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United States v. Hargrave

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

September 30, 2019


          DRELL JUDGE



         Before the Court is Jenee Lynn Hargrave's pro se Motion for Relief from Judgment Pursuant to Rule 60 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure (Rec. Doc. 536), subsequently re-styled, through appointed counsel, as Motion to Vacate Conviction and Sentence Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §2255 (Rec. Doc. 567). The Government filed a Response. (Rec. Doc. 583). The Motion was referred to the undersigned magistrate judge for review, report, and recommendation in accordance with the provisions of 28 U.S.C. §636 and the standing orders of this Court. For the reasons stated below, the motion is DENIED.


         On November 12, 2014, Hargrave was indicted with fourteen other defendants on several counts arising out of a conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine. (Rec. Doc. 1). She retained Roy Richard to represent her in the proceedings.

         On September 15, 2015, Hargrave pled guilty to Count 1 - Conspiracy to Distribute, and Possess with Intent to Distribute Methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §846. (Rec. Doc. 582). On September 14, 2015, the day prior to the change of plea hearing, the Court conducted a Garcia hearing. At the hearing, Hargrave expressed concern that she had not spoken to Mr. Richard in quite a few months, but by that time, she had spoken with him and was satisfied. (Rec. Doc. 586, p. 3). She confirmed that she did not have any issues at that time and that she was “doubly sure” that she was satisfied with Mr. Richard's representation. Id. p. 3 and 5.

         On January 15, 2016, she was sentenced to serve 120 months, followed by five years of supervised probation and a special assessment. (Rec. Doc. 448). During her pre-trial detention, she was incarcerated at the Iberia Parish jail. She was later transferred to a Florida facility to serve her sentence. (Rec. Doc. 567-1, ¶3; 11). Hargrave now contends she had minimal communication with Mr. Richard during the pre-trial process and no communication with him after she was sentenced. (Rec. Doc. 567-1, ¶7-13; 21).

         On August 17, 2018, Hargrave filed a Motion to Compel Mr. Richard to turn over her file. (Rec. Doc. 529). The Court granted the Motion and ordered Mr. Richard to turn over the file to counsel appointed to receive same, Mr. Cliff LaCour. (Rec. Doc. 532). When Mr. Richard failed to deliver the file as ordered, the Court ordered him to appear and show cause. (Rec. Doc. 540). At the show cause hearing, Mr. Richard advised the Court that he had lost the file. Accordingly, the Court ordered the Government to work with Mr. Richard to recreate Hargrave's lost file and to deliver the recreated file to Mr. Lacour. (Rec. Doc. 545). Among the items in the recreated file was a March 6, 2015 letter from the Assistant U.S. Attorney, Myers Namie, to Mr. Richard advising that Jason Comeaux, the former Iberia Parish Sheriff's Deputy who had investigated her case, was under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division. The letter also provided the related civil suit information. (Rec. Doc. 567-4). Mr. Richard did not provide a copy of the letter to Hargrave or discuss its contents with her. (Rec. Doc. 567-1, ¶17).

         According to Hargrave, she learned on August 20, 2018 that Comeaux had been convicted of civil rights violations arising out of his participation in the severe beating of an inmate at the Iberia Parish Jail. (Rec. Doc. 567-1, ¶20; Rec. Doc. 567, p.7, referencing Rec. Doc. 530). She immediately filed her Rule 60 Motion. (Rec. Doc. 536). The Court ordered the Government to file a response and appointed Mr. Stephen Shapiro to represent her. Following the file fiasco, Mr. Shapiro filed the “Supplemental and Amended Memorandum in Support of Motion for Relief from Judgment or Order Pursuant to Rule 60 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and Vacate Conviction and Sentence Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §2255.” (Rec. Doc. 567). The Government filed its Response on September 23, 2019. (Rec. Doc. 583).

         Law and Analysis

         I. Nature of Relief Sought

         Hargrave initially filed a Motion for Relief pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure Rule 60. Although the pro se Motion was styled as a Motion under Criminal Rule 60, Hargrave actually sought relief under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 60, which authorizes relief from civil judgment on certain enumerated grounds. (Rec. Doc. 536, p. 2-3). Criminal Rule 60 pertains to victims' rights and is inapplicable to this case. Likewise, Civil Rule 60 is inapplicable in this criminal context. Rather, Hargrave seeks to have her conviction and sentence vacated, as clarified in her counsel's subsequent filing. (Rec. Doc. 567).

[A] court will sometimes recharacterize a motion filed by a pro se prisoner as a request for habeas relief under § 2255 even though the motion is labeled differently.
[P]ro se habeas petitions are not held to the same stringent and rigorous standards as are pleadings filed by lawyers.” Ultimately, “[i]t is the substance of the relief sought by a pro se pleading, not the label that the petitioner has attached to it, that determines the true nature and operative effect of a habeas filing.”
United States v. Elam, 930 F.3d 406, 409 (5th Cir. 2019), citing Castro v. United States, 540 U.S. 375, 377 (2003), and Hernandez v. Thaler, 630 F.3d 420, 426 (5th Cir. 2011) (per curiam).

         The court may recharacterize a pro se litigant's pleading as his first §2255 after informing the litigant of its intent to recharacterize, warning the litigant that the recharacterization will subject subsequent §2255 motions to the law's “second or successive” restrictions, and providing the litigant with an opportunity to withdraw, or to amend, the filing. Id., citing Castro, 540 U.S. at 377. Here, however, Hargrave is no longer proceeding pro se. In fact, her appointed counsel, Mr. Shapiro, has recharacterized the relief sought as that covered by §2255. Hence, the Court will construe Hargrave's motion as a motion for relief under §2255.

         II. Timeliness of §2255 Motion.

         A federal inmate has one year to file a motion for relief under §2255. 28 U.S.C. §2255(f). The one-year period commences with the latest of the following:

(1) the date on which the judgment of conviction becomes final;
(2) the date on which the impediment to making a motion created by governmental action in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States is removed, if the movant was prevented from making a motion by such governmental action;
(3) the date on which the right asserted was initially recognized by the Supreme Court, if that right has been newly recognized by the Supreme Court and made retroactively applicable to cases on collateral review; or
(4) the date on which the facts supporting the claim or claims presented could have been discovered through the ...

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