United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
GENE E.K. PRATTER, District Judge.
Following his conviction, sentencing, and denial of his direct appeal, Michael Matthews filed a motion pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 challenging his conviction and sentence. Mr. Matthews raises three grounds for habeas relief: (1) his counsel was ineffective for failing to cite United States v. Bennett, Criminal Action No. 08-535, 2010 WL 1427593 (E.D. Pa. Apr. 8, 2010), in arguing that the search of his backpack at the time of his arrest was unconstitutional; (2) his counsel was ineffective in advising him to go to trial rather than plead guilty; and (3) his counsel was ineffective in failing to object to the portion of his sentence under 18 U.S.C. § 924(c), even though that portion of his sentence exceeded five years. The Government has responded to the first two arguments, but did not address the third in its Opposition. Nonetheless, the Court finds that none of the three arguments affords Mr. Matthews an avenue for habeas relief and therefore will deny his motion.
On June 6, 2009, the manager of a check cashing store alerted police that several black males dressed in burkas, garments traditionally worn by Muslim women, had been loitering outside the store during business hours. Acting on the tip, the Philadelphia Police established surveillance outside the store, and on the morning of Friday, June 12, 2009, officers noticed two black males behaving suspiciously. The officers approached the men, one of whom was Michael Matthews.
As they questioned Mr. Matthews, the officers asked Mr. Matthews to place the backpack he was carrying on the ground and put his hands in the air, and he complied. After a pat-down search and a warrant check which revealed two active bench warrants, Mr. Matthews was placed under arrest. While Mr. Matthews was handcuffed and secured in the back seat of the police car, one of the officers opened his backpack and found a roll of duct tape, a pair of gloves, and a.22 caliber handgun. The officers then transported Mr. Matthews and his backpack to the police station for processing.
Months later, Mr. Matthews was charged with conspiracy to commit robbery, two counts of attempted robbery, carrying a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence, and possessing a firearm after conviction of a felony. Prior to trial, Mr. Matthews field a motion to suppress all physical evidence recovered from his backpack. After two hearings and two rounds of briefing, the Court denied the motion, reasoning that the backpack was searched pursuant to a valid inventory search or, alternatively, that the contents of the bag inevitably would have been discovered when the bag was inventoried at the police station. The case proceeded to trial, and the jury convicted Mr. Matthews of conspiracy, one count of attempted robbery, and both firearms charges. Mr. Matthews was sentenced to 192 months' imprisonment, although the Guidelines Range called for 360 months to life imprisonment for his crimes.
Mr. Matthews then appealed, challenging the admission of the backpack evidence. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed his conviction and sentence, holding that although the backpack was not searched pursuant to a valid inventory search, the bag's contents would have inevitably been discovered. See United States v. Matthews, 532 Fed.App'x 211 (3d Cir. 2013). Mr. Matthews now has filed a habeas petition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, essentially arguing that his trial counsel was ineffective. The Government opposes Mr. Matthews's motion.
Mr. Matthews raises three arguments in his motion: (1) his counsel was ineffective for failing to cite Bennett, 2010 WL 1427593, in arguing that the search of his backpack at the time of his arrest was unconstitutional; (2) his counsel was ineffective in advising him to go to trial rather than plead guilty; and (3) his counsel was ineffective in failing to object to the portion of his sentence under 18 U.S.C. § 924(c), even though that portion of his sentence exceeded five years.
Mr. Matthews's arguments must be measured against Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984). The legal standards articulated in Strickland are well-settled and straight forward. To succeed with his motion Mr. Matthews must show (1) that his lawyer's performance fell below an objective standard of reasonableness in the rendering of his professional duties, and (2) therefore, counsel's error(s) prejudiced Mr. Matthews in some demonstrable way. The burden placed upon the proponent of such a claim is a heavy one. Strickland, 466 U.S. at 689. Analytically, because failure to establish prejudice would make it unnecessary to evaluate the quality of counsel's services, the Court will first focus on the question of prejudice. McAleese v. Mazurkiewicz, 1 F.3d 159, 171 (3d Cir. 1993); United States v. Fulford, 825 F.2d 3, 8 (3d Cir. 1987).
A. Mr. Matthews's counsel was not ineffective for failing to cite Bennett .
Mr. Matthews's primary argument in his § 2255 motion is that his counsel was constitutionally ineffective when he failed to cite Bennett, 2010 WL 1427593, in arguing that the contents of his backpack should have been suppressed, both in this Court and before the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. Mr. Matthews calls Bennett the "leading case" in this Circuit on backpack searches. Unfortunately, Mr. Matthews fails to appreciate that Bennett is an unreported decision by another court in this district, which makes it, at most, persuasive authority, not binding authority, as Mr. Matthews endeavors to argue. "A decision of a federal district court judge is not binding precedent in either a different judicial district, the same judicial district, or even the same judge in a different case.'" Camreta v. Greene, 131 S.Ct. 2020, 2033 n.7 (2011) (quoting 18 J. Moore et al., Moore's Federal Practice § 134.02[d], p. 134-26 (3d ed.2011)) (emphasis added). Thus, even if Mr. Matthews's counsel had cited Bennett, neither this Court nor, certainly, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals was bound to follow that ruling.
Moreover, Bennett can easily be distinguished from Mr. Matthews's case. Bennett begins in much the same way as Mr. Matthews's case. In Bennett, the defendant was arrested, and after he was handcuffed but before he was transported to the police station, his backpack was searched. Bennett, 2010 WL 1427593, at *3. Prior to trial, Mr. Bennett moved to suppress the contents of that backpack because it was searched without a warrant. Id. at *5. At this point the two cases diverge. While in Mr. Matthews's case, the Government argued, among other things, that the contents of the backpack inevitably would have been discovered pursuant to routine procedures, and it presented during a hearing evidence of those procedures. See Matthews, 532 F.Appx. at 215-16 (outlining evidence presented by the Government in support of its policy for inventory searches). In contrast, the Bennett Court "received no evidence that, if the backpack had never been searched at the scene of Bennett's arrest, it inevitably would have been searched pursuant to established, routine police procedures. The Government did not submit evidence of any Philadelphia Police Department policy ...