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Jackson v. United States

United States District Court, N.D. Georgia, Atlanta Division

April 29, 2019


         MOTION TO VACATE 28 U.S.C. § 2255



         Movant, Quinton Jackson, proceeding with counsel, has filed a 28 U.S.C. § 2255 motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his federal sentence entered in this Court under the above criminal docket number. The matter is before the Court on the motion to vacate [102], Respondent's response [105], and Movant's reply [106]. For reasons discussed below, Movant's motion to vacate and a certificate of appealability (COA) are due to be denied.

         I. Background

         The grand jury for the Northern District of Georgia indicted Movant on one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1) and 924(e). (Indictment, ECF No. 1). Movant, represented by Allison C. Dawson, proceeded to trial, at which he was found guilty, and the Court imposed a 262-month term of imprisonment. (J., ECF No. 88). Movant, represented by Mark Yuracheck, appealed, and on November 16, 2017, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment against Movant. United States v. Jackson, 713 Fed.Appx. 963, 969 (11th Cir. 2017).

         Movant, again represented by Yuracheck, now seeks collateral review and raises two grounds for relief: (1) ineffective assistance of counsel for failing to pursue a motion to suppress based on lack of probable cause to stop Movant for a tag light violation under O.C.G.A. § 40-8-23(d) and failing to object to the Magistrate Judge's finding of probable cause for the stop and (2) ineffective assistance of counsel for failing to object at sentencing to the use of prior convictions to enhance Movant's sentence under Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) when the prior convictions had not been seen or heard by the jury or admitted by Movant. (Mot. to Vacate at 5, ECF No. 102).

         II. 28 U.S.C. § 2255 Standard

         Section 2255 of Title 28 allows a district court to vacate, set aside, or correct a federal sentence that was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States or was imposed by a court without jurisdiction, exceeds the maximum sentence authorized by law, or is otherwise subject to collateral attack. 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Collateral relief, however, is limited. “Once [a] defendant's chance to appeal has been waived or exhausted, . . . we are entitled to presume he stands fairly and finally convicted[.]” United States v. Frady, 456 U.S. 152, 164 (1982). The § 2255 movant bears the burden to establish his right to collateral relief. Rivers v. United States, 777 F.3d 1306, 1316 (11th Cir. 2015).

         “Once a matter has been decided adversely to a defendant on direct appeal it cannot be re-litigated in a collateral attack under section 2255.” Stoufflet v. United States, 757 F.3d 1236, 1239 (11th Cir. 2014) (quoting United States v. Nyhuis, 211 F.3d 1340, 1343 (11th Cir. 2000)) (internal quotation marks omitted). Section 2255 relief “is reserved for transgressions of constitutional rights and for that narrow compass of other injury that could not have been raised in direct appeal and would, if condoned, result in a complete miscarriage of justice.” Lynn v. United States, 365 F.3d 1225, 1232 (11th Cir. 2004) (quoting Richards v. United States, 837 F.2d 965, 966 (11th Cir. 1988)) (internal quotation marks omitted). Thus, a constitutional claim of ineffective assistance of counsel generally is properly raised on collateral review in order to allow for adequate development and presentation of relevant facts. Massaro v. United States, 538 U.S. 500, 505-09 (2003).

         “The district court is not required to grant a petitioner an evidentiary hearing if the § 2255 motion ‘and the files and records of the case conclusively show that the prisoner is entitled to no relief.'” Rosin v. United States, 786 F.3d 873, 877 (11th Cir. 2015) (quoting § 2255(b)). That is the case here, as shown in the discussion below.

         III. Discussion

         A. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel on Motion to Suppress

         Prior to trial, Movant filed a motion to suppress arguing, inter alia, that the officers lacked cause to effect the traffic stop which led to his arrest. (Mot. to Suppress at 1, ECF No. 16). In his post-hearing brief, Movant asserted that officers had exceeded the scope of the traffic stop but did not specifically argue that there was no probable cause to stop him based on a tag light violation. (Def. Br. in Support of Mot. to Suppress, ECF No. 26). The Magistrate Judge, in recommending a denial of the motion to suppress, found, inter alia, as follows -

The APD officers had probable cause to stop Defendant's vehicle on the basis of their observation of a violation of Georgia traffic law, that is, inoperable tag lights. See O.C.G.A. § 40-8-23(d) (“Either a taillight or a separate light shall be so constructed and placed as to illuminate with a white light the rear registration plate and render it clearly legible from a distance of 50 feet to the rear.”). On August 22, 2014, between 9:00 and 9:30 p.m., Officers Romer, Munson and Moore observed Defendant Jackson driving a silver Chevy Impala sedan on Boulevard as he turned onto Angier. (Tr. at 8-9, 11, 23-24, 46-49, 98). As Defendant was driving westbound on Angier, the officers followed him observing that the tag lights were not working on his vehicle and, therefore, were not illuminating the vehicle's license plate.[1] (Tr. at 8-9, 23-24, 47- 48, 67-69). At the intersection of Angier and Parkway, the officers activated the patrol vehicle's blue lights, and Defendant stopped shortly after turning onto Parkway. The patrol vehicle stopped eight to ten feet behind Defendant's vehicle. (Tr. at 9-10, 25-26, 48-49, 86). These observations established a violation of O.C.G.A. § 40-8-23(d). See Carnes v. State, 293 Ga.App. 549, 550, 667 S.E.2d 620, 621 (2008) (“‘There was probable cause for the initial stop, based on the officer's observance of a traffic violation, the nonfunctioning tag light.'”) (citations omitted); and see United States v. Cubillos, 2012 WL 1636175, at *3 (N.D.Ga. March 20, 2012), adopted by 1:10-CR86-RWS, Doc. 721 (N.D.Ga. May 8, 2012) (based on the officer's testimony that there was no tag light on the vehicle as required by law, he “had probable cause upon which to stop the [vehicle] for this perceived violation of Georgia law”). The traffic stop was lawfully initiated.

(R. & R. on Mot. to Suppress at 14-15, ECF No. 30). Movant in his objections admitted that he had “violated a traffic ordinance for not having a tag light” and did not object to the above finding. (Objs. at 2, ECF No. 35). The Court subsequently adopted the Report and Recommendation and denied the motion to suppress. (Order of May 10, 2016, ECF No. 44).

         Following his conviction, Movant appealed and argued “that the district court erred by denying his motion to suppress because officers did not have probable cause to conduct a traffic stop based on his tag light violation.” Jackson, 713 Fed.Appx. at 963. Movant argued that probable cause for a § 40-8-23(d) stop requires officers to observe that the registration plate is not clearly visible and that it is not visible from a distance of fifty feet, relying on State v. Mathis, 338 Ga.App. 86, 789 S.E.2d 336 (2016), and Draper v. Reynolds, 369 F.3d 1270, 1272 (11th Cir. 2004). Opening Br. at 19, Jackson, 713 Fed.Appx. 963, 2017 WL 2255859. Movant asserted that probable cause for a stop was absent because the government showed only that the tags were not clearly legible from a distance of approximately 383 feet (the distance when the stop was initiated, according to Movant) and did not show that the tags were not clearly legible from a distance of fifty feet. Id. at 20-23.

         The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals found as follows -

During their patrol that night, the officers stopped a vehicle driven by Defendant because the vehicle did not have tag lights, which are lights that illuminate the license ...

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