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United States v. Patton

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

July 10, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff-Respondent,
CORNELIUS PATTON (D-2), Defendant-Petitioner.


          Nancy G. Edmunds, United States District Judge.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On 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.


         On 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 1291).

         After 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).

         Upon 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).

         Prior 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. Id.

         Two 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.

         An 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.

         Defendant 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).

         In his 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.


         Under 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).

         Under 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 ...

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