United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Statesboro Division
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
and sentenced after a jury trial for his participation in a
drug distribution conspiracy, docs. 755 & 951,
Terrance Stanton moves under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to have
his sentence reduced from life imprisonment. Docs. 1124 &
1137. The Government filed a response and Stanton filed a
reply. Docs. 1266, 1286. Review of the parties' briefing
shows that his motion must be denied.
was charged with conspiring to possess with intent to
distribute 280 grams or more of cocaine base, five kilograms
or more of cocaine hydrochloride, and quantities of ecstasy
and marijuana (Count 1), distribution of cocaine (Count 24),
plus several counts of using a communication facility
(telephone) to facilitate the conspiracy (Counts 90-95, 102,
105-110). Doc. 3.
and one of his co-defendants proceeded to trial and were
found guilty on every count. Docs. 754 & 755. As part of
a special verdict form, the jury also found that Stanton and
his co-defendant had conspired to distribute 280 grams or
more of cocaine base and five kilograms or more of cocaine
hydrochloride. Id. Prior to trial, the Government
had filed a 21 U.S.C. § 851 notice of its intention to
seek enhanced penalties based on Stanton's prior felony
drug convictions, thus subjecting him to a mandatory life
sentence. Doc. 709; see 21 U.S.C. §§
841(b)(1)(A), 846. The Court, however, granted the
Government's motion to withdraw the notice prior to
sentencing, thus reducing Stanton's exposure to the
unenhanced penalty -- 10 years to life. Docs. 983 & 984
Presentence Investigative Eeport added seven points to his
drug-offense Guidelines level of 34 -- two for the possession
of a firearm, two for the commission of the offense as part
of a criminal livelihood, and three for an aggravating role
-- for a total offense level of 41. PSR at ¶¶
22-39. Because his criminal history placed him within
category II under the Guidelines, the advisory range of
imprisonment was 360 months to life imprisonment.
Id. at ¶ 39 (prior convictions scoring three
criminal history points under the Guidelines); ¶ 59 (360
months to life imprisonment advised for total offense level
of 41 and criminal history category II). Stanton objected to
various aspects of the calculation, including his criminal
history score, the drug quantity involved, and points added
for his possession of a firearm and aggravating role,
id., Addendum at 1, which the Court overruled after
a hearing. Doc. 986 at 32. It sentenced him to life
imprisonment. Id. at 37.
appealed, arguing, inter alia, that (1) insufficient
foundation existed for the admission of certain wiretapped
telephone conversations; (2) a law enforcement agent
improperly testified as an expert at trial; (3) his prior
drug convictions were improperly admitted at trial; and (4)
his criminal history, drug quantity, and role in the offense
were incorrectly calculated under the Sentencing Guidelines.
Doc. 1078; United States v. Stanton, 589 F.App'x
477 (11th Cir. 2014). The Eleventh Circuit affirmed his
conviction. See Id. Upon Stanton's pro
se motion for a reduced sentence under 18 U.S.C. §
3582(c)(2), the Court granted a two-level offense level
reduction and reduced his sentence from life imprisonment to
360 months' imprisonment. Docs. 1104 & 1185. He then
filed the instant § 2255 motion, seeking to overturn his
sentence. Docs. 1124 & 1125.
presents three grounds for relief: (1) "prosecutorial
misconduct" and "malicious prosecution, " (2)
errors by the district court, and (3) ineffective assistance
of counsel during trial and appeal. Doc. 1124.
The Ippolito Factor
contends that the lead prosecutor in his case, former
Assistant United States Attorney Cameron Ippolito, engaged in
extracurricular prosecutorial misconduct and malicious
prosecution, adversely affecting his sentence. Doc. 1124 at
claims justify relief on collateral review if the
prosecutor's actions rendered the proceedings "so
fundamentally unfair as to deny him due process."
Davis v. Zant, 36 F.3d 1538, 1545 (11th Cir. 1994).
Movants thus must show that there is "a reasonable
probability that the outcome was changed" by the
prosecutor's actions. Id.
falls far short of meeting that burden. Regardless of what
Ippolito did in her private life with Agent Valoze, and how
it may have impacted the outcome of other cases,
Stanton's case had absolutely nothing to do with
Agent Valoze. Valoze was not involved in the Government's
investigation or prosecution of Stanton in any way, and did
not testify in any matter related to Stanton. See
Ippolito, 2015 WL 424522. Nothing about the
Ippolito-Valoze affair could have been used at trial to
cross-examine or impeach any witness.
offers absolutely no evidence above mere conjecture of any
"spill-over behavior" that even tangentially
connects the affair (or work relationship with the agents
investigating his case) to his case -- much less that the
proceedings against him were rendered "so fundamentally
unfair as to deny . . . due process" or that, had he
known of the affair, there was a "reasonable
probability" of a different trial outcome.
Davis, 36 F.3d at 1545.
also alleges that the Government's dismissal of charges
against some defendants (who had been misidentified on
recorded telephone calls), but not him, was reversible error.
Doc. 1124 at 50. But there is no evidence whatsoever that
Stanton was misidentified in the phone calls. It
cannot be malicious prosecution to dismiss charges against an
incorrectly identified defendant while pursuing charges
against one correctly identified and inculpated by
substantial circumstantial evidence. That is the essence of
responsible, ethical prosecution.
Ineffective Assistance of Counsel
second claim, Stanton argues that his trial counsel was
ineffective for: (1) failing to advise him he was not in fact
a career offender; (2) failing to better argue pre-trial
motions and trial objections; (3) failing to request certain
jury instructions on conspiracies and buyer-seller
relationships; (4) failing to move for acquittal based on
insufficient evidence against him; (5) failing to object to
testifying Agent Kevin Waters' testimony; and (6) failing
to raise claims on direct appeal. See doc. 1124 at
prevail on a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, a
prisoner must prove that his counsel rendered deficient
performance and that he was prejudiced by the deficient
performance." Castillo v. United States, 816
F.3d 1300, 1303 (11th Cir. 2016) (citing Strickland v.
Washington,466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984)). "[C]ounsel
is strongly presumed to have rendered adequate assistance and
made all significant decisions in the exercise of reasonable
professional judgment." Strickland, 466 U.S. at
690. "For performance to be deficient, it must be
established that, in light of all the circumstances,