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Smith v. United States

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

August 2, 2018

KRISTEN SMITH, Petitioner-Defendant,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent-Plaintiff.

          OPINION & ORDER

          JAMES D. PETERSON DISTRICT JUDGE

         Kristen Smith was convicted by a jury of kidnapping her half-sister's four-day-old infant son, and I sentenced her to the mandatory minimum 25-year term of incarceration. Her conviction was upheld on appeal, United States v. Smith, 831 F.3d 793, 795 (7th Cir. 2016). Now Smith moves to vacate her sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 on the grounds that her trial counsel was ineffective in several ways. Smith hasn't shown that the work of her trial counsel was deficient. And, even if her counsel had been deficient, she hasn't shown any prejudice because evidence of her guilt was overwhelming. I'll deny her petition under § 2255.

         Smith has also filed a document that she titles “motion to amend judgment.” Dkt. 17.[1]The document is a fill-in form that suggests that the court of appeals has ordered me to consider some form of sanctions against the government under Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The court of appeals has made no such order and the document makes no sense. I will summarily deny that motion.

         ANALYSIS

         The facts of this remarkable case are set out in detail in the appellate opinion. I won't repeat the background here, but I will assume familiarity with the facts.

         Smith does not expressly request a hearing on her motion, and I conclude that no hearing is necessary. Smith would be entitled to a hearing if she alleged facts that, if true, would entitle her to relief. Lafuente v. United States, 617 F.3d 944, 946 (7th Cir. 2010). And I could hold a hearing if one were needed to determine whether Smith is entitled to relief. Id. But this is a case in which Smith's motion and the full record of her case show conclusively that she is not entitled to relief. So no hearing is necessary. Id.; § 2255(b).

         To show that her trial counsel was ineffective, Smith must show both that (1) counsel's performance fell below an objective standard of reasonableness, and (2) she suffered prejudice as a result. Wyatt v. United States, 574 F.3d 455, 457 (7th Cir. 2009) (citing Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687-88, 693 (1984)). On the first prong, Smith must establish the specific acts or omissions of counsel that she alleges constitute deficient performance, and the court determines whether those acts or omissions fall outside the wide range of professional competence. As for the second prong, Smith must show that, but for counsel's errors, there is a reasonable probability that the trial would have produced a different result. Id.

         A. Failure to challenge racial composition of the jury

         Smith contends that counsel was ineffective for “not objecting to an all white jury.” This ground for relief fails for two reasons. First, she was not convicted by an all-white jury. One of the jurors self-identified as “multi-race, ” which is how Smith identified herself for purposes of jury voir dire. Dkt. 76 in 14-cr-24 (Smith's proposed voir dire question on race); Dkt. 14 (ex parte filing showing juror pool composition). Second, Smith has no right to a specific racial makeup in the jury; she has a right to fair jury selection process. United States v. Duff, 76 F.3d 122, 125 (7th Cir. 1996) (citing Holland v. Illinois, 493 U.S. 474, 482-83 (1990)). Smith does not allege that the government exercised peremptory strikes for racial reasons or that there was any other impropriety in the jury-selection process. Smith has not shown that counsel had any basis to object to the composition of the jury, so she cannot show that counsel was ineffective for failing to object.

         B. Failure to raise Smith's mental illness

         Smith contends that she suffers from serious mental illness, and that her counsel was ineffective for failing to raise the issue. The heading in her brief in support of her motion describes this as question of her competence to stand trial, but the body of the brief contends only that her mental illness was a potential defense on the merits. Dkt. 9, at 2-3. Because Smith is proceeding pro se, I'll consider both issues.

         To establish an insanity defense on the merits, Smith would have to show by clear and convincing evidence that at the time of the kidnapping (1) she suffered from a severe mental disease or defect, and (2) she was unable to appreciate the nature and the quality or the wrongfulness of her acts. 18 U.S.C. § 17. As the government points out, nothing in the record suggests that the insanity defense was a viable option. Dkt. 10, at 8-12. Although Smith testified (and claims now) that she had severe mental health problems, she does not point to any medical evidence that at the time of her trial she had been diagnosed with a mental illness severe enough to support an insanity defense. The Bureau of Prison health summary that Smith submitted with her reply, Dkt. 16-1, cites several significant mood disorders. But that information was not available to her trial counsel, and so it is irrelevant to the question of whether trial counsel was ineffective.

         But more important, the trial evidence showed that Smith keenly appreciated the wrongfulness of her actions at the time of the kidnapping. After she found out that she would be questioned by a police officer along the highway in Iowa, Smith concealed the kidnapped infant. She persistently denied taking the infant over the course of 29 hours. The kidnapping itself was preceded by months of planning, which included faking her own pregnancy so that she could pass off the infant as her own. No reasonable juror could believe that Smith did not know what she was doing or that she did not realize that taking the infant was wrong. And the insanity defense would have been inconsistent with the defense actually presented at trial, which was that the father consented to Smith taking the infant. Smith's counsel was not ineffective for failing to raise an insanity defense that was doomed to fail.

         I turn to Smith's competence to stand trial. The question is whether at the time of the trial, she had “sufficient present ability to consult with [her] lawyer with a reasonable degree of rational understanding-and whether [she] has a rational as well as factual understanding of the proceedings against [her].” Dusky v. United States, 362 U.S. 402, 402 (1960) (per curiam). She doesn't separately address her mental state during the prosecution of the case, but I'll assume that her mental-illness based arguments would apply to her competence at trial. Having some mental health problems does not mean one meets the Dusky incompetence standard. In this case, even if Smith suffered from mental illness, I have no reason to doubt that Smith was able to understand the proceedings and assist in her defense. The defense at trial was that the father gave consent to her taking the infant to Colorado. This was a coherent defense based on the one element of the crime on which there was not irrefutable evidence. Smith took the stand and testified in detail about her interaction with the ...


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