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United States v. Mitchell

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

June 13, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
QUENSHEY MITCHELL

         SECTION "L"

          ORDER AND REASONS

         Before the Court is Defendant Quenshey Mitchell's Motion for Extension of Time, R. Doc. 271, Motion to Vacate under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, R. Doc. 272, and Motion to Appoint Counsel, or in the Alternative for Extension of Time to File, R. Doc. 275. The Court has reviewed the parties' arguments and applicable law and now issues this Order and Reasons.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On January 9, 2014, after a four-day jury trial before this Court, Defendant Quenshey Mitchell was found guilty of all six counts of the six-count Superseding Indictment. Count 1 charged Mitchell with conspiracy to distribute and possession with intent to distribute one kilogram or more of heroin, a Schedule I controlled substance, in violation of 21 USC §§ 841(a)(1), 841(b)(1)(A), and 846. R. Doc. 67 at 1. Count 2 charged Mitchell with conspiracy to kill Cristina S. Williams in order to prevent her from attending an official proceeding and to prevent her from further communicating with law enforcement, in violation of 18 USC §§ 1512(a)(1)(A), 1512(a)(1)(C), 1512(a)(3)(A), and 1512(k). R. Doc. 67 at 2. Count 3 charged Mitchell with aiding and abetting in the unlawful killing of Williams in order to prevent her attendance at an official proceeding and to prevent her from further communicating with law enforcement, in violation of 18 USC §§ 1512(a)(1)(A), 1512(a)(1)(C), 1512(a)(3)(A) and 2. Count 4, like Count 2, charged Mitchell with conspiracy to kill Williams. However, unlike Count 2, Count 4 charged that he did so in order to retaliate against her for previously providing information to a law enforcement officer, in violation of 18 USC §§ 1513(a)(1)(B), 1513(a)(2)(A), and 1513(f). Count 5, like Count 3, charged Mitchell with aiding and abetting in the unlawful killing of Williams. Count 5 charged that he did so in order to retaliate against her for providing information to a law enforcement officer, in violation of 18 USC §§ 1513(a)(1)(B), 1513 (a)(2)(A) and 2. Last, Count 6 charged Mitchell with conspiracy to obstruct, influence, and impede an official proceeding, in violation of 18 USC §§ 1512(c)(2) and 1512(k). On October 16, 2014, the Court sentenced Mitchell to five concurrent life terms of imprisonment as to Counts One through Five of the Indictment. The Court also sentenced Mitchell to a 240-month term as to Count Six, to also be run concurrently. R. Doc. 257. On October 23, 2014, Mitchell timely filed his notice of appeal. R. Doc. 258. Following briefing and oral argument, on July 7, 2015, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal affirmed Mitchell's convictions. R. Doc. 267.

         II. PRESENT MOTIONS

         A. Motion for Extension of Time and Motion to Vacate under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (R. Docs. 271, 272)

         Defendant Quenshey Mitchell has filed a motion seeking additional time to file a motion to vacate, R. Doc. 271, along with his motion to vacate under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, R. Doc. 272. In his motion, Mitchell claims he is entitled to relief under § 2255 because of ineffective assistance of counsel. R. Doc. 272 at 4. Mitchell points to four alleged deficiencies of his trial counsel: (1) counsel's failure to investigate, specifically by not interviewing the cell phone store owner who allegedly would have testified that he never sold Mitchell any of the phones used to communicate with Christina S. Williams, the victim in this case; (2) failure to object to the jury instructions which did not include the Fifth Circuit Pattern instruction for aiding and abetting; (3) failure to cross examine a homicide detective regarding his investigation of the cell phone store; and (4) failure to object to the government's closing arguments, which Mitchell alleges were inflammatory and beyond the scope of the evidence. R. Doc. 272 at 4-5.

         B. Government's Response (R. Doc. 274)

         In response, the Government contends that Mitchell's claims are without merit, as he fails to explain how the alleged ineffective assistance of counsel led to his conviction. R. Doc. 274 at 4. Addressing Mitchell's claims that his attorney should have interviewed the cell phone store owner, the Government argues that not only does Mitchell not provide support for the witness' purported testimony, but also that Strickland prohibits a Defendant from claiming ineffective assistance of counsel because of his attorney's strategic decisions. R. Doc. 274 at 8. Second, the Government explains that Mitchell is mistaken in claiming that his attorney failed to cross examine the detective regarding the investigation of the cell phone store. R. Doc. 274 at 4. According to the Government, “his counsel did raise the issue of the cell phone store on cross examination of the homicide detective.” R. Doc. 274 at 4.

         As to Mitchell's claims that his attorney failed to object to the jury instructions and closing argument, the Government contends that these two issues have already been addressed by the Court and the Court determined Mitchell's rights were not substantially prejudiced by his counsel's action, or inaction. Further, the government argues that these issues were not raised on appeal and therefore Mitchell must demonstrate “both ‘cause' for his procedural default, and ‘actual prejudice' resulting from the error.” R. Doc. 274 at 9-10 (quoting United States v. Segler, 37 F.3d 1131, 1133 (5th Cir. 1994)). If Mitchell is unable to meet this standard, he is only entitled to relief if a constitutional error would result in a “complete miscarriage of justice.” R. Doc. 274 at 11 (quoting United States v. Shaid, 937 F.2d 228, 231 (5th Cir. 1991)). Because Mitchell does not demonstrate cause or actual prejudice, the Government avers his claims must fail. R. Doc. 274 at 11.

         III. LAW & ANALYSIS

         Mitchell seeks to vacate the judgment against him pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Mitchell also asks the Court to appoint him new counsel. The Court will discuss each of these arguments in turn.

         A. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel[1]

         In the present motion, Mitchell asserts four separate instances of ineffective assistance of counsel. Claims of ineffective assistance of counsel are governed by Strickland v. Washington,466 U.S. 668 (1984), and its progeny. “When a convicted defendant complains of the ineffectiveness of counsel's assistance, the defendant must show that counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness.” Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687-88. “[A] court must indulge a strong presumption that counsel's conduct falls within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance . . . .” Id. at 689. “[S]trategic choices made after thorough investigation of law and facts relevant to plausible options are virtually unchallengeable; and strategic choices made after less than complete investigation are reasonable precisely to the extent that reasonable professional judgments support the limitations on investigation.” Id. at 690-91. To obtain relief under Strickland, a petitioner must show both unreasonable performance by counsel and prejudice to the petitioner's case ...


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