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United States v. Murphy

United States District Court, D. Maryland

April 1, 2014

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
TRENELL DAVID MURPHY, Defendant. Criminal No. ELH-09-0098

MEMORANDUM OPINION

ELLEN LIPTON HOLLANDER, District Judge.

In this case, the Court is called upon to resolve a petition for relief filed by Trenell Murphy, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, and as amended through counsel. See ECF 39, 55, 66.[1] The petition is rooted in Murphy's conditional plea of guilty entered on July 7, 2009, to the charge of possession with intent to distribute five or more kilograms of cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1). See Plea Agreement (ECF 18).[2]

Pursuant to the terms of Murphy's plea agreement, he reserved the right to appeal the pretrial ruling of Judge Benson Legg, [3] denying Murphy's motion to suppress evidence recovered from the warrantless search of his truck. Id. at ¶ 11.[4] On October 2, 2009, Judge Legg sentenced Murphy to 20 years' imprisonment. See ECF 23. Thereafter, Murphy timely appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. See ECF 25. On December 21, 2010, the Fourth Circuit affirmed Murphy's conviction in an unpublished, per curiam opinion. See United States v. Murphy, 405 F.Appx. 791 (4th Cir. 2010).

This petition followed, which the government opposes. See ECF 68. No hearing is needed to resolve the dispute. See Local Rule 105.6. For the reasons set forth below, I will deny the petition.

I. Factual Summary[5]

On the evening of February 19, 2009, Baltimore City police set up surveillance in the vicinity of 3041 Presstman Street in Baltimore in response to information from a confidential informant indicating that a known drug trafficker resided at that address. During the course of their surveillance, police observed Murphy leave 3041 Presstman Street and place a white plastic bag in a black Chevrolet truck bearing Maryland registration 88V422. According to Motor Vehicle Administration records, that vehicle belonged to Murphy. The police then followed Murphy as he drove off in his vehicle. Murphy stopped his vehicle, discarded the white plastic bag into the gutter, and drove away.[6] Police quickly recovered the discarded bag and observed that it contained several items covered by a white powder residue, suspected to be cocaine.

In the early hours of February 20, 2009, the police obtained a search warrant for 3041 Presstman Street, where Murphy resided. At about 1:45 a.m. on that date, the police executed the search warrant and recovered approximately $12, 000 in U.S. currency from the house as well as the keys to Murphy's black truck. The police arrested Murphy and subsequently looked in the covered truck bed, where they saw items similar to the one that Murphy had previously discarded. ECF 21 at 4. The police then searched the truck bed and recovered about 40 kilograms of cocaine with an estimated wholesale value of approximately $1, 000, 000. ECF 11 at 2; ECF 18 at 9; ECF 21 at 4. After securing the items, the police obtained a search warrant for the vehicle.

Murphy's attorney filed a motion to suppress. ECF 11. Judge Legg held a pretrial motion hearing on June 30, 2009, at which he considered Murphy's motion to suppress the evidence recovered pursuant to the warrantless search of Murphy's truck on February 20, 2009. ECF 11, ECF 15. The Court denied the suppression motion at the hearing and then issued a Memorandum Opinion on July 22, 2009, memorializing its reasons. See ECF 21.[7]

In the meantime, by plea agreement dated July 1, 2009, and signed by Murphy on July 6, 2009, Murphy agreed to plead guilty to Count One of the Indictment, charging him with possession with intent to distribute five or more kilograms of cocaine. See Plea Agreement (ECF 18), ¶1. By statute, the maximum period of incarceration was a term of life imprisonment, with a mandatory minimum term of ten years' incarceration. Id. ¶ 3. Because the offense involved at least five but less than fifteen kilograms of cocaine, the Base Offense Level was a 34. But, the plea agreement provided that, if Murphy was found to be a "career offender;" as defined in U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1, the Base Offense Level would increase to 37 (before deductions). Id. ¶ 6(a). The Government agreed to recommend a sentence of incarceration within the applicable guideline range. Id. ¶ 9.

Under the terms of the plea agreement, the Government agreed to recommend a "two-level reduction of [Murphy's] adjusted offense level." See id. ¶ 6(b). However, the plea agreement stipulated that there was no agreement as to Murphy's criminal history and that Murphy's offense level and criminal history category could increase if Murphy was determined to be a "career offender." See id. Moreover, the plea agreement provided that a determination that Murphy is a "career offender" could not form the basis for Murphy to withdraw his guilty plea. See id. As noted, Murphy also reserved the right to appeal the ruling denying the motion to suppress.

The plea agreement also contained as Attachment A an "Agreed Statement of Facts." As discussed, infra, it provided that, on the evening of February 19, 2009, defendant left his residence and drove away in a black Chevrolet truck, followed by detectives, who saw him discard a white plastic bag into the street. The bag was quickly recovered and found to contain items with a white residue, suspected to be cocaine. See ECF 18 at 8-9.

During the rearraignment on July 7, 2009, Judge Legg thoroughly reviewed the plea agreement with Murphy. See ECF 68-7. Judge Legg carefully reviewed with Murphy the implications of career offender status, and indicated that the determination would not be made until sentencing. Under oath, Murphy advised that he understood. Id. at 16.

At sentencing on October 7, 2009, Judge Legg determined that Murphy qualified as a career offender within the meaning of the federal sentencing guidelines. After two deductions under U.S.S.G. § 3E1.1(a) for acceptance of responsibility, Murphy's final offense level was 35, with a criminal history category of VI. Murphy's guidelines range called for a sentence of between 292 and 365 months imprisonment. ECF 24. However, the Court sentenced Murphy to 240 months' imprisonment. See ECF 23 at 2-3; ECF 24.

As noted, on December 21, 2010, the Fourth Circuit affirmed Murphy's conviction in an unpublished, per curiam opinion. See ECF 33, 34. The mandate issued on January 12, 2011. ECF 34.

On July 1, 2011, Murphy timely filed a pro se "Motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence by a Person in Federal Custody" ("2011 Petition, " ECF 39). In the 2011 Petition, Murphy asserted: (1) "[C]ongress exceeded its powers by enacting 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1)"; (2) law enforcement violated his Fourth Amendment rights by unlawfully seizing evidence from his vehicle without a warrant, and creating exigent circumstances; and (3) he did not receive effective assistance of counsel from his court-appointed attorney, M. Gordon Tayback, as guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment, because his trial counsel allegedly "failed to test [an informant's] status depriving Murphy [of] the right to call the person at the suppression hearing"; failed to challenge the validity of a post-arrest search warrant; and failed to investigate the validity of Murphy's prior convictions. See ECF 39 at 5-6.[8]

Murphy filed a 55-page memorandum in support of his 2011 Petition on August 11, 2011 ("2011 Memorandum, " ECF 42). In the 2011 Memorandum, Murphy again claimed Congress lacked the authority to enact 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1), see ECF 42 at 3-47, and that law enforcement unconstitutionally seized evidence from his vehicle. See id. at 48-49. In addition, Murphy alleged that Tayback was unable to investigate properly Murphy's case due to Tayback's overwhelming caseload. See id. at 49-56. Murphy also complained that his attorney "never once challenged the law enforcement's ...


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