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United States v. Speights

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Lake Charles Division

January 28, 2019





         Before the court is a Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 by the defendant, Maurice Antuan Speights ("Speights"). See Record Document 59. For the following reasons, the motion is DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Speights was indicted in this court on March 12, 2015, on one count of sexual abuse within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States, a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2242(2). The indictment charged that, while at Fort Polk Military Base on October 20, 2013, Speights had engaged in a sexual act with the victim (referenced to herein as "T.S.") while knowing that she was "at that time incapable of appraising the nature of the conduct" and "physically incapable of declining participation in the sexual act . . . [and] communicating unwillingness to engage in the aforementioned sexual act." Record Document 1 at 1-2. The Fifth Circuit later provided the following summary of the offense conduct:

On the evening of October 19, 2013, [T.S.], then a first lieutenant in the army, attended a gathering of friends near Fort Polk military base in western Louisiana. Speights, who was on close terms with [T.S.], was also present. [T.S.] had one or two shots of liquor over the course of as many hours. She and Speights then traveled to the home of [T.S.]'s friend, Kiasha Hamilton, who lived on-base at Fort Polk. There, [T.S.] had at least two more shots of liquor-one with Speights' encouragement-and began to show signs of intoxication. Later that night, [T.S.], Speights, and Hamilton went to a bar. By the time the three left at around 2:00 a.m., [T.S.] was noticeably drunk and had to be helped into Hamilton's truck. On the drive back, [T.S.] was slumped over in the backseat and, according to Hamilton, "had basically passed out." When they arrived at Hamilton's house, Speights and Hamilton carried [T.S.], who was largely unresponsive, to an upstairs bedroom. They put [T.S.] into the bed fully-clothed, and she went directly to sleep. Hamilton initially told Speights to spend the night in another room, but when he complained that the room was too hot, Hamilton told him he could sleep on the floor in [T.S.]'s room, which had the only fan in the house. Hamilton then went to her own room to sleep.
[T.S.] testified that she was unconscious throughout the night, except for one point when she briefly awoke to find Speights on top of her. Speights said something like "I got this," and [T.S.] passed out again. The next morning, [T.S.] found Speights lying next to her in the twin-sized bed. [T.S.]'s pants were unbuttoned and unzipped. She immediately felt that something was wrong but could not recall what had happened. Hamilton entered the room, told [T.S.] how drunk she ([T.S.]) had been the previous night, and asked whether [T.S.] remembered various events that had happened. [T.S.] said she did not. [T.S.] then went to the bathroom and noticed blood on a tissue when she wiped herself. [T.S.], who is openly lesbian, had never had sex with a man. Feeling embarrassed, [T.S.] told Hamilton that she and Speights were leaving. [T.S.] and Speights got into [T.S.]'s car, where [T.S.] repeatedly asked Speights what he had done to her. Speights said he did not remember. [T.S.] asked whether he used protection; Speights again said he did not remember. Speights asked [T.S.] whether she would forgive him and whether she would tell anyone. [T.S.] told Speights to get out of the car and called him a coward. When she arrived home, she took a shower.
[T.S.] contacted a sexual harassment representative and went to the hospital for an examination. There, [T.S.] reported that she was sure there had been penetration. A physical examination did not reveal any visible injuries. Initially, [T.S.] made her report restricted out of embarrassment that her chain of command could find out about the incident. But on December 10, 2013, after several sessions of counseling, she granted access to the Army's Criminal Investigation Command (known as "CID"). CID interviewed various witnesses and examined the scene at Hamilton's residence. CID also requested the assistance of the FBI, which located Speights in Florida. In an interview with the FBI, Speights stated that he encountered [T.S.] at the bar and did not know she had been drinking. He and [T.S.] then went to the apartment of one of [T.S.]'s friends, where, according to Speights, the two briefly had consensual sex.

United States v. Speights, 712 Fed.Appx. 423, 424-25 (5th Cir. 2018).

         Following a jury trial, Speights was convicted as charged. See Record Document 39. On January 12, 2017, he was sentenced by the undersigned to a 121 month term of imprisonment. See Record Documents 48-49. Speights appealed his conviction and sentence to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, claiming that there was insufficient evidence to sustain the conviction and that the court's restitution order was illegal. See Record Document 58. The Fifth Circuit reviewed both claims on the merits and affirmed the trial court's judgment on February 9, 2018. See Record Document 58. Speights did not file a petition for certiorari in the United States Supreme Court. See Record Document 59 at 2. Instead, he filed the instant motion to vacate in this court on August 16, 2018.[1] See Id. at 1-17. The motion is now fully briefed and ripe for review.


         Following conviction and exhaustion or waiver of the right to appeal, the court presumes that a defendant "stands fairly and finally convicted." United States v. Shaid, 937 F.2d 228, 231-32 (5th Cir. 1991). Relief under Section 2255 "is reserved for transgressions of constitutional rights and for a narrow range of injuries that could not have been raised on direct appeal and would, if condoned, result in a complete miscarriage of justice." United States v. Vaughn, 955 F.2d 367, 368 (5th Cir. 1992). Furthermore, the collateral challenge process of Section 2255 is no substitute for appeal. A defendant may not raise a constitutional issue for the first time on collateral review without showing cause and prejudice for the procedural bar, or actual innocence. See United States v. Mimms, 43 F.3d 217, 219 (5th Cir. 1995). However, this bar does not apply to ineffective assistance of counsel claims, which may be raised for the first time in a collateral proceeding under Section 2255 regardless of whether the defendant raised the claim on direct appeal. See Massaro v. United States, 538 U.S. 500, 505-09, 123 S.Ct. 1690, 1694-96 (2003).

         Speights raises ineffective assistance of counsel as his sole basis for relief, claiming that his trial counsel's representation was inadequate because she failed to investigate certain aspects of his case. See Record Document 59 at 4. His petition is timely under Section 2255(f) and the ineffective assistance claim is not subject to the exhaustion requirements above. Therefore, the court proceeds to the merits of the issue.

         Claims of ineffective assistance of counsel are gauged by the guidelines set forth by the Supreme Court in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 104 S.Ct. 2052 (1984). Under Strickland, a petitioner must demonstrate: (1) that his counsel's performance was deficient, requiring a showing that the errors were so serious such that he failed to function as "counsel" as guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment, and (2) that the deficiency so prejudiced the defendant that it deprived him of a fair trial. See Id. at 687, 104 S.Ct. at 2064. The first prong does not require perfect assistance by counsel; rather, petitioner must demonstrate that counsel's representation fell beneath an objective standard of reasonableness. See id. Judges have been cautioned towards deference in their review of attorney performance under Strickland claims in order to "eliminate the potential distorting effect of hindsight." Re ...

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