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United States v. Ellis

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

February 21, 2018


         SECTION R



         Defendant Anthony Ellis moves to vacate his sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255.[1] Upon review of the entire record, the Court has determined that this matter can be disposed of without an evidentiary hearing. For the following reasons, Ellis's motion is denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On April 20, 2015, defendant Anthony Ellis pleaded guilty to transportation of an individual for purposes of engaging in prostitution in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2421, and conspiracy to commit sex trafficking in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 371 and 1591(a).[2] Ellis waived his right to appeal and collaterally challenge his conviction and sentence, but he retained the right to raise a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel in an appropriate proceeding.[3] The Court accepted the plea agreement and sentenced Ellis to 60 months imprisonment as to conspiracy to commit sex trafficking, and 120 months imprisonment as to transportation of an individual for purposes of engaging in prostitution, to be served consecutively.[4] In calculating the appropriate Sentencing Guidelines range, the Court increased Ellis's criminal history category from IV to VI under the career offender provision. U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1(b). The two predicate offenses warranting application of § 4B1.1(b) were two Tennessee convictions for possession of a controlled substance with intent to sell.

         Ellis now moves to vacate his sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 on several grounds. First, Ellis argues that his sentence is unconstitutional in light of Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015), and Mathis v. United States, 136 S.Ct. 2243 (2016).[5] Second, Ellis argues that his lawyer was ineffective for, among other reasons, failing to file a motion to suppress evidence and misleading Ellis into pleading guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States.[6] Third, Ellis challenges various aspects of his sentence, including his sentencing enhancements and consecutive terms of imprisonment, and argues that his sentence violates the Eighth Amendment.[7]


         Section 2255 of Title 28 of the United States Code provides that a federal prisoner serving a court-imposed sentence “may move the court which imposed the sentence to vacate, set aside or correct the sentence.” 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a). Only a narrow set of claims are cognizable on a Section 2255 motion. The statute identifies four bases on which a motion may be made: (1) the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States; (2) the court was without jurisdiction to impose the sentence; (3) the sentence exceeds the statutory maximum sentence; or (4) the sentence is “otherwise subject to collateral attack.” Id. A claim of error that is neither constitutional nor jurisdictional is not cognizable in a Section 2255 proceeding unless the error constitutes “a fundamental defect which inherently results in a complete miscarriage of justice.” United States v. Addonizio, 442 U.S. 178, 185 (1979) (quoting Hill v. United States, 368 U.S. 424, 428 (1962)).

         When a Section 2255 motion is filed, the district court must first conduct a preliminary review. “If it plainly appears from the motion, any attached exhibits, and the record of prior proceedings that the moving party is not entitled to relief, the judge must dismiss the motion . . . .” Rules Governing Section 2255 Proceedings, Rule 4(b). If the motion raises a non-frivolous claim to relief, the court must order the Government to file a response or to take other appropriate action. Id. The judge may then order the parties to expand the record as necessary and, if good cause is shown, authorize limited discovery. Id., Rules 6-7.

         After reviewing the Government's answer, any transcripts and records of prior proceedings, and any supplementary materials submitted by the parties, the court must determine whether an evidentiary hearing is warranted. Id., Rule 8. An evidentiary hearing must be held “[u]nless the motion and the files and records of the case conclusively show that the prisoner is entitled to no relief.” 28 U.S.C. § 2255(b). No. evidentiary hearing is required if the prisoner fails to produce any “independent indicia of the likely merit of [his] allegations.” United States v. Edwards, 442 F.3d 258, 264 (5th Cir. 2006) (quoting United States v. Cervantes, 132 F.3d 1106, 1110 (5th Cir. 1998)).

         Ultimately, the petitioner bears the burden of establishing his claims of error by a preponderance of the evidence. Wright v. United States, 624 F.2d 557, 558 (5th Cir. 1980). For certain “structural” errors, relief follows automatically once the error is proved. Brecht v. Abrahamson, 507 U.S. 619, 629-30 (1993). For other “trial” errors, the court may grant relief only if the error “had substantial and injurious effect or influence” in determining the outcome of the case. Id. at 637-38 (citation omitted); see also United States v. Chavez, 193 F.3d 375, 379 (5th Cir. 1999) (applying Brecht in a Section 2255 proceeding). If the court finds that the prisoner is entitled to relief, it “shall vacate and set the judgment aside and shall discharge the prisoner or resentence him or grant a new trial or correct the sentence as may appear appropriate.” 28 U.S.C. § 2255(b).


         A. Johnson and Mathis

         Ellis first argues that his sentence is unconstitutional under the Supreme Court's recent decisions in Johnson and Mathis. The Court in Johnson held that the “residual clause” of the Armed Career Criminal Act was unconstitutionally vague. 135 S.Ct. at 2557. This clause defines a presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another.” 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2)(B)(ii). In Mathis, the Court elaborated on the modified categorical approach, which courts use to determine whether ...

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