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Pressley v. United States

United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division

April 25, 2018

JAMES RODREIQUAS PRESSLEY, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent.

          ORDER

          TERRENCE W. BOYLE United States District Judge

         This matter is before the court on petitioner's motions to vacate, set aside, or correct sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (DE 187, 194). Also before the court is the motion to dismiss (DE 205) filed by respondent the United States of America, which was fully briefed. For the reasons that follow, the court grants respondent's motion to dismiss, in part, and denies it, in part.

         STATEMENT OF THE CASE

         On July 30, 2014, a jury found petitioner guilty of several charges related to drug and money laundering conspiracies. On July 15, 2015, United States District Court Judge James C. Fox sentenced petitioner to life imprisonment. (See (DE 162)). Petitioner subsequently appealed his conviction and raised the following grounds for relief: (1) the sentence was procedurally and substantively unreasonable; (2) error in the drug weight calculation; (3) the district court improperly limited the scope of his cross-examination of a coconspirator; and (4) juror misconduct. United States v. Pressley, 654 Fed.Appx. 591 (4th Cir. 2016). On July 6, 2016, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's judgment. Id. On July 10, 2017, the action was re-assigned to the undersigned for all further proceedings.

         On July 28, 2017, petitioner filed his first motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. In his motion, petitioner alleged the following ineffective assistance of counsel claims: (1) failure to move to suppress a statement given to police prior to petitioner's arrest; (2) failure to move to suppress the indictment for containing duplicative charges; (3) failure to object to the reasonable doubt jury instructions; (4) failure to request a jury instruction on the informant's role; (5) failure to present evidence challenging the money laundering conspiracy; and (6) failure of appellate counsel to raise certain issues on appeal. (DE 187).

         On August 2, 2017, petitioner filed a motion for a new trial pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 33, which was fully briefed. On September 5, 2017, petitioner filed a second § 2255 motion, which was nearly identical to petitioner's original § 2255 motion. On the same date, petitioner filed a motion to amend his § 2255 motion to include the following new claims: his actions did not constitute federal offenses; the court lacked jurisdiction over the matter; and several ineffective assistance of counsel claims. ((DE 195-1) pp. 1-4). On September 18, 2017, respondent moved to dismiss petitioner's § 2255 motions for failure to state a claim. The motion was fully briefed.

         On November 7, 2017, petitioner filed a second motion to amend to include the following claims: (1) defense counsel failed to seek a mistrial following comments made during closing arguments; and (2) failure of the government to provide pre-trial notice of benefits paid to a witness. ((DE 203), pp. 2-5). On December 9, 2017, the court issued an order denying petitioner's motion for a new trial pursuant to Rule 33, granting petitioner's motions to amend, and denying as moot respondent's motion to dismiss in light of the new claims petitioner asserted in his motions to amend. On December 28, 2017, respondent filed a second motion to dismiss, arguing that petitioner fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. The motion was fully briefed.

         DISCUSSION

         A. Standard of Review

         A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted" tests whether the complaint is legally and factually sufficient. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6); Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009); Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007); Coleman v. Md. Court of Appeals, 626 F.3d 187, 190 (4th Cir. 2010), affd, 566 U.S. 30 (2012); Giarratano v. Johnson, 521 F.3d 298, 302 (4th Cir. 2008); accord Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93-94 (2007) (per curiam). In considering a motion to dismiss, a court need not accept a complaint's legal conclusions drawn from the facts. See, e.g.. Iqbal. 556 U.S. at 678. A court also "need not accept as true unwarranted inferences, unreasonable conclusions, or arguments." Giarratano, 521 F.3d at 302 (quotation omitted); see Iqbal. 556 U.S. at 678-79.

         B. Analysis

         The court begins with petitioner's claims that this court did not have jurisdiction over his trial, his actions did not constitute federal offenses, and that the government failed to provide a pretrial notice of benefits paid to a witness. Petitioner failed to bring these claimed errors to the attention of the Fourth Circuit on direct appeal. As a result, he has procedurally defaulted these claims. See, e.g.. Bousley v. United States, 523 U.S. 614.621 H998): United States v. Mikalajunas, 186 F.3d 490, 492-93 (4th Cir. 1999); see also Scantlebury v. United States, Nos. 5:09-CR-254-D, 5:10-CV-590-D, 2012 WL 5364004, at *4 (E.D. N.C. Oct. 30, 2012) ("[B]ecause Scantlebury did not seek to assert his claim of actual innocence on direct appeal, he is procedurally barred from doing so now.") (citation omitted)! Petitioner has not plausibly alleged "cause" and "prejudice, []" which are necessary to excuse procedural default. See Massaro v. United States, 538 U.S. 500, 504 (2003); Bousley, 523 U.S. at622; Mikalajunas, 186 F.3dat493. Finally, petitioner's conclusory allegations of actual innocence are insufficient to excuse his procedural default. See Singleton v. Ozmint, No. 4:09-753-JFA-TER, 2010 WL 1409439, at *7 (D.S.C. Mar. 31, 2010) (citing Royal v. Taylor, 188 F.3d 239, 244 (4th Cir. 1999)), appeal dismissed. 447 Fed.Appx. 431 (4th Cir. Mar. 2, 2011). Thus, respondent's motion to dismiss is GRANTED as to these claims.

         The court next turns to petitioner's ineffective assistance of trial and appellate counsel claims. Generally, a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel is resolved by application of the widely accepted two-part analysis announced in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984). First, petitioner must demonstrate that his counsel's acts or omissions fell outside the range of reasonably competent assistance. Id. at 690. "Judicial scrutiny of counsel's performance must be highly deferential, and a reviewing court must avoid the biases of hindsight." Sharpe v. Bell. 593 F.3d 372, 382 (4th Cir. 2010) (internal quotation omitted). If the petitioner establishes that his counsel's performance fell outside the acceptable range, he must then satisfy Strickland's second prong by showing a "reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different." Strickland, 466 U.S. at 694.

         In his motion to dismiss, respondent makes the conclusory argument that petitioner failed to make a single description of attorney conduct that falls outside of the wide range of reasonable professional assistance. Respondent also makes the conclusory argument that petitioner's counsel made strategic decisions which did not rise to the level of constitutional deficiency. In light of petitioner's detailed memoranda supporting his § 2255 motions, the court cannot make a determination as to petitioner's ineffective assistance of counsel claims on this record. Accordingly, respondent's motion to dismiss is DENIED as to petitioner's ineffective assistance of counsel claims. Respondent is DIRECTED to file a motion for summary judgment within 60 days of this court's order. Respondent further is DIRECTED to specifically address each of petitioner's ineffective assistance of counsel claims individually with citations to specific pages in the exhibits, or otherwise in the record, which demonstrate the absence of a genuine ...


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