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Hill v. United States

United States District Court, D. Maryland

July 3, 2018




         Presently pending is the amended motion to vacate sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 filed by Petitioner Antonio Hill, Jr. (“Petitioner”). (ECF No. 303). For the following reasons, counsel will be appointed and an evidentiary hearing will be scheduled on the § 2255 petition.

         I. Background

         On July 9, 2012, a grand jury sitting in the District of Maryland returned a two count indictment charging Petitioner with conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute 1, 000 kilograms or more of marijuana in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846 (“Count 1”) and conspiracy to commit money laundering in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1956(h) (“Count 2”). (ECF No. 1). On January 31, 2013, counsel for Petitioner moved to suppress all of the evidence uncovered from a June 24, 2011, search and subsequent evidence discovered linking Petitioner to drug trafficking as the fruit of an unlawful search. (ECF No. 150).

         The court held a suppression hearing on May 20, 2013. The Government called the police officer who conducted the search to the stand, and he provided his versions of events. The officer stated that his partner first attempted a “key turn” using a key gained from Petitioner's codefendant. After determining that the key fit, the officer knocked on the door, and Erico opened the door “all the way” which allowed the officer to see drugs and a small child in the apartment. The officer testified that after Erico opened the door, Erico became belligerent, so the officer detained him. The officer then conducted a protective sweep of the apartment and applied for and obtained a search warrant. (ECF No. 283, at 35-39).

         Petitioner claims that, prior to filing the motion to suppress, Petitioner and counsel “had conferred with [Erico] . . . with respect to having [him] testify” about the search. (ECF No. 303, at 2). Erico “indicated to both Petitioner and counsel that he [was] willing to testify” that police opened the door to search the apartment and that he never opened the door. (Id.). Petitioner contends that the facts are as follows: On June 24, 2011, using a key obtained from one of Petitioner's codefendants, local police opened the door to an apartment in Maryland. Petitioner's brother, Erico, and his young son were asleep inside the residence at the time. Police closed the door, then reopened the door and ordered Erico to exit the apartment. Police placed Erico in handcuffs, brought him back inside the apartment, and then conducted a search finding marijuana and other evidence of drug trafficking. (ECF No. 303, at 4-5).

         Petitioner requested counsel call Erico to testify, but counsel refused. (ECF No. 303, at 2). Counsel did not call any other witnesses to testify about the search, and, thus, the undisputed evidence was that “somebody open[ed] the door all the way and right in front of [the police was] contraband.” (ECF No. 283, at 67). The court denied the motion to suppress. (ECF No. 186).

         On June 12, 2013, Petitioner pleaded guilty to Count 1 and Count 2 contained in the Second Superseding Indictment. (ECF No. 170). Petitioner appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. (ECF No. 279). The Fourth Circuit affirmed and issued its mandate on May 5, 2015. (ECF Nos. 289, 290).

         On January 4, 2016, Petitioner filed a motion to vacate sentence, alleging ineffective assistance of counsel, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. (ECF No. 302). Petitioner filed an amended motion to vacate sentence on January 13. (ECF No. 303). The Government was directed to respond and it did so on May 20. (ECF No. 314).

         II. Motion to Vacate Due to Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

         A. Standard of Review

         To be eligible for relief under § 2255, a petitioner must show, by a preponderance of the evidence, that his “sentence was 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.” 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a). A pro se movant, such as Petitioner, is entitled to have his arguments reviewed with appropriate consideration. See Gordon v. Leeke, 574 F.2d 1147, 1151-53 (4th Cir. 1978).

         A petitioner alleging ineffective assistance of counsel must show that his attorney's performance fell below an objective standard of reasonableness and that he suffered actual prejudice. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984). In determining objective reasonableness, “[j]udicial scrutiny of counsel's performance must be highly deferential[, ]” and “a court must indulge a strong presumption that counsel's conduct falls within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance[.]” Id. at 689; Bunch v. Thompson, 949 F.2d 1354, 1363 (4th Cir. 1991). Courts must assess the reasonableness of attorney conduct “as of the time their actions occurred, not the conduct's consequences after the fact.” Frye v. Lee, 235 F.3d 897, 906 (4th Cir. 2000).

         In the context of a § 2255 petition challenging a conviction following a guilty plea, a petitioner establishes prejudice by demonstrating “a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's errors, he would not have pleaded guilty and would have insisted on going to trial.” Lee v. United States, 137 S.Ct. 1958, 1965 (2017) (quoting Hill v. Lockhart, 474 U.S. 52, 59 (1985)). A petitioner must also “convince the court” that such a decision “would have been rational under the circumstances.” Padilla v. Kentucky, 559 U.S. 356, 372 (2010). Therefore, a petitioner's subjective preferences are not dispositive. United States v. ...

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