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United States v. Robinette

United States District Court, E.D. California

June 27, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
CHRISTOPHER ROBINETTE, Defendant.

          ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO VACATE, SET ASIDE, OR CORRECT SENTENCE PURSUANT TO 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (DOC. NO. 71)

         I. Introduction

         In August 2014 the Court sentenced and entered judgment against Defendant Christopher Robinette for sexual exploitation of a minor and transportation of a minor with intent to engage in sexual activity. Robinette now petitions the Court to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. The Court will deny Robinette's petition for being untimely.

         II. Facts

         Robinette pled guilty to eight counts of sexual exploitation of a minor in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2251(a) and (e) and one count of transportation of a minor with intent to engage in sexual activity in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2423(a). See Doc. No. 51; Doc. No. 52. The Court then sentenced Robinette on August 25, 2014, and entered judgment against Robinette on August 29, 2014. See Doc. No. 65; Doc. No. 67.

         According to Robinette, at or around the time of the sentencing, Robinette's trial attorney, John Balazs, told Robinette that there were multiple issues that were appropriate for appeal. Robinette responded by telling Balazs that Robinette wanted to appeal. According to Robinette, Robinette believed at that time that Balazs would do “whatever needed to be done to effect [Robinette's] opportunity to appeal.” Doc. No. 71 at 23.

         In a criminal case, a notice of appeal must be filed within fourteen days of the district court's entry of judgment. See Fed. R. App. P. 4(b)(1)(A); Fed. R. App. 26(a). Therefore, the deadline for Robinette to file his notice of appeal was on September 12, 2014. That deadline passed without a notice of appeal being filed, and an appeal has not been filed since. Robinette asserts that he was unaware from the time of his sentencing until December 2017 that no appeal was filed.

         Robinette asserts that after his sentencing he “remained in transit” until arriving at the prison in Forrest City, Arkansas on November 14, 2014. Robinette asserts that he was subsequently placed in the Petersburg Medium prison in Hopewell, Virginia on April 21, 2015.

         Robinette asserts that in or around April 2015, if not earlier, he and his mother began diligently investigating what Robinette refers to as “the suspicious circumstances and cover up of his case.” Doc. No. 75 at 9. Specifically, Robinette asserts that his investigation initially focused on “the suspicious circumstances surrounding [his] bizarre arrest at [his] home in Amsterdam, Netherlands, and the even more bizarre extradition to the United States.” Id at 25.

         Robinette asserts that his investigation was obstructed in multiple ways. According to Robinette, those ways included (1) the prison law libraries lacking adequate legal research training materials, law books, and materials to help Robinette draft court filings; (2) the prisons limiting Robinette “to a meager 300 minutes of telephone time per month” or an “average of 10 minutes per day, ” which was “[h]ardly enough time to discuss the type and magnitude of help that [he] needed, ” id at 11; (3) the prisons monitoring Robinette's prison phone calls; (4) the prisons denying internet access to Robinette; (5) the prisons denying Robinette email access because prison policy barred sex offenders from email access; and (6) the Arkansas prison placing Robinette in a special housing unit with a twenty-three hour lockdown period that allowed Robinette only one fifteen-minute phone call per month.

         Robinette asserts that despite these obstacles, Robinette and his mother diligently continued their investigation through February 2018. Robinette asserts that the investigation consisted of (1) Robinette and his mother regularly communicated with each other via postal mail and occasionally met in person at the prison to discuss their investigative findings, queries, and strategy; (2) at Robinette's direction, Robinette's mother repeatedly traveled to Amsterdam to learn about the circumstances of Robinette's arrest and extradition, amongst other matters; (3) Robinette completed a twelve-month paralegal program while in prison to learn how to “fight his case” from prison, id. at 12; and (4) Robinette and his mother performed extensive and tedious legal research and fact investigation, some of which was obstructed by the government and other key players.

         Robinette asserts that in June 2017 he sent a letter to Balazs asking for an update on his appeal. According to Robinette, Balazs responded to him in August 2017, but Balazs did not mention an appeal. Robinette asserts that in November 2017 Robinette sent a letter to the United States Attorney's Office in Sacramento, California, requesting information about his case. Robinette asserts that the United States Attorney's Office responded to him in December 2017, informing Robinette that an appeal had not been filed. According to Robinette, this was the first time that Robinette learned that an appeal had not been filed.

         Robinette then filed his section 2255 petition on February 12, 2018, which was nearly three-and-a-half years after the Court entered judgment against Robinette in August 2014. In his petition, Robinette presented six grounds on which he believed that he was being held in custody in violation of the Constitution and laws of the United States: four different theories of ineffective assistance of counsel (grounds one, two, three, and six), including one theory related to Balazs' alleged failure to timely file an appeal; one theory of prosecutorial misconduct (ground four); and one theory of a Fourth Amendment violation (ground five).

         The Court reviewed Robinette's petition and questioned whether the petition should be dismissed for not being filed within section 2255's one-year period of limitation. See 28 U.S.C. § 2255(f) (imposing a one-year “period of limitation” for filing a section 2255 petition). Accordingly, the Court issued an order for Robinette to show cause why his petition should not be dismissed as untimely. See Doc. No. 72. In the order to show cause, the Court referenced the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”), which provides a one-year period of limitation to file a petition to vacate, set aside, or correct a sentence. The Court also quoted 28 U.S.C. § 2255(f), which states that the one-year period of limitation is to be calculated from the latest of the following applicable dates:

(1) the date on which the judgment of conviction becomes final;
(2) the date on which the impediment to making a motion created by governmental action in violation of [federal law] is removed, if the movant was prevented from making a ...

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