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United States v. Stephens

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

April 23, 2018



          STENGEL, JUDGE.

         On December 6, 2012 a jury convicted Reginald Stephens of three counts of drug-related charges and two charges arising under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act ("RICO")- On November 14, 2013, Stephens was sentenced to 300 months' imprisonment and five years' supervised release, with a $2, 000 fine and a $500 special assessment. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed Mr. Stephens' conviction and sentence. U.S. v. Stephens, 612 Fed.Appx. 107 (3d Cir. 2015). Defendant filed a timely pro se motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his conviction and sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. (Doc. No. 896.) On April 18, 2016, the government filed a response in opposition (Doc. No. 921) and on May 31, 2016 petitioner filed a reply (Doc. No. 932). For the reasons discussed below, petitioner's motion is denied in its entirety without an evidentiary hearing.

         I. Background

         The pertinent factual background is summarized by the Third Circuit's opinion addressing the appeal of Stephens' co-conspirator, Ramel Moten:

Moten was a leader of a violent gang known as the "Harlem Boys" or "Young Hit Men" that sold narcotics for nine years in the Bartram Village Housing Development ("Bartram Village") located in Southwest Philadelphia. From about October 2001 through approximately October 6, 2010, the Harlem Boys controlled the illegal drug trade in Bartram Village, and, for most of that time, Terrance Hamm ran the street-level operations of the enterprise, which trafficked in crack cocaine, marijuana, and prescription drugs. Hamm would obtain bulk quantities of drugs from various sources of supply, prepare the drugs for sale, and distribute them himself and through a network of street-level drug dealers. He and his coconspirators used their residences and other houses or apartments located in or near Bartram Village to store, cook, package, and sell crack cocaine, and to store drug proceeds, firearms, and ammunition.
Around April 2007, after several search warrants were executed in Bartram Village, Hamm stepped back from his involvement in the organization's criminal activity. After that, Moten became the leader of the Harlem Boys. Hamm, however, later resumed his drug trafficking activities and continued to obtain, supply, and sell crack in and around Bartram Village.
Even before assuming a leadership role, Moten was a supplier and distributor of illegal narcotics and a gunman for the enterprise. He committed acts of violence with other members of the enterprise to protect their turf and frequently provided firearms to his co-conspirators for use in robberies, assaults, and other crimes. Merrell Hobbs, Reginald Stephens, Bryan Hill, Warren Stokes, Hikeem Torrence, Omar Roane, Damon Turner, Allen Parker, Tayale Shelton, Shyheem Davis, and Anthony Freeman, were also distributors of illegal narcotics and gunmen for the enterprise. Khalil Allen, Andre Tiller, Kareem Pittman, and Carol Miles were distributors of illegal narcotics. Terrance Hamm's brother Charles was a supplier of cocaine to the enterprise and a distributor of illegal narcotics; he also was responsible for the New Jersey drug sales of the enterprise. Kareem Pittman, Melika Parker, and Roneisha Scott maintained premises used by the enterprise to manufacture, package, store, and sell drugs, and to store guns.
Members of the enterprise committed, attempted, and threatened to commit acts of violence, including murder, assault, and robbery, to protect and expand the enterprise's operations. While some acts of violence occurred prior to April 2007, the violence intensified in the years following Terrance Hamm's reduced role and Moten's elevated role in the gang.

U.S v. Moten. 617 Fed.Appx. 186, 188-89 (3d Cir. 2015). Stephens was charged in the 89-count superseding indictment with the following charges: conspiracy to participate in a racketeering enterprise (count 1) in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1962(d); conspiracy to distribute 280 grams of cocaine base (crack) and marijuana (count 2) in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1)(A), 841(b)(1)(D), and 846; carjacking (count 4) in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2119; carrying and using a firearm during a violent crime (count 5) in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c); possession with the intent to distribute marijuana (count 13) in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(D); and possession with the intent to distribute cocaine base (crack) (counts 19 and 20) in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(C).[1]

         II. Standard of Review

         "Motions pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 are the presumptive means by which federal prisoners can challenge their convictions or sentences that are allegedly in violation of the Constitution." Okereke v. United States, 307 F.3d 117, 120 (3d Cir. 2002). Section 2255 permits a prisoner sentenced by a federal court to move the court that imposed the sentence to "vacate, set aside, or correct the sentence" where: (1) the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States; (2) the court was without jurisdiction to impose such sentence; (3) the sentence was in excess of the maximum authorized by law; or (4) the sentence is otherwise subject to collateral attack. See 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a).

         Section 2255(b) provides the procedure for reviewing the motion:

Unless the motion and the files and records of the case conclusively show that the prisoner is entitled to no relief, the court shall cause notice thereof to be served upon the United States attorney, grant a prompt hearing thereon, determine the issues and make findings of fact and conclusions of law with respect thereto. If the court finds that the judgment was rendered without jurisdiction, or that the sentence imposed was not authorized by law or otherwise open to collateral attack, or 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, 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.

28U.S.C. § 2255(b).

         The district court is given discretion in determining whether to hold an evidentiary hearing on a prisoner's motion under § 2255. See Gov't of the Virgin Islands v. Forte, 865 F.2d 59, 62 (3d Cir. 1989); see also 28 U.S.C. § 2255, R. 8(a). In exercising that discretion, the court must decide whether the prisoner's claims, if proven, would entitle him to relief and then consider whether an evidentiary hearing is needed to determine the truth of the allegations. See Gov't of the Virgin Islands v. Weatherwax, 20 F.3d 572, 574 (3d. Cir. 1994). Accordingly, a district court may summarily dismiss a motion brought under ยง 2255 without a hearing where the "motion, files, and records, 'show conclusively that the ...

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