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United States v. Honeycutt

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Monroe Division

December 26, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
KEVIN HONEYCUTT

          KAREN L. HAYES MAG. Judge

          MEMORANDUM RULING

          TERRY A. DOUGHTY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court is a Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence, [doc # 222], filed by Defendant Kevin Honeycutt on October 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">12, 201');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">18, under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. The United States opposes the Motion. [doc. # 231');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1]. For reasons stated below, the motion is denied.

         Background

          On approximately March 26, 201');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">15, a federal grand jury returned a three-count indictment charging Defendant with conspiring to possess and distribute methamphetamine, possessing methamphetamine with the intent to distribute, and possessing a firearm after “having previously been convicted of” a felony. [doc. # 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1].

         On June 30, 201');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">15, Defendant filed a motion to suppress, seeking (in part) to suppress, under Louisiana law, two warrants issued by a state court judge pertaining to his co-defendant's vehicle and cellular telephone. [doc. # 49]. Citing several United States Supreme Court cases, Defendant, through counsel, recognized the possibility that he lacked standing to suppress the evidence. [doc. # 49-1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1].

         On September 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1, 201');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">15, United States District Judge Robert G. James conducted a hearing on Defendant's motion to suppress. [doc. # 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">186]. The District Judge opined, preliminarily, that Defendant lacked standing to contest the searches. Id. Defendant's counsel objected to preserve the argument that Louisiana law applied and mandated suppression. Id. at 2-3. On September 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">14, 201');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">15, Magistrate Judge Karen L. Hayes recommended denying the motion, reasoning that Defendant did not enjoy standing to contest the searches. [doc. # 77, pp. 6-9].

         Defendant, through counsel, objected to the recommendation, essentially reiterating the arguments he offered in his initial motion and memorandum in support. [doc. # 80]. On October 6, 201');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">15, the District Judge adopted the Magistrate Judge's recommendation and denied Defendant's motion to suppress. [doc. # 85].

         Trial commenced on December 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1, 201');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">15. [doc. # 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">133]. On December 3, 201');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">15, the jury found Defendant guilty on all counts. [doc. # 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">145]. On March 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1, 201');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">16, the District Judge sentenced Defendant to 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">151');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1 months of imprisonment on two counts and 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">120 months of concurrent imprisonment on the third count. [doc. # 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">173].

         In February 201');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">17, Defendant, proceeding pro se, appealed his conviction. [doc. # 231');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1-2]. He did not, however, appeal the ruling relating to his lack of standing. Id. On September 22, 201');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">17, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the District Court's judgments. [doc. # 21');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">13].

         Defendant filed the instant motion on October 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">12, 201');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">18, claiming that his trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance by erroneously advising him that the warrants pertaining to his co-defendant's vehicle and cellular telephone were defective, that he enjoyed standing to contest the warrants, that he should reject a plea offer, and that he should proceed to trial because, if convicted, the appellate court would reverse on grounds that he enjoyed standing to contest the warrants. [doc. #s 222; 222-1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1]. Defendant argues that, “[a]bsent counsel's misadvice, there is a reasonable probability that [he] would have accepted a plea offer or simply plead [sic] guilty.” [doc. # 222-1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1, p. 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">18]. In response, the United States essentially contends that trial counsel advised Defendant that he did not enjoy standing and would not prevail on appeal. [doc. # 231');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1]. The United States also argues that Defendant did not suffer any prejudice. Id.

         Law and Analysis

          Review under Section 2255 is limited to four grounds: whether (1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">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.” 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a).

         I. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

         A Section 2255 motion is an acceptable vehicle through which to raise initial claims of ineffective assistance of trial or appellate counsel. Massaro v. U.S., 538 U.S. 500, 503-04 (2003). To prevail on an ineffective assistance of counsel claim, a defendant must show that her counsel's actions fell below an objective standard of reasonableness and that the ineffectiveness of counsel prejudiced her. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 686-87 (1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1984). If the defendant does not make a sufficient showing as to one prong of the test, the other prong need not be considered. Tucker v. Johnson, 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">11');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">15 F.3d 276');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">11');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">15 F.3d 276, 281');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1 (5th Cir. 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1997). The prongs of the test need not be analyzed in any particular order. Goodwin v. Johnson, 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">132 F.3d 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">162, 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">172 n.6 (5th Cir. 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1997).

         In applying the first prong of Strickland, courts presume that the attorney's actions are encompassed within the wide range of reasonable competence and fall under the ambit of trial strategy. See Strickland, 466 U.S. at 689-90. The defendant must show that the performance of counsel fell “outside the wide range of professionally competent assistance.” Id. at 690; Ward v. Whitley, 21');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1 F.3d 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1355');">21');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1 F.3d 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1355, 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1361');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1 (5th Cir. 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1994). “Judicial scrutiny of counsel's performance must be highly deferential[, ]” and courts must make “every effort be made to eliminate the distorting effects of hindsight . . . .” Strickland, 466 U.S. at 689.

         To establish prejudice, “[t]he defendant must show that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different. A reasonable probability is a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome.” Id. at 694. The defendant must demonstrate that the attorney's actions “were so serious as to render the proceedings unreliable and fundamentally unfair.” U.S. v. Saenz-Forero, 27 F.3d 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">101');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">16');">27 F.3d 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">101');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">16, 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">101');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">19 (5th Cir. 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1994). Unreliability and unfairness do not result “if the ineffectiveness of counsel does not deprive the defendant of any substantive or procedural right to which the law entitled him.” Lockhart v. Fretwell, 506 U.S. 364, 372 (1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1993). Accordingly, counsel cannot be ineffective for failing to raise a meritless claim, Sones v. Hargett, 61');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1 F.3d 41');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">10, 41');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">15 n.5 (5th Cir. 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1995), and prejudice generally exists only if the defendant demonstrates that she would have received less jail time. U.S. v. Grammas, 376 F.3d 433, 436 (5th Cir. 2004).

         Here, to reiterate, Defendant argues that his trial counsel erroneously advised him that the warrants pertaining to his co-defendant's vehicle and cellular telephone were defective, that he enjoyed standing to contest the warrants, that he should reject a plea offer, and that he should proceed to trial because, if convicted, the appellate court would reverse on grounds that he enjoyed standing to contest the warrants. [doc. #s 222; 222-1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1]. Defendant writes:

Counsel provided [Defendant] with an objectively unreasonable assessment of the strength of his Fourth Amendment claims related to the evidence obtained as a result of the search and seizure of another's vehicle. Despite controlling precedent to the contrary, former counsel assured [Defendant] that were he to be convicted, he would prevail on appeal of this Honorable Court's denial of suppression. In sum, counsel failed to provide [Defendant] with ...

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