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United States v. Lewis

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

April 24, 2019





         Before the Court is a 28 U.S.C. § 2255 motion to vacate filed by Defendant Andrea Lewis ("Lewis"). [Record Document 94]. Lewis accuses his trial and appellate counsel of providing ineffective assistance by underemphasi2ing the intent element of his offense. [Record Document 94-1 at 3-10]. Because Lewis has not demonstrated that he received constitutionally deficient representation, the motion to vacate [Record Document 94] is DENIED.

         I. Background

         Andrea Lewis, a pastor and director of a church choir in Shreveport, Louisiana, was convicted of violating 18 U.S.C. § 2423(a), which criminalizes transporting a minor across state lines with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity. [Record Document 69 at 1]. As summarized by the Fifth Circuit:

He had sexual relationships with the three named victims, all of whom were underage members of his choir group during the mid- to late-1990s. He had sex with each of the three girls for the first time when they were approximately fourteen years old, which is below the age of consent under federal, Louisiana, and Texas law. He did not use physical force against the girls to have sex with them, however. He had intercourse and oral sex with them many times while they were underage, and he continued his sexual relationship with two of the girls into their twenties.

United States v. Lewis, 796 F.3d 543, 544 (5th Cir. 2015). Lewis would take the girls with him when he went to Texas on choir-related business. Id. Despite the stated purpose for the trips, the Government contended that the opportunity to have sex also motivated the interstate travel. Id. Lewis's defense was that he never had sex with the women while they were underage. Id.

         At trial, this Court admitted evidence about two additional girls whom Lewis had sexually assaulted. [Record Document 86 at 14]. On appeal, Lewis raised as error only this evidentiary ruling. Lewis, 796 F.3d at 545. The Fifth Circuit affirmed, finding that this Court did not abuse its discretion under Rule 403 when balancing the probative value of the similar-crimes evidence against the danger of unfair prejudice. Id. at 548. Lewis did not file a petition for a writ of certiorari.

         II. Instant Motion

         In this motion, Lewis argues that his trial and appellate counsel were ineffective because they failed in various ways to emphasize that the Government had not carried its burden to prove his intent. [Record Document 94 at 4-6]. Lewis contends that a conviction under 18 U.S.C. § 2423(a) requires the Government to "prove that Lewis's 'dominant motive5 for the travel with the minors to Texas was to engage in sexual activity." [Record Document 94-1 at 6]. On the basis of this contention, he raises four ineffective-assistance claims: (1) his appellate counsel failed to challenge the sufficiency of the evidence of his motive; (2) his trial counsel failed to raise the issue of motive as a defense at trial; (3) his trial counsel did not argue for a Rule 29 judgment of acquittal on the basis of motive; (4) his trial counsel failed to object to the absence of a "dominant motive" requirement in the jury charge. [Id. at 3-10].[1]

         III. Standard for Granting a § 2255 Motion

         A federal prisoner may test the legality of his detention by "mov[ing] the court which imposed the sentence to vacate, set aside or correct the sentence." 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a); see United States v. Grammas, 376 F.3d 433, 436 (5th Cir. 2004) (quoting Kuhn v. United States, 432 F.2d 82, 83 (5th Cir. 1970)). Where there has been such a "denial or infringement of the constitutional rights of the prisoner as to render the judgment vulnerable to collateral attack, the court 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). Relief under § 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." Kinder v. Purdy, 222 F.3d 209, 213 (5th Cir. 2000) (quoting United States v. Vaughn, 955 F.2d 367, 368 (5th Cir. 1992)). A district court may deny a § 2255 motion without conducting any type of evidentiary hearing if the defendant fails to "present[] 'independent indicia of the likely merits of [his] allegations.'" United States v. Reed, 719 F.3d 369, 373 (5th Cir. 2013) (quoting United States v. Cavitt, 550 F.3d 430, 442 (5th Cir. 2008)). A hearing is also unnecessary if the issues were raised on direct appeal or do not describe a constitutional violation. United States v. McCollom, 664 F.2d 56, 59 (5th Cir. 1981) (citing Buckelew v. United States, 575 F.2d 515 (5th Cir. 1978)).

         IV. Law and Analysis

         A. Timeliness

         With certain exceptions not relevant here, a § 2255 motion must be made within one year of the date on which the movant's conviction became final. 28 U.S.C. § 2255(f). Following an unsuccessful appeal after which the defendant does not seek a writ of certiorari, a conviction becomes final when the time expires for petitioning for the writ. Clay v. United States, 537 U.S. 522, 525 (2003). A petition for a writ of certiorari must be filed within ninety days of the entry of judgment. Id. (citing Supreme Court Rule 13(1)). The Fifth Circuit denied Lewis's appeal on August 10, 2015. Lewis, 796 F.3d at 543. Thus, his time to petition for certiorari expired on November 8, 2015. Because he filed his § 2255 motion on November 7, 2016, [Record Document 94], his motion is timely.

         B. Intent Requirement in 18 U.S.C. § 2423(a)

         Congress passed the Mann Act to criminalize transporting individuals across state lines for the "purpose of prostitution or debauchery, or for any other immoral purpose." White-Slave Traffic (Mann) Act, ch. 395, 36 Stat. 825 (1910) (codified as amended at 18 U.S.C. §§ 2421-2424). 18 U.S.C. § 2423(a) extends the Mann Act to provide:

A person who knowingly transports an individual who has not attained the age of 18 years in interstate or foreign commerce, or in any commonwealth, territory or possession of the United States, with intent that the individual engage in prostitution, or in any sexual activity for which any person can be charged with a criminal offense, shall be fined under this title and imprisoned not less than 10 years or for life.

18 U.S.C. § 2423(a). One of the essential elements of a Mann Act violation is that the "interstate transportation have for its object or be the means of effecting or facilitating the proscribed activities." Mortensen v. United States, 322 U.S. 369, 374 (1944) (citing Hansen v. Haff, 291 U.S. 559, 563 (1934)).

         In Mortensen v. United States, the Supreme Court described the mens rea of a Mann Act offense as a requirement that the "dominant motive" for the interstate movement be illicit sexual conduct. Id. The Mortensens operated a brothel and went on a vacation, taking two of the sex workers with them. Id. at 372. Because no sex work occurred during the trip, the Supreme Court concluded that illicit sexual activity played no part in the interstate transportation; rather, "[t]he sole purpose of the journey from beginning to end was to provide innocent recreation and a holiday for petitioners and the two girls." Id. at 375. Because weighing the relative importance of multiple motives for travel was not essential to the Mortensen Court's holding, the Seventh Circuit has characterized the "dominant motive" language as dicta. United States v. McGuire,627 F.3d 622, 625 (7th Cir. 2010); cf. United States v. Hoschouer,224 Fed.Appx. 923, 926 (11th Cir. 2007) (per curiam) (citing United States v. Cole,262 F.3d 704, 709 (8th Cir. 2001); United States v. Ellis,935 F.2d 385, 391-92 (1st Cir. 1991)) ("But, the ...

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