United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT-PETITIONER'S MOTION UNDER
28 U.S.C. § 2255 TO VACATE, SET ASIDE, OR CORRECT
G. Edmunds, United States District Judge.
October 28, 2015, Defendant- Petitioner Cornelius Patton was
charged in a Superseding Indictment with Conspiracy to
Possess with Intent to Distribute Controlled Substances. (Dkt
#42). On February 29, 2016 Defendant entered a guilty plea,
pursuant to a Rule 11 plea agreement, to one count of
conspiracy to distribute cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C.
§ 841(a)(1) and § 846. On June 28, 2016, the Court
sentenced Defendant to a 60-month term of imprisonment. The
judgement was amended on June 30, 2016 for the purpose of
adding Defendant's date of birth and social security
number, and to specify that he would self-surrender to the
U.S. Marshal. On July 7, 2017, Defendant filed a timely
pro se motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his
sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, arguing that Defense
Counsel was ineffective. The Government filed a response on
October 3, 2017 (Dkt. # 184), and Defendant filed a reply on
November 20, 2017 (Dkt. # 193). For the reasons set forth
below, the Court DENIES Defendant's motion.
FACTS & PROCEDURAL POSTURE
January 30, 2015, Defendant was pulled over for tailgating
another vehicle on I-94 while passing through Van Buren
County, MI at approximately 12:20 PM. (Dkt. # 184-2, Pg ID
948-49; Dkt. # 193, Pg ID 1288-89). Defendant was the driver
of a vehicle owned by passenger and co-defendant Charles
Brown. The attending officer was Trooper John Moore of the
Michigan State Police ("MSP"). (Dkt. # 184-2, Pg ID
948). He detected a strong odor of air freshener coming from
the vehicle. Id. at Pg ID 949. Upon questioning,
Defendant informed Moore that passenger Brown and he were
returning from Chicago and heading toward Detroit. (Dkt.
#184-2, Pg ID 949). The details of their story, as to the
length of their stay, began to vary during Moore's
questioning from one week, to two days, to a day and a half.
Id.; Dkt. # 193, Pg ID 1294. Moore asked for
driver's licenses and registration and insurance
paperwork for the vehicle. (Dkt. # 184-2, Pg ID 949). Moore
noted that Defendant and Brown were nervous due to
Defendant's wide eyes, Defendant's excited demeanor,
and Brown's shaking hands while handing over car
insurance and registration documents. (Dkt. #193, Pg ID 1291;
Dkt. # 184-2, Pg ID 949). Moore further noted that, after
some time fumbling around the glovebox, Brown handed him an
incorrect insurance certificate for another vehicle and a
registration to the vehicle's previous owner. (Dkt. #
184-2, Pg ID 949; Dkt. # 193, Pg ID 1293). Moore also had to
approach the vehicle a second time to obtain Brown's
driver's license because he did not furnish it at first
request. Id. At a preliminary examination for the
initial state offenses, Moore described that both
parties' body language led him to believe that this was
not a "regular traffic stop." (Dkt. # 193, Pg ID
verifying the documents, Moore asked Defendant to exit the
vehicle for further questioning to clarify the
inconsistencies in the story about the Chicago trip and to
get an unbiased statement from Defendant. Id. at Pg
ID 1317, 1336. Moore testified that Defendant asked irregular
questions, such as, "Is this a regular traffic
stop?" and, "Why can't you just give me a
ticket?" (Dkt. # 184-2, Pg ID 950; Dkt. # 193, Pg ID
1296). Moore asked Defendant where his luggage was for his
trip, and he indicated that it was in the trunk. (Dkt. #
184-2, Pg ID 950). Moore then asked Defendant if he had
anything in the vehicle that was his, and Defendant said no.
Id. Moore requested and was denied consent to search
the vehicle. Id.; Dkt. # 193, Pg ID 1297. At the
preliminary examination, Moore testified that based on his
training and expertise, the inconsistencies in Defendant and
Brown's story, their unusually defiant demeanors,
Defendant's unusual questions, and the furnishing of
incorrect documents, he believed that criminal activity was
afoot. (Dkt. # 193, Pg ID 1296, 1328, 1332, 1341).
request by Moore, at around 12:30 PM, approximately ten
minutes after Moore stopped the vehicle, Trooper Michael
Sinke arrived at the scene with a K-9 unit (Dkt # 184-3, Pg
ID 957; Dkt. # 193, Pg ID 1336-37, 1354). Sinke arrived as
Moore was asking Brown to step out of the car for further
questioning. (Dkt. # 193, Pg ID 1298, 1354). Sinke and Canine
Murph conducted a free air sniff of the vehicle's
perimeter, and the dog gave a positive indication of
narcotics odor in the vehicle. (Dkt. # 184-2, Pg ID 950; Dkt.
# 184-3, Pg ID 957; Dkt. # 193, Pg ID 1299). Defendant and
Brown were then detained. (Dkt. # 184-2, Pg ID 948). A later
search of the vehicle revealed 2.5 kilograms of cocaine and
over 25 grams of heroin in a secret compartment inside the
vehicle. Id. Defendant and Brown were not issued a
traffic ticket or warning for the tailgating violation. (Dkt.
# 193, Pg ID 1306).
to the January 30, 2015 vehicle stop, MSP communicated with
agents at the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration
("DEA") regarding an ongoing, long-term DEA
investigation. (Dkt. # 184-4, Pg ID 959). Since August 2013,
DEA agents had been investigating Theodore Chandler, a
co-defendant in this case, and his drug trafficking
organization. (Dkt. # 184-5, Pg ID 963-64). In November 2013,
Chandler had negotiated the purchase of one kilogram of
heroin with a Homeland Security investigator, but Chandler
escaped before agents were able to arrest him. Id.
Kenyatta Hooks, the individual holding the money for this
transaction was arrested and found to be in possession of
$37, 500.00 as well as driving a vehicle outfitted with an
aftermarket hidden compartment. Id. at Pg ID 964.
DEA agents were also aware that Chandler had been intercepted
during court authorized wire taps discussing narcotics
trafficking with individuals in Colombia and Detroit.
days before Defendant's arrest, on January 28, 2015, a
confidential informant notified DEA agents that Chandler
planned to purchase a large quantity of cocaine in Phoenix,
AZ. Id. at Pg ID 965. The informant also reported
that a courier would transport the drugs in a car with a
secret compartment. Id. The informant had been used
by the DEA in the past, with his/her information furthering
investigations and prosecutions, and leading to seizures of
large amounts of drugs and currency. Id. The
informant's tip was corroborated by DEA agents'
findings on social media pages of individuals associated with
Chandler. Id. at Pg ID 965-66. Particularly, a known
associate of Chandler posted a photograph of the weather
forecast in Phoenix. Id. Agents also observed photos
of Defendant and other associates of Chandler holding large
amounts of U.S. currency. Id. at Pg ID 966. Other
posts included messages denoting travel to Arizona and a
photograph of the University of Phoenix Stadium. Id.
Through a video posted on an undercover Instagram account,
agents were able to identify the lobby of the Embassy Suites
Hotel in Phoenix, wherein agents were granted access to
review surveillance footage showing the front desk.
Id. at Pg ID 967. The footage depicted Defendant,
Hooks, and a third unidentified individual checking into the
hotel on January 26, 2015. Id.
administrative subpoena to obtain information on the
individuals who rented the hotel room led to the
identification of Roderic Graham of Southfield, Ml, with
phone number (248)-974-9258 used at check-in. Id.
The DEA was granted a search warrant for the location of this
phone, which had been in communication with another target
cellphone number believed to be used by Chandler. (Dkt.
#184-4, Pg ID 959). On January 30, 2015, at around 10:00 AM,
Detroit DEA agents reviewed the electronic surveillance and
geo-location information pertaining to this phone.
Id. As the phone approached Michigan, the DEA group
supervisor contacted MSP Trooper Jose Patino to inform him of
the investigation and findings from the phone's
geo-location and asked MSP to perform a traffic stop.
Id. At approximately 12:24 PM, DEA Agent Samaniego
was notified by MSP Trooper Sargent Dragomer that MSP
troopers were conducting the traffic stop involving
Defendant, discussed above. Id. at 960.
and Brown were arrested on state drug charges, which were
dismissed in lieu of federal prosecution. (Dkt. #165, Pg ID
855). An indictment was filed in the United States District
Court for the Eastern District of Michigan on April 23, 2015
charging Defendant with Conspiracy to Possess with Intent to
Distribute Controlled Substances pursuant to 21 U.S.C.
§§ 846 and 841 (a)(1). (Dkt. # 1). On February 29,
2016, Defendant pled guilty to the charge (Dkt. # 65), and on
June 27, 2016, the Court sentenced Defendant to 60 months in
prison (Dkt. # 104).
motion, Defendant now claims that his attorney was
ineffective by failing to file a motion to suppress the drugs
that were seized after the vehicle stop on January 30, 2015,
and that Defendant would not have pled guilty had Defense
Counsel filed a successful motion to suppress. (Dkt. # 165).
According to Defendant, Defense Counsel initially advised him
that the MSP troopers had violated his Fourth Amendment
rights "because the traffic stop improperly escalated
into a criminal investigation using the drug-dog to sniff the
vehicle without probable cause or reasonable suspicion."
Id. at Pg ID 855. Defendant claims that Defense
Counsel told him that he would file a motion to suppress the
evidence on the basis of illegal search and seizure.
Id. at Pg ID 856. Defendant states that Defense
Counsel later advised him that, after researching the law, he
no longer believed that there was a legal basis to challenge
the search. Id. at Pg ID 857. Defense Counsel
"explained that the troopers could order Mr. Brown and
me to exit the vehicle as part of the traffic stop, and
permit the drug-dog to sniff the vehicle without violating
our Fourth Amendment rights." Id. Defense
Counsel advised that Defendant had no viable defense for
trial without the suppression defense. Id. Defendant
pled guilty based on this advice from his attorney.
Id. at Pg ID 858.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
28 U.S.C. § 2255, "[a] prisoner in custody under
sentence of a [federal] court . . . claiming the right to be
released . . . may move the court which imposed the sentence
to vacate, set aside or correct the sentence." To
prevail on a Section 2255 motion, the petitioner must allege:
"(1) an error of constitutional magnitude; (2) a
sentence imposed outside the statutory limits; or (3) an
error of fact or law that was so fundamental as to render the
entire proceeding invalid." Mallett v. United
States, 334 F.3d 491, 496-97 (6th Cir. 2003) (internal
quotation marks omitted). Section 2255 motions filed pro
se are liberally construed. See Ratliff v. United
States, 999 F.2d 1023, 1026 (6th Cir. 1993).
the Sixth Amendment, a defendant has a right to "have
the Assistance of Counsel for his defense." U.S. Const.
Amend. VI. In Strickland v. Washington, the Supreme
Court determined that a defendant has a right to
"reasonably effective assistance of counsel."
Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984).
It articulated a two-prong test to show ineffective
assistance of counsel:
First, the defendant must show that counsel's performance
was deficient. This requires showing that counsel made errors
so serious that counsel was not functioning as the
"counsel" guaranteed the defendant by the Sixth
Amendment. Second, the defendant must show that the deficient
performance prejudiced the defense. This requires showing
that counsel's errors were so serious as to deprive the
defendant of a fair trial, a trial whose result is reliable.
Unless a defendant makes both showings, it cannot be ...