit, “[M]y
investigation had failed to corroborate [Singletary’s] alibi for the December 1, 2008 bank
robbery.” [Doc. # 5-1 at 2]. Singletary points to no evidence to contradict this.
The record also conflicts with Singletary’s claim that he pleaded guilty based on
counsel’s advice that the December 1, 2008 robbery would not affect his sentence due to
his career offender status. Singletary claims that counsel “specifically represented to
movant that his [pleas] would not be impacted by any relevant conduct from the
December 1, 2008 robbery.” [Doc. # 9 at 11]. But in a letter to Singletary dated
November 10, 2009, counsel wrote, “You stated . . . that you want the relevant conduct
dropped. That’s not likely to happen, . . . . There is virtually no way that I am going to
be able to keep from the judge the fact that you are suspected in another robbery.” [Doc.
# 9-1 at 12]. The plea agreement also included a provision acknowledging that “the
conduct charged in any dismissed counts of the indictment . . . may be considered as
‘relevant conduct’ . . . .” [Crim. Doc. # 40 at 2]. During the plea colloquy, Singletary
affirmed that he had read and understood the plea agreement. [Crim. Doc. # 42 at 11-12].
Counsel did advise Singletary that the December 1, 2008 robbery would not affect
his guideline sentencing calculations. [Doc. # 5-1 at 2]. But Singletary’s belief that his
sentence was increased based on this conduct is mistaken. The PSR only mentioned the
December 1, 2008 robbery once, under the heading “Offense Behavior Not Part of
Relevant Conduct.” [Crim. Doc. # 45 at 10]. The PSR did not propose any sentence
enhancements based on this robbery, see [Crim. Doc. # 45 at 9-10], and the Court did not
mention this robbery when explaining the upward departure in Singletary’s sentence, see
[Crim. Doc. # 51 at 15].
Finally, Singletary was also informed repeatedly that his counsel’s predictions
about sentencing were not certain or authoritative. While defense counsel told Singletary
that she believed he would be sentenced as a career offender, she also presented potential
outcomes if he was not so designated. See [Doc. # 9-1 at 12]. Likewise, the plea
agreement contained different guideline applications depending on whether or not
Singletary was determined to be a career offender. [Crim. Doc. # 40 at 6].
In addition, the plea agreement contained provisions acknowledging that the
guidelines are only advisory and that the Court is not bound by the guidelines or any
estimation of the guideline range offered by the parties. [Crim. Doc. # 40 at 3-4, 6-7].
When Singletary entered his guilty pleas, he acknowledged that he had read and
understood the plea agreement. [Crim. Doc. # 42 at 11-12]. During that same exchange,
Judge Maughmer repeated the advisements about sentencing contained in the plea
agreement. [Crim. Doc. # 42 at 13-14]. Judge Maughmer also expressly disclaimed any
opinion about sentencing offered by defense counsel:
If [defense counsel] or someone else has offered their opinion as to
what sentence you may receive, that’s fine, so long as you
understand that that is simply their opinion and that it is solely up to
Judge Laughrey and no one else to decide what sentence you will
receive. Do you understand that?
[Crim. Doc. # 42 at 15]. Thus, Singletary knew at the time he entered his pleas that the
sentence estimates provided by defense counsel were not necessarily correct and the
sentencing judge would make the final decision.
In conclusion, Singletary has not shown a reasonable probability that the outcome
of the proceedings would have been different but for counsel’s mistaken opinion as to
Singletary’s status as a career offender. Thus, the Court finds that Singletary has not
shown prejudice. Because this is dispositive as to Singletary’s ineffective assistance of
counsel claim, the Court need not address whether defense counsel’s performance was
Knowing and Voluntary Plea
Singletary’s claim that his guilty plea was neither knowing nor voluntary because
of defense counsel’s advice on the career offender issue is inadequate on its face. It is
well established in the Eighth Circuit that a misunderstanding about how the sentencing
guidelines will apply in a particular case will not invalidate a plea. See United States v.
Ramirez-Hernandez, 449 F.3d 824, 826 (8th Cir. 2006). “This is true even where the
misunderstanding is caused by defense counsel’s erroneous estimation of what the
ultimate sentence will be.” Id. (citing United States v. Burney, 75 F.3d 442, 445 (8th Cir.
1996)); see also United States v. Granados, 168 F.3d 343, 345 (8th Cir. 1999) (“[A]
defendant’s reliance on an attorney’s mistaken impression about the length of the
sentence is insufficient to render a plea involuntary so long as the court informed the
defendant of his maximum possible sentence.” (citation omitted)).
Thus, Singletary’s claim fails to allege facts that would entitle him to relief.
Singletary was informed about the maximum, statutory sentence he could receive, [Crim.
Doc. # 42 at 5-6], and affirmed that he voluntarily agreed to plea, [Crim. Doc. # 42 at 12,
19]. He admitted to committing the acts underlying his pleas and convictions, and
confirmed that he was guilty of the two offenses. [Crim. Doc. # 42 at 20-23].
Consequently, even if Singletary relied heavily on defense counsel’s mistaken impression
that he would be sentenced as a career offender, this would not provide cause to vacate
the pleas. See Granados, 168 F.3d at 345.
Furthermore, the record contradicts Singletary’s claim that the career offender
determination singularly determined his decision to plead. When asked to summarize
why a plea was in Singletary’s best interest, defense counsel made no mention of the
career offender designation. Rather, defense counsel stressed the desirability of avoiding
the 25 year consecutive sentence that would have been imposed for a second conviction
under § 924(c). [Crim. Doc. # 42 at 18]. Judge Maughmer then asked Singletary
whether he understood and agreed with what defense counsel had said. Singletary
answered that he did, without any mention of the career offender issue. [Crim. Doc. # 42
at 18-19]. The 25 year consecutive sentence for a second violation of § 924(c) in no way
depended on whether or not Singletary was found to be a career offender. Consequently,
this exchange directly contradicts Singletary’s claim that he was induced to plead based
solely on defense counsel’s mistaken prediction that he would be sentenced as a career
In conclusion, it is apparent from the record that Singletary pleaded guilty to avoid
the harsh sentence that would have resulted if he had gone to trial and been convicted on
all four counts. Even if counsel erroneously predicted a somewhat harsher outcome,
Singletary’s plea was still knowing, intelligent, and voluntary.
Singletary claims to be actually innocent of the December 1, 2008 robbery and
that counsel was ineffective for failing to investigate his alibi defense. But Singletary
was not convicted of this robbery. The charges related to this robbery were dismissed
pursuant to the plea agreement. Insofar as this allegation relates to Singletary’s
ineffective assistance of counsel claim, it has already been addressed and rejected. In all
other respects, this allegation is insufficient on its face because it fails to state a claim that
would entitle Singletary to relief.
Certificate of Appealability
The Court will issue a certificate of appealability only if “the applicant has made a
substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right.” 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c)(2). For
the reasons discussed above, Singletary has not made a substantial showing of the denial
of a constitutional right. Consequently, the Court does not issue a certificate of
For the reasons set forth above, it is hereby ORDERED that Russel Lee
Singletary’s pro se Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence under 28 U.S.C. §
2255 [Doc. # 1] is DENIED.
s/ Nanette K. Laughrey
NANETTE K. LAUGHREY
United States District Judge
Dated: August 29, 2012
Jefferson City, Missouri
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