September 6, 2017
from the United States District Court for the Northern
District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 14 C 7665 -
Charles P. Kocoras, Judge.
Bauer, Easterbrook, and Hamilton, Circuit Judges.
November 21, 2011, a jury convicted Datqunn Sawyer of
multiple counts of sex trafficking, conspiracy to commit sex
trafficking, and attempted sex trafficking, in violation of
18 U.S.C. §§ 1591(a) and 1594(c). The district
court sentenced Sawyer to 50 years in prison.
September 30, 2014, after his convictions were upheld on
appeal, Sawyer filed a timely petition for a writ of habeas
corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, setting forth eight
individual claims for relief. Only one of those-a claim of
ineffective assistance of trial counsel-is relevant to this
Count II of his petition, Sawyer stated that "the
Government offered the Petitioner a plea offer, which
included a term of imprisonment of 15 years in exchange for a
plea of guilty." According to Sawyer, his trial counsel
told him of the offer, but advised him to reject it because
"the Government's case against him was weak and
[because] the Petitioner was better served by proceeding to
trial." After conferring with his mother and
grandmother, he relied on counsel's advice and proceeded
to trial. Sawyer attached to his petition affidavits from
both his mother and grandmother, in which they attest to
discussing the plea offer with Sawyer.
response, the government argued that Sawyer's petition
failed to provide sufficient evidence that the government
ever made him a plea offer. The government also argued that
Sawyer had not sufficiently pleaded the required elements of
a claim of ineffective assistance.
6, 2015, the district court denied Sawyer's petition
without holding an evidentiary hearing. It noted that Sawyer
did not attach a proposed plea agreement or an affidavit from
trial counsel regarding any such agreement. The court found
that Sawyer's "unsubstantiated claims" did not
"rise to the level of evidence needed to receive habeas
relief or an evidentiary hearing." Sawyer timely
sole argument on appeal is that the district court erred by
failing to hold an evidentiary hearing on his claim that he
received ineffective assistance of counsel regarding the
plea-bargaining process. We review a district court's
decision to rule on a § 2255 petition without an
evidentiary hearing for an abuse of discretion. Boulb v.
United States, 818 F.3d 334, 339 (7th Cir. 2016)
prisoner in federal custody may seek his release through a
§ 2255 petition by arguing that his "sentence was
imposed in violation of the Constitution or the laws of the
United States ... ." 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a). The
district court in which the petition is filed is required to
hold an evidentiary hearing "[u]nless the motion and the
files and records of the case conclusively show that the
prisoner is entitled to no relief ... ." Id.
the Sixth Amendment, criminal defendants are entitled to the
effective assistance of competent counsel during the
plea-bargaining process. Lafler v. Cooper, 566 U.S.
156, 162 (2012). The two-part test set forth in
Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984),
applies to claims that counsel provided ineffective
assistance by advising a defendant to reject a plea offer.
Lafler, 566 U.S. at 162-63. Under that test, a
defendant 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." Id. at
163. In the specific context presented here, the second prong
of the test requires Sawyer 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." Foster v. United
States, 735 F.3d 561, 566 (7th Cir. 2013) (citing
Lafler, 566 U.S. at 163-64).
that framework in mind, we find that the district court
abused its discretion in determining that the record before
it conclusively showed that Sawyer was not entitled to
relief, and therefore, that no evidentiary hearing was
required. The government's main argument against that
conclusion is that Sawyer's petition did not provide
sufficient evidence that the government ever made a plea
offer. As support, it cites to cases in which we have held
that a petitioner must provide something more than his own
conclusory allegation that the ...