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Bent v. United States

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

June 18, 2018

MICHAEL J. BENT, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent.

          OPINION

          HON. BRIAN R. MARTINOTTI UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before this Court is pro se litigant Michael Bent's (“Petitioner”) Petition for Writ of Coram Nobis pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1651 challenging his 1999 conviction for making and subscribing to a false 1988 U.S. Individual Income Tax Return, Form 1040, in violation of 26 U.S.C. § 7206(1). (ECF No. 1.) For the reasons set forth below, the Petition is DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Petitioner was indicted on January 30, 1996, for one count of obstructing the administration of the Internal Revenue Code pursuant to 26 U.S.C. § 7212(a) and four counts of tax evasion pursuant to 26 U.S.C. § 7201. U.S. v. Bent, No. 3:96-cr-59. Later that year, upon the Government's motion, the Court dismissed two of the tax evasion charges, Counts Four and Five of the Indictment. (Id. at ECF No. 14.) On September 29, 1998, Petitioner pled guilty to a single count information charging him with making and subscribing to a false 1988 U.S. Individual Income Tax Return, Form 1040, in violation of 26 U.S.C. § 7206(1). (Id. at ECF No. 66.) Pursuant to the plea agreement, the Government dismissed the remaining three counts of the Indictment. (Id.) On February 5, 1999, the Court sentenced Petitioner to three years of probation, with a fine in the amount of $5, 000 and a special assessment of $50. (Id. at ECF No. 75.)

         On June 5, 2003, Petitioner filed a Motion to Vacate the June 2, 1998 Order Denying Motion to Suppress Evidence Seized April 1, 1992. (Id. at ECF No. 91.) While it was not clear, it appeared that said Motion was intended to be a hybrid seeking several forms of relief, including § 2255 relief. (Id.) On December 11, 2003, this Court denied Petitioner's Motion. (Id. at ECF No. 96.) On March 3, 2004, the Court denied Petitioner's Motion for Reconsideration. (Id. at ECF No. 100.)

         On February 24, 2017, Petitioner filed a Motion for an “Order Vacating, Correcting and Expunging Information Conviction.” (Id. at ECF No. 112.) The Court construed the submission as a Petition for Writ of Coram Nobis and filed it in a new case (the instant case). Bent v. U.S., No. 3:17-cv-3217. In the new matter, Petitioner filed several Amended Petitions (Id. at ECF Nos. 8, 10, 12), as well as various Motions seeking discovery (Id. at ECF Nos. 17, 18, 19, 21). Respondent filed Opposition to the Amended Petition and Opposition to the various Motions. (Id. at ECF Nos. 9, 11, 20, 23, 24, 27, 28.)[1]

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         A petitioner who has completed his sentence and is no longer in custody pursuant to his judgment of conviction, but who continues to suffer collateral consequences from his conviction, may seek to challenge his conviction through a petition for a writ of error coram nobis. United States v. Biondi, 600 Fed.Appx. 45, 46 (3d Cir. 2015); see also Mendoza v. United States, 690 F.3d 157, 159 (3d Cir. 2012); United States v. Stoneman, 870 F.2d 102, 105-06 (3d Cir. 1989). A writ of error coram nobis, however, “is an ‘infrequent' and ‘extraordinary' form of relief that is reserved for ‘exceptional circumstances.'” United States v. Babalola, 248 Fed.Appx. 409, 411 (3d Cir. 2007) (quoting Stoneman, 870 F.2d at 106); see also Mendoza, 690 F.3d at 159. Indeed, the Supreme Court has observed that the granting of a writ of error coram nobis is so extreme a remedy that it “is difficult to conceive of a situation in a federal criminal case today where [coram nobis relief] would be necessary or appropriate.” Carlisle v. United States, 517 U.S. 416, 429 (1996). As the Third Circuit has explained:

Because of the strong interest in finality of judgments, the standard for a collateral attack on a conviction via a writ of error coram nobis is more stringent than the standard applicable on a direct appeal. Indeed, because a defendant seeking coram nobis relief has already completed her sentence, the interests in favor of revisiting the judgment are even less than in the habeas context, where the petitioner is still “in custody.” Thus, only where there are errors of fact of the most fundamental kind, that is, such as to render the proceeding itself irregular and invalid . . . can redress be had, and relief will be granted only when circumstances compel such action to achieve justice. Despite this heavy burden, both the Supreme Court and [the Third Circuit] have reaffirmed the continued existence of coram nobis relief in the appropriate circumstances.
In addition to the cardinal requirement for issuance of the writ that errors of . . . the most fundamental kind had infected the proceedings, this court has articulated several other threshold considerations to coram nobis relief. A coram nobis petitioner must also show that (1) he is suffering from continuing consequences of the allegedly invalid conviction, (2) there was no remedy available at the time of trial, and that (3) sound reasons exist for failing to seek relief earlier. Of course, earlier proceedings are presumptively correct and the petitioner bears the burden to show otherwise.

Babalola, 248 Fed.Appx. at 411-12 (internal quotations and citations omitted); see also Stoneman, 870 F.2d at 106, United States v. Osser, 864 F.2d 1056, 1059-62. Failure to establish any of the above elements will defeat a petition for coram nobis relief, and the “sound reasons” standard requires an even greater showing of entitlement to relief than that required in a § 2255 habeas proceeding. Mendoza, 690 F.3d at 159; Stoneman, 870 F.2d at 106.

         III. DECISION

         The exact basis for Petitioner's Petition for Coram Nobis is unclear. His submissions contain extensive and repetitive discussions of the timeline of the Internal Revenue Service and the Stafford Police Department's investigation into his business in the 1990's, as well as many documents from the investigation. It appears he is arguing there were flaws during the investigation which should entitle him to coram nobis relief. It also appears he may be arguing that, because the IRS's subsequent civil audit of his activities did not result in any required changes to his tax returns, his criminal conviction is therefore rendered invalid.

         In his most comprehensible submission, Petitioner alleges he meets the requirements ...


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