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United States v. Curtis

March 22, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Edgar


The defendant, William Curtis Jr. ("Curtis"), has filed a motion to vacate, set aside, or correct sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 [Court File No.1]. For the reasons which follow, the Court has determined a hearing is not necessary and concludes that the § 2255 motion lacks merit and will be DENIED. Curtis is not entitled to relief under § 2255.

I. Procedural Background

On March 25, 2003, a United States grand jury sitting for the Eastern District of Tennessee, Chattanooga Division, returned a six-count indictment charging Curtis, Patricia McCurry, Patrick McCurry, and Charles Dove, Jr., with various drug trafficking offenses. On April 8, 2003, a thirteen-count superseding indictment was filed which named six more individuals, added seven additional counts to the indictment, as well as forfeiture allegations. Curtis was charged with four counts of various drug trafficking offenses. Curtis was charged in Count One with conspiracy to distribute in excess of 500 grams of methamphetamine in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 846 and 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(A). Count Two of the indictment charged that Curtis, Patricia McCurry, Patrick McCurry, and Scott Curtis, aided and abetted by each other, possessed with the intent to distribute in excess of 50 grams of methamphetamine, a Schedule II controlled substance in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(B) and Title 18 U.S.C. § 2. Curtis was charged in Count Three, along with co-defendant Scott Curtis, with possession of a firearm in furtherance of the drug trafficking crimes reflected in Counts One and Two of the superseding indictment in violation of 18 U.S.C. §924(c). Count Four of the indictment charged Curtis with possessing chemicals and equipment for the purpose of manufacturing methamphetamine in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 843(a)(6). On the day the trial was to begin, Curtis pleaded guilty to all four counts of the superseding indictment in which he was named. The Presentence Investigation Report ("PSR") reflects Curtis pleaded guilty on October 14, 2003, without the benefit of a plea agreement.

On January 12, 2004, Curtis was sentenced to a total term of 181 months imprisonment--121 months on Counts One and Two and a term of 120 months on Count Four to be served concurrently. The Court also imposed a term of imprisonment of 60 months on Count Three, to be served consecutively to the terms imposed in Counts One, Two, and Four. Curtis did not take a direct appeal from the judgment of conviction. Curtis'§ 2255 motion attacking counsel's effectiveness, the sufficiency of the evidence, and the constitutionality of his sentence was timely filed on or about December 21, 2004.*fn1

II. Standard of Review

This Court must vacate and set aside the sentence if it 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, . . ." 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Under Rule 4 of the Governing Rules, the Court is to consider initially whether the face of the motion itself, together with the annexed exhibits and prior proceedings in the case, reveals the movant is not entitled to relief. If it plainly appears the movant is not entitled to relief, the Court may summarily dismiss the § 2255 motion under Rule 4.

When a defendant files a § 2255 motion, he must set forth facts which entitle him to relief. Green v. Wingo, 454 F.2d 52, 53 (6th Cir. 1972); O'Malley v. United States, 285 F.2d 733, 735 (6th Cir. 1961). "Conclusions, not substantiated by allegations of fact with some probability of verity, are not sufficient to warrant a hearing." O'Malley, 285 F.2d at 735 (citations omitted). A motion that merely states general conclusions of law without substantiating allegations with facts is without legal merit. Loum v. Underwood, 262 F.2d 866, 867 (6th Cir. 1959); United States v. Johnson, 940 F. Supp. 167, 171 (W.D. Tenn. 1996).

To warrant relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 because of constitutional error, the error must be one of constitutional magnitude which had a substantial and injurious effect or influence on the proceedings. Brecht v. Abrahamson, 507 U.S. 619, 637 (1993) (citation omitted)(§ 2254 case); Clemmons v. Sowders, 34 F.3d 352, 354 (6th Cir. 1994); see also United States v. Cappas, 29 F.3d 1187, 1193 (7th Cir. 1994)(applying Brecht to a § 2255 motion). If the sentencing court lacked jurisdiction, then the conviction is void and must be set aside. Williams v. United States, 582 F.2d 1039, 1041 (6th Cir.), cert. denied, 439 U.S. 988 (1978). To warrant relief for a non-constitutional error requires a showing of a fundamental defect in the proceeding that resulted in a complete miscarriage of justice or an egregious error inconsistent with the rudimentary demands of fair procedure. Reed v. Farley, 512 U.S. 339, 354 (1994); Grant v. United States, 72 F.3d 503, 506 (6th Cir.), cert. denied, 517 U.S. 1200 (1996).

Further, a § 2255 motion is not a substitute for a direct appeal and it cannot do service for an appeal. Bousley v. United States, 523 U.S. 614, 621 (1998); United States v. Timmreck, 441 U.S. 780, 784 (1979); Grant v. United States, 72 F.3d at 506; United States v. Walsh, 733 F.2d 31, 35 (6th Cir. 1984). Thus, Curtis cannot use a § 2255 motion to litigate the issues that should have been presented and decided on direct appeal unless cause is shown for the tardy challenge and "actual prejudice" resulting from the error is demonstrated, United States v. Frady, 456 U.S. 152, 167-68 (1982), or Curtis shows that he is actually innocent of the crime. See Bousley v. United States, 523 U.S. at 622. Issues which are presented and considered on direct appeal cannot be litigated again in a § 2255 proceeding absent exceptional circumstances or an intervening change in the law. Wright v. United States, 182 F.3d 458, 467 (6th Cir. 1999); Jones v. United States, 178 F.3d 790, 796 (6th Cir.), cert. denied, 528 U.S. 933 (1999); Oliver v. United States, 90 F.3d 177, 180 (6th Cir. 1996); DuPont v. United States, 76 F.3d 108, 110-11 (6th Cir. 1996).

III. Facts

The following pertinent facts are taken from the PSR prepared by the United States Probation Office:

18. In early 2003, Bradley County, Tennessee Drug Task (DTF) officers and agents with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) began an investigation of methamphetamine trafficking into the area by Patricia and Patrick McCurry. DTF had received information that Patricia McCurry was a major distributor of methamphetamine in Bradley County. Patricia McCurry used her husband, Patrick McCurry to make deliveries on her behalf. She also used customer Charles "Bobby" Dove to do some work for her, such as deliveries. During the course of the investigation, as participants were arrested and cooperated, several other individuals were found to be involved in the distribution of methamphetamine, including sources Mike Davis and William "Bill" Curtis, and David Conley. Mike Davis, the main supplier to this group at one time, utilized Scott Curtis for assistance. Davis's main supplier was Lavonda Goforth, who used her husband, Chris, to make deliveries for her.

19. At the onset of the investigation, DTF developed a Confidential Informant (CI) who then made two undercover controlled buys of methamphetamine from Patricia McCurry. (About the same time another CI made an undercover buy of methamphetamine from Bobby Dove.) Following the two undercover buys (amounts unknown), DEA agents served a federal search warrant at the home of Patricia and Patrick McCurry, Cook Road, on March 1, 2003. Present when agents entered the home were: Patricia McCurry, Patrick McCurry, Bill Curtis, and Scott Curtis. Recovered during the search were: 400 grams of methamphetamine, $1,000 in cash, a loaded Winchester shotgun, a Marlin .22 caliber rifle, police scanner, digital scales, and drug paraphernalia. The weapons were located in a bedroom closet while the drugs and drug related paraphernalia were located in the kitchen. (Agents later learned that the weapons were the property of another individual, not involved in the drug offense, who had brought his vehicle to the McCurry's home to be worked on my Patrick after it had broken down. The weapons were in the car and they were removed and placed in the bedroom closet for safe-keeping, where officers found them.) The vehicle driven by Bill Curtis was also searched at the McCurry's home. Inside the 1996 Pathfinder, officers located a loaded Inter-Arms .380 caliber semi-automatic handgun and a quantity of plastic bags. Patricia and Patrick McCurry both made voluntary statements at the time of their arrests.

20. Also, on March 1, 2003, a state search warrant was executed at the home of Bobby Dove, based upon the undercover drug buy made by a Confidential Informant. Located in the residence was an eightball of methamphetamine and a small quantity of marijuana. Dove was arrested and made a voluntary statement.

21. On March 1, 2003, the home of Bill Curtis in Bradley County was searched after officers obtained a state search warrant. Located at the residence was equipment and chemicals used to manufacture methamphetamine, including: muriatic acid, glassware, tubing, red phosphorus, Coleman fuel, coffee filters, and other equipment. Agents found written instructions on how to make methamphetamine. A small quantity of marijuana was also located in the residence.

22. On March 21, 2003, officers served a state search warrant at the home of Mike Davis in Bradley County, Tennessee. The search warrant was based upon CI information obtained during the investigation. At Davis's home, officers found a one-quarter ounce quantity of methamphetamine. Davis made a voluntary statement when arrested. He told officers that he dealt in large quantities of methamphetamine, and that his source, Lavonda Goforth was in North Georgia. He agreed to cooperate and made a recorded phone call to Lavonda Goforth. During the call, Davis asked to purchase a pound of methamphetamine. Lavonda Goforth stated that she could not get her hands on that much because her "boys were on spring break," but she would send her husband (Chris) with eight ounces. Chris Goforth later arrived at Davis' house. He first entered the house and spoke with Davis. He then returned to the vehicle for the drugs. Seated in the car was Bruce Mantooth, who did not exit the vehicle. Chris Goforth returned to the house where he delivered about eight ounces to Davis, and he was arrested. On Chris Goforth, officers found about one and one-half ounces of methamphetamine, $1,200 in cash, and a loaded .22 caliber North American Arms revolver. A search of Goforth's vehicle, produced 29 rounds of rifle ammunition, and a CCI brand .22 caliber round on the dashboard. There was also white powder from the methamphetamine bag, which had a hole in it, on the passenger's seat, where Bruce Mantooth had been seated. (Mantooth is charged in the Indictment; however, the government is dismissing charges against him, as the evidence does not show that he was involved in the drug distribution conspiracy.) The wife of Chris Goforth, Lavonda Goforth, later turned herself in. Their home was not searched.

23. Davis then agreed to place a call to Scott Curtis (who was present at the McCurry's when the home was searched), to set up a sale of methamphetamine. Davis called Scott Curtis and said that he had two ounces to sell. When Scott Curtis showed up at Davis' house to buy the methamphetamine, he was arrested. At that time, Scott Curtis agreed to cooperate, and he placed a call to David Conley, another source of methamphetamine, for the group. Scott Curtis told David Conley that he was going to pick up some methamphetamine, and asked "Could he get any for Conley?" Conley told him to "get all you can," and they agreed to meet about 45 minutes later. When Conley arrived to pick up the methamphetamine, he was arrested. In Conley's vehicle, officers found: a loaded Kel-Tec 9mm semiautomatic handgun, and a loaded .22 caliber North American Arms revolver. Conley gave a voluntary statement at the time of his arrest and agreed to cooperate, and provide information on a source of methamphetamine in Bradley County. However, this source turned out to be an already cooperating federal defendant, Matt Gee.

24. When Mike Davis was arrested, he waived his rights and made a voluntary statement. Davis stated that he dealt in one-half pound quantities of methamphetamine in Bradley County, which he was receiving from Lavonda Goforth, for a total of about five pounds. He has provided a proffer statement to the government which supported his initial statement. However, after his initial statement, Mr. Davis has tried to mitigate his criminal behavior in this case. The government believes that the defendant has not been honest as to his criminal conduct in this case, and does not believe that the defendant would make a credible witness.

25. The drug amount that should be attributed to William Curtis, Jr. comes from co-defendant statements and other information gained by investigators. This information easily supports the defendant's guilty plea of distributing five to fifteen PSR at 5-7.

At the January 12, 2004 sentencing hearing, the Court found that defendant's criminal history category was I. Curtis' total offense level was 34. Curtis' offense level of 34, combined with his criminal history category of I, resulted in a sentencing range of 211 to 248 months imprisonment. The United States filed a motion pursuant to ยง 5K1.1 based upon Curtis' substantial assistance. The Court granted the motion and sentenced petitioner below the Guideline ...

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