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Thomas v. United States

United States District Court, E.D. Texas, Texarkana Division

July 25, 2019

MICHAEL WAYNE THOMAS, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant.

          ORDER

          ROBERT W. SCHROEDER III, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Movant Michael Wayne Thomas, a federal prisoner proceeding pro se, brought this Motion to Vacate, Set Aside or Correct Sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. The Court referred this matter to the Honorable Caroline M. Craven, United States Magistrate Judge, at Texarkana, Texas, for consideration pursuant to applicable laws and orders of this Court. After appointing counsel and conducting an evidentiary hearing in this matter, the Magistrate Judge submitted a Report and Recommendation recommending denying the motion. Docket No. 18. Movant filed objections to the Report. Docket No. 19. The Court reviews objected-to portions of the Report de novo. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b).

         I. Background

         The primary dispute in Movant's objections concerns the Magistrate Judge's factual findings. As the Magistrate Judge noted in her Report, the Movant previously pleaded guilty and signed a written plea agreement. Docket No. 18 at 11. Movant also testified, when entering the plea, that the statements made in the factual basis of the plea agreement were correct. Id. The factual basis included statements regarding Movant's participation in the offense and the events surrounding his arrest. Id. At the evidentiary hearing, Movant presented the Magistrate Judge with testimony that conflicted with the factual findings of the plea agreement and Movant's testimony during the change of plea hearing. Movant contends that the factual basis and his testimony at the change of plea hearing were not correct and were the result of his trial counsel's ineffective assistance. Id. at 12. The Report contains a detailed summary of the events, the changing testimony and Movant's trial counsel's arguments.

         Having considered the entire record, the Magistrate Judge found Movant's statements “made at the time of the underlying criminal proceedings more compelling than his current inconsistent and contradictory assertions made in relation to the collateral attack on his conviction.” Id. at 14. In particular, the Magistrate Judge placed emphasis on sworn testimony made in court. Id.

         II. Discussion

         Movant raises a number of objections to the Report that all center around the Magistrate Judge's determination that Movant's admissions and testimony during the plea process are reliable. Docket No. 19. The Court addresses each specific objection below.

         A. Factual Background

         Movant objects that the Report's factual background is clearly erroneous because it accepts as true the factual basis of the plea agreement and Movant's previous testimony while ignoring his testimony at the habeas evidentiary hearing. Docket No. 19 at 2-3.

         In this case, there was no pretrial hearing or trial from which a general factual background could be obtained. The factual background in the Report includes the statements and testimony Movant previously proffered that are not favorable to his current position and in conflict with his current testimony. Such statements are consistent with the prospective evidence that would have been offered at a suppression hearing or at trial in the case had Movant proceeded, facts of which trial counsel had been made aware and had to consider when advising Movant and formulating a trial strategy. The government had also disclosed its version of the facts in its response to the Movant's motion to suppress evidence, and counsel reasonably could have anticipated any hearing to reveal testimony consistent with the Government's position regarding such facts.

         Given the circumstances of this case, Movant has failed to show that the Report's factual background was clearly erroneous. Accordingly, Movant's objections are OVERRULED.

         B. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel - Change of Plea Hearing

         Movant objects to the Magistrate Judge's factual conclusion that Movant was aware of his rights and voluntarily entered a plea of guilty. Docket No. 19 at 3. Movant concedes that “[t]his in and of itself may be correct, ” but argues it is clearly erroneous based on Movant's testimony at the habeas evidentiary hearing. Id. Movant fails to provide any specific reason or argument as to why the Magistrate Judge erred in reaching such conclusion.

         The Magistrate Judge's conclusion is supported by the record in this case. As explained in more detail below, the Magistrate Judge found that trial counsel's version of the events was more credible than Movant's current self-serving statements to the contrary. The Magistrate Judge was in the best position to judge the credibility of the witnesses as she conducted the hearing and observed the witnesses. Further, when viewing the Magistrate Judge's findings in light of ...


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