7th Circuit: Defendant’s counsel not ineffective

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Thursday declined to find that a defendant’s appointed attorney provided ineffective assistance of counsel requiring the court to vacate or correct his 20-year sentence.

Devon Groves received 120 months each on a count of possession of a firearm by a felon and possession of ammunition by a felon, with the sentences running consecutively. He filed a motion to vacate, set aside or correct the sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. Section 2255, but the District Court denied the motion.

Groves claimed his trial counsel was constitutionally ineffective for failing to object to the presentence investigation report’s characterization of his 1995 burglary conviction as a crime of violence and because his attorney failed to fulfill Groves’ intention to plead guilty.

Groves had three appointed attorneys – H. Jay Stevens, Anthony Kowals and Brian J. May. During the time Kowals represented Groves, he gave the defendant a copy of a plea agreement. Groves told Kowals he wanted to go to trial. Groves wrote a letter to the court saying he decided to plead guilty and signed the proposed agreement, but that signed agreement never reached Kowals or the court. Kowals withdrew, and May also noted that Groves always said he wanted to go to trial. He never found a signed plea agreement in Groves’ file.

In Devon Groves v. United States of America, 12-3253, the 7th Circuit noted that Groves was consistent in telling his attorneys that he wanted to go to trial and his letter to the court even said he wasn’t interested in a plea.

Regarding the characterization of his 1995 burglary conviction as a crime of violence, Groves argued that he pleaded guilty to Class C felony burglary of a building, not Class B felony burglary of a dwelling as charged in the information. The Class C felony is not considered a crime of violence.

The judges held counsel was not ineffective under Strickland. Later caselaw on whether a crime is a “crime of violence” for purposes of Section 4B1.2(a)(2) that may have provided a favorable ruling for Groves is not retroactive. They also noted that at sentencing, May successfully challenged two enhancements recommended in the PSR, thus reducing the advisory guideline calculations.


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