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Epps v. United States

United States District Court, D. Maryland

August 14, 2014

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent. Criminal Action No. RDB-10-0407.


RICHARD D. BENNETT, District Judge.

The pro se Petitioner Gerard Maurice Epps ("Petitioner") has filed a Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (ECF No. 73). Having reviewed the Petitioner's Motion, his Amendment to his Motion (ECF No. 75), the Government's response (ECF No. 209), and the Petitioner's Reply (ECF No. 84), this Court finds that no hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2014). For the reasons stated below, Petitioner's Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence (ECF No. 73) is DENIED.


In the first week of January of 2010, Baltimore Police Detective Antonnio Hopson received a tip from a confidential informant that a black male named "Gerard" was supplying crack cocaine out of a residence at 111 N. East Avenue, Baltimore, Maryland to be sold in a specific area of eastern Baltimore City. Detective Hopson, acting on the information from the confidential source, confirmed that the "Gerard" identified by the confidential source was the Defendant Gerard Maurice Epps, and discovered that Epps had several narcotics-related arrests in that specific area of East Baltimore. The Detective also personally investigated the residence and on several occasions observed Epps allow another man, later identified as Nafiz Watkins, to enter the door. On one occasion, when Watkins left the residence, Detective Hopson followed and observed him engaging in hand-to-hand drug dealing in the nearby area. The Detective arrested Watkins with vials of crack cocaine and U.S. currency in his possession. Again, in the third week of January of 2010, Detective Hopson observed Epps let Watkins in the door, and saw Watkins leave shortly after. Detective Hopson again arrested Watkins, again finding him in possession of crack vials and cash.

Based on information supplied by Detective Hopson, on January 22, 2010, Judge Hong of the District Court[1] of Maryland for Baltimore City, granted a warrant to search the residence at 111 N. East Avenue. Epps was present during the execution of the search, and he directed officers to a gun hidden in the house. Officers also recovered vials of crack cocaine, a scale, drug packaging materials, ammunition for the firearm, and Epps's personal papers.

Epps was charged with narcotics and firearm offenses. He moved to suppress the evidence recovered from 111 N. East Avenue pursuant to the search warrant (ECF Nos. 15 & 21).[2] This Court held a hearing on the motions, where Epps's counsel sought to call Detective Hopson as a witness. This Court ruled that Epps was not entitled to call Detective Hopson pursuant to Franks v. Delaware, 438 U.S. 154 (1978), because there was no preliminary showing that the affidavit in support of the warrant contained any knowing, intentional, or reckless false statement, and that any complained-of statements or purported omissions were not necessary to the determination that there was probable cause for the search. This Court concluded that the warrant was supported by probable cause, noting that Detective Hopson independently corroborated information he received from the confidential source. This Court also determined that even if the affidavit were found not to support a finding of probable cause, the officers executing the search reasonably relied on the issuance of the warrant, and therefore the good faith exception applied under United States v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897 (1984). Accordingly, this Court denied Epps's motions to suppress (ECF No. 42).

Upon the denial of his motions to suppress, Epps then entered a conditional guilty plea, [3] wherein he agreed to a 20-year sentence.[4] This Court held a plea colloquy, at which Epps indicated that he understood the charges, the plea agreement, his status as an Armed Career Criminal, and the possible sentences that could be imposed. He also indicated that he was satisfied with the representation provided by his attorney. This Court sentenced Epps to 20 years incarceration, as agreed.

Epps appealed, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld his conviction and sentence, and denied his petition for rehearing and rehearing en banc. United States v. Epps, 467 F.App'x 184, 186 (4th Cir. 2012) (per curiam), reh'g en banc denied, No. ECF No. 70 (4th Cir. Mar. 14, 2012). On January 14, 2013, the Supreme Court denied Epps's petition for a writ of certiorari. 133 S.Ct. 959 (2013).

On July 29, 2013, Petitioner filed a Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (ECF No. 73). Section 2255 of Title 28 of the United States Code provides that a prisoner in custody may move a federal court to vacate, set aside, or correct a sentence "imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States, or that the court was without jurisdiction to impose such sentence, or that the sentence was in excess of the maximum authorized by law." Petitioner, now proceeding pro se, claims he received ineffective assistance of counsel, in violation of rights under the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution.


Documents filed pro se are "liberally construed" and are "held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (citation omitted). In order to establish a claim for ineffective assistance of counsel, Petitioner must prove both elements of the test set forth by the Supreme Court in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 671 (1984). First, Petitioner must show that his counsel's performance was so deficient as to fall below an "objective standard of reasonableness." Id. at 688. In assessing whether counsel's performance was unconstitutionally deficient, courts adopt a "strong presumption" that counsel's actions fall within the "wide range of reasonable professional assistance." Id. at 689. Second, Petitioner must show that his counsel's performance was so prejudicial as to "deprive the defendant of a fair trial." Id. at 687. In order to establish this level of prejudice, Petitioner must demonstrate a "reasonable probability that, but for counsel's [alleged] unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different." Id. at 694. Establishing one of the two Strickland prongs is insufficient; rather, Petitioner must satisfy both prongs to qualify for relief. See id. at 687.

In addition, "[w]hen a defendant challenges a conviction entered after a guilty plea, [the] "prejudice" prong of the [ Strickland ] test is slightly modified. Such a defendant "must show that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's errors, he would not have pleaded guilty and would have insisted on going to trial. " Hooper v. Garraghty, 845 F.2d 471, 475 (4th Cir. 1988) (emphasis in original). Finally, where a defendant affirms under oath that he is satisfied with counsel, the defendant's statements are binding on him absent "clear and convincing evidence to the contrary." Fields v. Att'y Gen. of Maryland, 956 F.2d 1290, 1297 (4th Cir. 1992).


The Petitioner asserts that he received ineffective assistance of counsel on the following grounds: (1) failure to raise an argument based on staleness; (2) failure to pursue a Franks hearing at the suppression hearing; (3) failure to cite a controlling decision of the Fourth ...

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