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United States v. White

United States District Court, Third Circuit

October 30, 2013

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
MARCUS WHITE Civil Action No. 13-1851

MEMORANDUM OPINION

PETRESE B. TUCKER, Chief District Judge.

Presently before the Court is Defendant Marcus White's Habeas Corpus Petition to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (Doc. 163) and the Government's Response (Doc. 166). Upon consideration of the parties' motions with briefs and exhibits, and for the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion will be denied.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Marcus White ("White" or "Petitioner") filed the instant pro se Motion to Vacate, Set Aside or Correct Sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, alleging violation of his due process rights.[1] On April 26, 2011, a grand jury in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania returned a superseding indictment of Marcus White, charging him with the following: one count of conspiracy, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371; one count of conspiracy to commit robbery which interferes with interstate commerce, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1951 (the "Hobbs Act"); one count of robbery of a postal employee, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2114; two counts of Hobbs Act robbery, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1951(a); three counts of carrying and using a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c); and two counts of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g). On July 11, 2011, a jury trial commenced, and on July 14, 2011 the jury found Petitioner guilty on all ten counts of the superseding indictment. On November 1, 2011, this Court sentenced Petitioner to 804 months imprisonment, five years supervised release, a $1, 000 assessment, and $95, 816.66 in restitution.

Petitioner's motion stems from the July 11, 2011 suppression hearing testimony of Maryland State Police ("MSP") Trooper Andre Butler ("Trooper Butler"). Trooper Butler, a police officer stationed at the College Park Barrack in Prince George's County, was on duty on June 2, 2010 - the day of the traffic stop leading to Petitioner's arrest. According to Trooper Butler, as he was patrolling near Highway I-95, he passed a silver Kia minivan, driven by Petitioner, [2] which bore a Pennsylvania license plate. At that time, Butler's police car was equipped with a License Plate Reader ("LPR"). The Maryland License Plate Reader program is a first-in-the-nation statewide network for license plate recognition, which was established as a crime prevention initiative. The program uses cameras and computers to scan vehicle license plates and match those plates against databases of stolen vehicles, wanted persons, and other law enforcement databases. The Maryland Coordination and Analysis Center's ("MCAC") central server currently houses LPR data, allowing state law enforcement to retrieve data from the network.[3]

As Trooper Butler drove by the vehicle, he allegedly received a stolen vehicle alert via his car's LPR. Trooper Butler subsequently verified through the MSP College Park Barrack that the vehicle had been reported stolen in Pennsylvania. Thereafter, he initiated a traffic stop. During the traffic stop, the following evidence was discovered in the car: (i) a black backpack containing Petitioner's prison/parole document, (ii) a red plastic bag which contained various postal and Western Union money orders from Turkey Hill mini markets, and (iii) a handgun contained in a locked box under the front seat. Maryland law enforcement then reached out to the Lower Pottsgrove Township (Pennsylvania) Police Department and the relevant Pennsylvania postal inspectors, who traveled to Maryland and retrieved the seized evidence. Subsequently, at the suppression hearing, the Court denied Petitioner's motion to suppress on the grounds that the information received from the LPR provided probable cause for the stop of the vehicle. The evidence found in the vehicle formed the basis for Petitioner's conviction.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

A federal prisoner in custody under the sentence of a federal court may, within one year from when the judgment becomes final, move the sentencing court to "vacate, set aside, or correct" a sentence "imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a). In a § 2255 motion, a federal prisoner may attack his sentence on any of the following grounds: (1) "that the judgment was rendered without jurisdiction;" (2) "that the sentence imposed was not authorized by law or otherwise open to collateral attack;" or (3) "that there has been such a denial or infringement of the Constitutional rights of the prisoner as to render the judgment vulnerable to collateral attack." 28 U.S.C. § 2255(b).

Section 2255, however, does not afford a remedy for all errors that may have been made at trial or sentencing. United States v. Essig , 10 F.3d 968, 977 n. 25 (3d Cir.1993) (citing United States v. Addonizio , 442 U.S. 178, 99 S.Ct. 2235, 60 L.Ed.2d 805 (1979)). Rather, § 2255 permits habeas relief for an error of law or fact constituting a "fundamental defect which inherently results in a complete miscarriage of justice." United States v. Eakman , 378 F.3d 294, 298 (3d Cir.2004). If the court determines that the sentence was not authorized by law, was unconstitutional, or otherwise open to collateral attack, the court must vacate the judgment, resentence the prisoner, or grant the prisoner a new trial as appropriate. See 28 U.S.C. § 2255(b). Conversely, a court may dismiss a §2255 motion where the record shows conclusively that the movant is not entitled to relief. United States v. Nahodil , 36 F.3d 323, 326 (3d Cir.1994).

Further, the Court notes that pro se pleadings are traditionally construed quite liberally. However, a pro se petitioner is not excused from the duty to prove a "set of facts in support of [his] claim which would entitle [him] to relief." Haines v. Kerner , 404 U.S. 519, 521, 92 S.Ct. 594, 30 L.Ed.2d 652 (1972).

III. DISCUSSION

A. Petitioner's Asserted Grounds for Relief and the Government's Response

Petitioner's motion is based on four grounds: (1) The conviction was based on evidence obtained from an unlawful arrest; (2) The Government violated his constitutional rights by knowingly offering the perjurious testimony of Trooper Butler at the suppression hearing; (3) The conviction was obtained by use of evidence gained as a result of an unlawful search and seizure;[4] and (4) Defense counsel was ineffective for not investigating the LPR which led to Petitioner being stopped by the Maryland State Police. A review of Petitioner's submission reveals that each of his asserted grounds for relief is based on the same claim: that his constitutional rights were violated because the Government suborned perjury in the form of MSP Trooper Butler's testimony that his attention was drawn to Petitioner when his LPR alerted that the car Petitioner was driving had been reported stolen. Specifically, Petitioner avers that Trooper Butler's LPR could only identify stolen cars from the Maryland area, and thus he presented perjured testimony by testifying that his LPR recognized a vehicle that was reported stolen in Pennsylvania.

In support of his claim, Petitioner presents a January 24, 2013 letter, written on Maryland State Police stationery, that he received from Sergeant John Pietanza ("Sergeant Pietanza") of the College Park Barrack (Pet'r's Mot. Ex. 3 at 5.) Petitioner received this letter as a result of an information request he made pursuant to Maryland's Public Information Act. In this letter, Sergeant Pietanza states, "The MCAC program began in March of 2010. The MCAC central server houses LPR data from Maryland law enforcement agencies and is not nationwide. " (Id.) (emphasis added). Based on this letter, Petitioner argues that Trooper Butler did not have probable cause to stop the vehicle because his ...


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