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Daniel Keith Matthews v. United States of America

August 27, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Conti, District Judge



Pending before the court is a motion to vacate, set aside, or correct sentence by a person in federal custody pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (ECF No. 953) and a motion for a new trial and for sentencing transcripts and DEA surveillance reports (ECF No. 954), filed by petitioner Daniel Keith Matthews ("Matthews" or "petitioner"). Upon reviewing petitioner's motion to vacate, set aside or correct sentence and the government's response (ECF No. 970), that motion will be denied in all respects except for the claim that petitioner's trial counsel was ineffective because she failed to advise him that if the government filed prior to trial a notice of his prior drug conviction, he faced a mandatory minimum sentence of 120 months. A ruling on the sole remaining issue will be reserved until after a hearing is held. The motion for a new trial, sentencing transcripts, and DEA surveillance reports will be denied.

I. Background

On August 5, 2004, in a superseding indictment, Matthews, Larry Lewis Ferguson ("Ferguson"), Michelle Harris ("Harris"), John C. Steele ("Steele"), Roscoe B. Thompson ("Thompson"), and others were jointly charged in count 1 with conspiracy to possess and distribute more than 100 grams of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of heroin from November 20, 2002 to February 8, 2003, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 846 and 841(b)(1)(B)(i). (ECF No. 354.) Matthews was also separately charged in count 16 with possession with intent to distribute and distribution of a quantity of heroin on or about January 11, 2003, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(C). Id. While ten of Matthews' co-defendants, including Harris and Steele, chose to cooperate and pleaded guilty to the conspiracy count, Matthews, Ferguson and Thompson went to trial before a jury on the counts in which they were charged. (ECF No. 970 at 2.) On May 2, 2005, prior to jury selection, the government filed an information pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 851 with respect to Matthews, explaining that a previous state drug conviction would be used to enhance any sentence he might receive from a conviction on the current charges. See ECF No. 456. Matthews claims he was never informed by his attorney about the impact this filing could have on his ultimate sentence. (ECF No. 953 at 7.) The initial trial, which began on May 10, 2005, ended in a mistrial due to juror misconduct, see ECF No. 492, and all three defendants were retried beginning on January 12, 2006.

On March 2, 2006, after all the evidence had been presented, the jury found all three defendants guilty of count 1 and Matthews was found guilty of count 16. (ECF No. 644.) Following the verdict, Matthews filed pro se Rule 29 and Rule 33 motions, which were denied by the court as untimely on September 8, 2006. (ECF No. 778.) His sentencing had been scheduled for September 29, 2006. Id. After September 8, 2006 and prior to sentencing, Matthews requested new counsel to replace his trial attorney, Martha E. Bailor ("Bailor"). (ECF No. 782.) This request was granted, and Sally A. Frick ("Frick") was appointed as Matthews' counsel on October 2, 2005. (ECF No. 797.) Frick prepared the defendant's Position with Respect to Presentence Investigation Report, which she filed on January 5, 2007. See ECF No. 862. Matthews continued to file numerous pro se motions, see ECF Nos. 809, 843, 849, 855, 856, 860, and 861. Each of the pro se motions was denied without prejudice by the court because he was represented by counsel, who, among other things, could address the matters raised by filing motions on his behalf or at the sentencing hearing set for January 17, 2007. See ECF No. 866. On that date, the court sentenced Matthews to 120 months of imprisonment to be followed by eight years of supervised release. See ECF No. 867. The sentence was the statutory minimum sentence for a violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(B) because prior to trial a notice of a prior felony drug offense was filed by the government pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 851 (the "§ 851 information"). (ECF No. 970 at 4.) The mandatory minimum term was greater than the range which would have been determined under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines had the government not filed the § 851 information. The lower range of imprisonment was 70 to 87 months based on Matthews' base offense level and criminal history category without taking into consideration the filing of the § 851 information. See id.

Matthews appealed his conviction, arguing, among other things, that the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction for participation in the heroin conspiracy. United States v. Ferguson, 394 F. App'x 873, 878 (3d Cir. 2010). In an opinion issued on September 21, 2010, the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed the conviction, finding that the "evidence presented at trial was more than sufficient to permit a rational trier of fact to conclude that Matthews shared a unity of purpose with the other conspirators to distribute heroin and entered into an agreement to further that objective." Id. at 878.

Matthews continued to file motions pro se, see ECF Nos. 893, 923, 937, 938, and 945, the last of which was filed on December 1, 2010 to "vacate, set aside or correct the sentence" pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Because "Matthews might not have been aware of the potential legal consequences when he filed the Motion to Vacate, the Motion for Trial, Supplement and Amended Motion," this court delayed consideration of his motions and provided him with the option, among others, to withdraw the motion and file an inclusive § 2255 motion. (ECF No. 946); see United States v. Miller, 197 F.3d 644, 652 (3d Cir. 1999). Matthews withdrew the previous motions, see ECF No. 952, and filed one all-inclusive § 2255 petition on December 27, 2010, see ECF No. 953. This motion was supplemented three days later with a Motion for New Trial and a Motion for Sentencing Transcripts and DEA Surveillance Reports. (ECF No. 954.)

II. Standard of Review

A district court is required to hold an evidentiary hearing on a motion to vacate sentence filed pursuant to § 2255 unless the motion, files, and records of the case show conclusively that the movant is not entitled to relief. 28 U.S.C. § 2255 ("Unless the motion and the files and records of the case conclusively show that the prisoner is entitled to no relief, the court shall . . . grant a prompt hearing thereon, determine the issues and make findings of fact and conclusions of law with respect thereto."); United States v. Booth, 432 F.3d 542, 545-46 (3d Cir. 2005). An evidentiary hearing is not required, however, if the court determines that the motion, files, and records of the case conclusively support that the motion should be denied as a matter of law. Id. With this in mind, the "district court must 'accept the truth of the movant's factual allegations unless they are clearly frivolous on the basis of the existing record.'" Johnson v. United States, 294 F. App'x 709, 710 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting United States v. Thomas, 221 F.3d 430, 437 (3d Cir. 2000)). The district court, however, without further investigation may dispose of "vague and conclusory allegations contained in a § 2255 petition." Id.

Under § 2255, a federal prisoner in custody may move the court which imposed the sentence to vacate, set aside or correct the sentence upon the ground that the 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, or is otherwise subject to collateral attack.

28 U.S.C. § 2255(a). In Hill v. United States, 368 U.S. 424 (1962), the Supreme Court of the United States read the statute as stating four grounds upon which relief can be claimed:

(1) "that the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States," (2) "that the court was without jurisdiction to impose such sentence," (3) "that the sentence was in excess of the maximum authorized by law," and (4) that the sentence "is otherwise subject to collateral attack."

Id. at 426-27 (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a)).

The statute provides as a remedy for a sentence imposed in violation of law that "the court shall vacate and set the judgment aside and shall discharge the prisoner or resentence him or grant a new trial or correct the sentence as may appear appropriate." 28 U.S.C. § 2255(b). For this remedy to be appropriate for a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, there must be a "showing that counsel made errors so serious that counsel was not functioning as the "counsel" guaranteed the defendant by the Sixth Amendment." Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984).

The burden is on the petitioner to establish such a claim and requires a petitioner to prove: (1) deficient representation, meaning that counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness, and (2) prejudice, meaning there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different. Id. at 687, 694.

III. Discussion

Matthews makes numerous allegations, all of which suggest "that the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States." § 2255(a). Most of the allegations are vague and conclusory and can be disposed of without further investigation. See Johnson, 294 F. App'x at 710. Other issues must be given consideration. All the issues that can be considered may be grouped into two categories: (1) ineffective assistance of counsel and (2) prosecutor misconduct. Each of these categories will be dealt with in turn.

A.Ineffective Assistance ...

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