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Millhouse v. United States

United States District Court, D. Maryland

June 10, 2015

JASON MILLHOUSE, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent. Criminal Action No. RDB-11-0201

MEMORANDUM OPINION

RICHARD D. BENNETT, District Judge.

Jason Millhouse ("Petitioner" or "Millhouse") was indicted and charged with possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance under 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) (Count One); possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime under 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) (Count Two); and possession of a firearm and ammunition by a convicted felon under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) (Count Three). See Indictment, ECF No. 1. On March 5, 2012, Petitioner entered a conditional guilty plea under Counts One and Three.[1] See Rearraignment, ECF No. 39. On June 12, 2012, Petitioner was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of seventy (70) months and three (3) years of supervised release. See Judgment, ECF No. 46. Following his unsuccuessful appeal and incarceration, Petitioner filed the currently pending Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. ECF No. 63.

The parties' submissions have been reviewed and no hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2014). For the reasons that follow, Petitioner Jason Millhouse's Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence (ECF No. 63) pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 is DENIED.

BACKGROUND

During the month of January, 2011, officers from the Caroline County Drug Task Force received information from a confidential informant that Petitioner was selling heroin out of his residence on Jonestown Lane in Preston, Maryland. See Motion to Suppress, ECF No. 17-1. The confidential informant was known to law enforcement and had proven reliable in previous investigations, with no history of providing false information. Id. The informant provided Sergeant Ronald E. Crouch of the Task Force with Petitioner's name, approximate age, and race, as well as a description of the residence on Jonestown Lane, the occupants residing there, and a description of Petitioner's car. Id. The informant told Sergeant Crouch that in addition to selling heroin, he had observed guns inside Petitioner's residence. Id.

After receiving the tip, Sergeant Crouch made inquiries with the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) and the National Criminal Information Center (NCIC) as well as the Criminal Justice Information System (CJIS) regarding Petitioner. Id. The inquiries revealed a criminal record with multiple felony arrests, including possession of a controlled dangerous substance, resisting arrest, and possession of a firearm. Id. Through the inquiry, Sergeant Crouch also obtained a photograph of Petitioner. When he presented the photograph to the confidential informant, the informant immediately identified Petitioner as the individual residing at the address in Preston. Id. Sergeant Crouch then conducted surveillance of the residence on Jonestown Lane, and observed a silver Chevrolet Lumina matching the informant's description of Petitioner's car parked outside. Id.

Pursuant to this information, Sergeant Crouch arranged to make a controlled purchase of heroin from the residence during the week of January 23, 2011. Id. The Task Force observed the confidential informant enter and exit the Petitioner's residence, and then return immediately to law enforcement officers where he presented a substance he indicated was purchased from Petitioner. Id. The substance was field tested by Sergeant Crouch, a trained officer in narcotics interdiction, and identified as heroin. Id. Based on the results of the controlled purchase, along with the information provided by the confidential informant, Sergeant Crouch obtained a search and seizure warrant from Judge William H. Adkins, III, of the District Court of Maryland for Caroline County. Id.

On January 28, 2011, officers of the Task Force executed that warrant. See Letter of Understanding, ECF No. 40. Once inside the house, officers found Petitioner, along with a female companion, an infant child, and a teenaged male, all consistent with the informant's description. Id. During a search of the premises, officers discovered a soda bottle with a false compartment holding sixty-four (64) separate zip-lock baggies containing heroin. Id. Officers also saw propped up in plain view on the bedroom wall one Ruger, model Mini-14 Ranch, .223 caliber rifle with the serial number obliterated, and twenty rounds of Remington.223 caliber ammunition. Id. Petitioner was arrested and charged with possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance, possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, and possession of a firearm and ammunition by a convicted felon. See ECF No. 1.

Petitioner filed a motion to suppress evidence as well as a motion for an evidentiary hearing based on the what he contended was a false statement in the affidavit, (ECF No. 24) as well as a deficient warrant issued by Judge Adkins III, (ECF No. 23).[2] These motions were denied by this Court, and on March 5, 2012, Petitioner pled guilty to Counts I and III, pursuant to Rule 11(a)(2), preserving his right of appeal. Count II was dismissed by the government. ECF No. 46. On June 12, 2012, Petitioner was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of seventy (70) months and three (3) years of supervised release. Id. On June 25, 2012, Petitioner appealed the denial of his suppression motions to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, which affirmed this Court's rulings on the above motions. United States v. Millhouse, 533 F.App'x 330, 331 (4th Cir. 2013). Following his incarceration and subsequent denial of his appeal, Petitioner filed this Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence (ECF No. 63) pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

This Court recognizes that Petitioner is pro se and has accorded his pleadings liberal construction. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). To state a claim for relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 based on a Sixth Amendment claim of ineffective assistance of counsel Petitioner must satisfy the two-prong test set forth in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 671 (1984); see also United States v. Rangel 781 F.3d 736, 742 (4th Cir. 2015). The first, or "performance" prong, requires a showing that defense counsel's representation was deficient and fell below an "objective standard of reasonableness." Strickland, 466 U.S. at 688. The second, or "prejudice" prong, requires Petitioner to demonstrate that his counsel's errors deprived him of a fair trial. Id. at 687. When a defendant alleges ineffective assistance after a guilty plea has been entered, the burden of proving the second prong of prejudice becomes even greater. In Hooper v. Garraghty , the Fourth Circuit explained: "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, 845 F.2d 471, 75 (quoting Hill v. Lockhart, 474 U.S. 52, 59 (1985)).

DISCUSSION

Petitioner broadly alleges his Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel was violated. ECF No. 63. Petitioner invokes several grounds in support of this allegation. Petitioner argues that defense counsel I) failed to present evidence in support of Petitioner's pro se motions to suppress evidence ...


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