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United States v. Bell

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

September 20, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
ROBERTA RONIQUE BELL, Defendant

          MEMORANDUM

          WILLIAM W. CALDWELL, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         I. Introduction

         In January 1996, defendant, Roberta Ronique Bell, was found guilty by a jury of obstruction of justice by tampering with a witness by murder and by tampering with a witness by use of physical force and threats. She was sentenced to life imprisonment, and is currently an inmate at the federal correctional institution in Dublin, California. Bell has filed a counseled motion under Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b)(6) for relief from judgment, seeking to reopen her 28 U.S.C. § 2255 proceedings for the purpose of having the convictions vacated. In the alternative, she seeks relief by way of a petition for a writ of audita querela.

         Bell's filing is prompted by Arthur Andersen LLP v. United States, 544 U.S. 696, 125 S.Ct. 2129, 161 L.Ed.2d 1008 (2005), and Fowler v. United States, 563 U.S. 668, 131 S.Ct. 2045, 179 L.Ed.2d 1099 (2011), both decided after her 2255 motion was denied. She argues these cases decriminalized the conduct that was the basis of her convictions. She points out that Willie Tyler, a co-conspirator, successfully used these decisions to vacate his convictions on the same offenses. See United States v. Tyler, 732 F.3d 241 (3d Cir. 2013), and United States v. Tyler, 35 F.Supp.3d 650 (M.D. Pa. 2014).

         We do not reach the merits of Bell's claims because we agree with the government that Bell must pursue them in a petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2241. We lack jurisdiction over such a petition because Bell must file it in the district of her confinement and where her custodian is located, the United States District Court for the Northern District of California. We will therefore dismiss this motion without prejudice to Bell's filing a 2241 petition in that judicial district.

         II. Background

         On April 21, 1992, Doreen Proctor was murdered in Adams County, Pennsylvania. Proctor was to be a witness later that day in a state-court drug trial against David Tyler, Willie Tyler's brother. In July 1992, Bell was arrested and charged under state law with Proctor's murder. Others charged and arrested were David Tyler, Willie Tyler, Jerome King, David King, and Mary Hodge.

         Bell was tried in Adams County for criminal homicide and related offenses. In April 1993, she was acquitted of all charges. Federal authorities then conducted their own investigation of the Proctor homicide, leading to the filing of federal charges against Bell and Willie Tyler. Bell and Tyler were prosecuted separately.[1]

         In January 1996, Bell was found guilty by a jury of the following offenses: (1) conspiracy, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371 (Count I); (2) tampering with a witness by murder, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1512(a)(1)(A) and (C) (Count III); (3) tampering with a witness by use of physical force and threats, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1512(b)(1), (2), and (3) (Count IV); and (4) using a firearm to commit a crime of violence, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1) (Count V).[2]

         On September 16, 1996, before she was sentenced, Bell filed a motion to vacate under section 2255. (Doc. 86). On September 24, 1996, the motion was dismissed (Doc. 90), based upon being premature. (Doc. 133, Bell's Motion for Relief from Judgment ¶ 10). On September 30, 1996, Bell was sentenced to life imprisonment, consisting of a term of five years on Count I, life imprisonment on Count III, ten years on Count IV, to run concurrently with each other, and ten years on Count V, to run consecutively to the term imposed on Count III. (Doc. 92).

         Her convictions were upheld on direct appeal. See United States v. Bell, 113 F.3d 1345 (3d Cir. 1997). In November 1998, Bell filed a pro se motion under section 2255. It raised the following grounds for relief:

1. Ineffective assistance of counsel: "[Trial counsel] showed a total lack of devotion to defendant's interests, he had very little contact with the defendant, he failed to send an investigator, and he failed to request a continuance when, due to the weather, we were told that there was a shortage of jurors. (Please see attachment)”
2. Double jeopardy: "The Constitution states that a person shall not be twice put in jeopardy of life of limb (sic) for for (sic) the same offense."
3. Due Process: "Trooper Graham tampered with evidence and manufactured notes containing incriminating evidence against the defendant. He misled the court."
4. Vindictive Prosecution: "I was reprosecuted because the lead investigator was angry about having to take the stand at my first trial as my rebuttal witness, therefore rebutting his whole case against me."

(Doc. 114, ECF pp. 4-5). By order dated February 1, 1999, we denied the motion. We rejected the first and third grounds for relief because they were conclusory. We rejected the second ground for relief because it had already been decided adversely to Bell. We rejected the fourth ground for relief because, in part, Bell did not show why it could not have been raised in the original criminal proceedings. (Doc. 117, ECF pp. 3-4). Bell did not seek a certificate of appealability from the Third Circuit. (Doc. 133, Def.'s Rule 60(b) motion ¶ 18).

         Thereafter, Bell did not seek any further relief from her convictions except that in June 2016 she sought permission from the Third Circuit to file a second 2255 motion challenging her conviction on Count V under Johnson v. United States, U.S., 135 S.Ct. 2551, 192 L.Ed.2d 569 (2015). In re Bell, No. 16-2758 (3d Cir.). And in the same ...


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