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State. v. Limehouse

United States District Court, Third Circuit

July 23, 2013

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
JERRICK BART LIMEHOUSE Defendant. Criminal Action No. 08-223

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

J. CURTIS JOYNER, J.

This case is now before the Court on Defendant/Petitioner’s Habeas Corpus Motion Under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (Doc. No. 75) and the Government’s Response thereto (Doc. No. 79). For the reasons set forth below, the Petitioner’s Motion will be denied.

I. BACKGROUND

On April 22, 2008, a grand jury returned a criminal indictment against Jerrick Limehouse (“Limehouse” or “the Petitioner”). The indictment charged him with three counts. Count One was for conspiracy in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371; Counts Two and Three were for possession of a firearm or ammunition by a convicted felon in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g). On June 17, 2008, attorney Jeffrey Azzarano was appointed to represent Limehouse.

Mr. Azzarano negotiated a plea agreement with the Government (Doc. No. 27), and on December 10, 2008, Limehouse pled guilty to Count Two (Doc. No. 29). In concession for dropping Counts One and Three of the indictment, Limehouse pled guilty to Count Two and agreed not to contest that he had three prior convictions that constituted predicate offenses under the Armed Career Criminal Act (“ACCA”), 18 U.S.C. § 924(e). (Transcript at 6-14, Doc. No. 55). Limehouse stated that he wished to plead guilty and that he was happy with his attorney, and this Court accepted his guilty plea as knowing, voluntary, and intelligent. (Id. at 20-21, 34).

Soon after he pled guilty, Limehouse wrote to the Court that he wished to withdraw his guilty plea. On January 7, 2009, the Court held a hearing, where Limehouse claimed that he was dissatisfied with the terms of the guilty plea and Mr. Azzarano’s representation. This Court granted his motion to withdraw his guilty plea. (Doc. No. 35). Limehouse also requested new counsel, and the Court appointed attorney Stephen Britt to represent Limehouse going forward, replacing Mr. Azzarano.

Trial was scheduled for August 18, 2009. Instead, Limehouse pled guilty on that date to Counts One, Two and Three of the indictment without a negotiated plea agreement. (Doc. Nos. 51, 54). Limehouse reserved his right to challenge the applicability of the ACCA. Limehouse confirmed that he wished to plead guilty pursuant to an open plea, without a plea agreement, and that he was satisfied with the legal representation provided by Mr. Britt. (Transcript at 8, Doc. No. 56). The Court accepted his guilty plea as knowing, voluntary, and intelligent. (Id. at 26).

Sentencing was scheduled for November 19, 2009. The Government’s Presentence Investigation Report indicated that Limehouse had three convictions that qualified as predicate offenses under the ACCA: 1) a 1990 Pennsylvania state conviction for possession of narcotics with intent to deliver (“PWID”); 2) a 1991 Pennsylvania state conviction for PWID; and 3) a 1998 Pennsylvania state burglary conviction. (Doc. No. 61). Mr. Britt filed a sentencing memorandum on behalf of Limehouse where he conceded that the 1998 burglary conviction was a predicate offense, but challenged the two PWID convictions. (Doc. No. 57). At the sentencing hearing, Mr. Britt argued that it was not clear that the 1991 PWID conviction constituted a “serious drug offense” under the ACCA; however, the Court overruled his objections. Mr. Britt withdrew his objections to the 1990 PWID conviction. (Transcript at 9, Doc. No. 71). The Court imposed a sentence of 60 months on Count One, and 216 months on Counts Two and Three, which were merged for the purposes of sentencing; the sentences on Count One and on Counts Two and Three were to run concurrently for a total sentence of 216 months. (Doc. No. 67). The Court also imposed a term of supervised release, a fine, and a special assessment. (Id.).

Mr. Britt filed a timely appeal on behalf of Limehouse, alleging various errors at sentencing, including the determination that the 1991 PWID conviction was a serious drug offense. On July 29, 2010, the Third Circuit affirmed this Court’s judgment. (Doc. No. 72). Limehouse’s conviction became final on October 27, 2010.

On March 8, 2013, Limehouse filed a pro se Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. (Doc. No. 75). In the Motion, Limehouse argues that he received ineffective assistance of counsel at the plea bargaining stage and at the sentencing stage. The Government responded to his Motion on April 12, 2013. (Doc. No. 79).

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Section 2255 of Title 28 of the United States Code provides an avenue for individuals in federal custody to challenge their sentences. To succeed in such a challenge, a petitioner must demonstrate 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).

The Petitioner’s constitutional claims stem from alleged Sixth Amendment violations. The Supreme Court of the United States has long recognized that the right to counsel under the Sixth Amendment and the Due Process Clauses is crucial to protecting the fundamental constitutional guarantee of a fair trial. See Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 684-85 (1984). In order to establish that counsel’s assistance was ineffective, a petitioner must meet both elements of the two-pronged test established in Strickland. First, a petitioner must show that counsel’s performance was deficient. Id. at 687. He must establish that counsel not only erred, but that counsel’s errors were considerable enough to undermine the proceedings to such an extent that the outcome cannot be considered fair and reliable. Id. Second, a petitioner must also establish that counsel’s actions prejudiced the defendant. Id. at 687. “Not every ‘error by counsel, even if professionally unreasonable . . . warrant[s] setting aside the judgment of a criminal proceeding.’” Rainey v. Varner, 603 F.3d 189, 197 (3d Cir. 2010) (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 691). “The defendant must show that there is 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.

As to the Petitioner’s claimed sentencing errors, “a defendant who fails to object to errors at sentencing and subsequently attempts to raise them on direct appeal must demonstrate cause and prejudice for that failure. . . . [The] cause and prejudice standard applies to § 2255 proceedings in which a petitioner seeks relief from alleged errors in connection with his sentence that he has not directly appealed.” UnitedStates v. Essig, 10 F.3d 968, 979 (3d Cir. 1993) (superseded by rule in non-relevant part) (internal quotations omitted); see also United States v. Mannino, 212 F.3d 835, 839 (3d Cir. 2000). “In procedural default cases, the cause standard requires the petitioner to show that some objective factor external to the defense impeded counsel's efforts to ...


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