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United States v. Hill

United States District Court, D. Vermont

August 21, 2014

United States of America,
Melvin Hill.


JOHN M. CONROY, Magistrate Judge.

Melvin Hill, proceeding pro se, has moved pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to vacate, set aside, or correct a sentence imposed upon him in the United States District Court for the District of Vermont. (Docs. 250, 251.)[1] Hill was convicted following his plea of guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute 28 grams or more of cocaine base. (Docs. 116, 166, 203.) On February 4, 2013, United States District Judge William K. Sessions III sentenced Hill to a term of imprisonment of 70 months, to be followed by a four-year term of supervised release. (Doc. 165.)

Hill filed his § 2255 Motion on January 28, 2014, claiming ineffective assistance of counsel, "perjury of the grand jury, " Fourth and Fifth Amendment violations, and prosecutorial misconduct. Hill requests the Court vacate his conviction. He also requests a "proper proceeding to verify" his claims. (Doc. 251 at 8.) The government asserts that no hearing is necessary, and opposes Hill's Motions. (Doc. 264.) Hill filed a reply on June 2, 2014. (Doc. 266.) For the reasons explained below, I conclude that Hill's claims fail and thus recommend that his § 2255 Motions (Docs. 250, 251) be DENIED.

Factual and Procedural Background

At the outset, I note that all of Hill's factual assertions as described below appear in one or both of his Motions (Docs. 250, 251). Although neither document is sworn, both documents contain declarations of the form contemplated by 28 U.S.C. § 1746. ( See Doc. 250 at 11 ("I declare (or certify, verify, or state) under penalty of perjury that the foregoing is true and correct...."); Doc. 251 at 8 ("I declare under penalty of perjury that the foregoing is correct and true....").) Additional facts (sometimes conflicting with Hill's factual assertions) are drawn from the Presentence Report ("PSR") and other materials in the record.[2]

I. Offense Conduct, Superseding Indictment, and Plea

On February 13, 2012, Detective Daniel Merchand and other members of law enforcement arrested Melvin Hill at the Anchorage Inn in South Burlington, Vermont. Hill asserts that he was unlawfully detained and questioned at that time, in violation of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments. (Doc. 250 at 7.) According to Hill, law enforcement found no illegal items described by the warrant on his person or in his room. (Doc. 251 at 5.) Also according to Hill, he made incriminating statements, but those statements were untrue because he was under the influence of drugs and alcohol and "felt at that time that I might receive physical harm if I did not compromise." ( Id. at 6.) Hill states that he was in Vermont to be reunited with his biological brother, William Parker, and that he (Hill) had nothing to do with any conspiracy. ( Id. at 7-8.)

According to the PSR, the arresting officers found Hill in possession of 4.7 grams of powder cocaine, 4.9 grams of crack cocaine, and $2, 200 in cash. (PSR ¶ 25.) During the arrest, Hill told law enforcement that he would cooperate. He was released after processing, with a promise to meet officers the next day to continue his cooperation. He did not appear at the meeting, however, and did not answer officers' phone calls.

On April 19, 2012, the grand jury returned a First Superseding Indictment charging Hill and others with conspiring to distribute 28 grams or more of cocaine base in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 846, 841(a)(1), and 841(b)(1)(B), and a warrant was issued for Hill's arrest. (Doc. 14.) Hill now asserts that one of the witnesses that testified before the grand jury perjured herself. Specifically, Hill asserts that the witness had previously stated to law enforcement personnel that Hill had nothing to do with the alleged conspiracy. (Doc. 251 at 4.) Hill, who is African-American, also asserts that law enforcement did not arrest or prosecute certain white individuals who Hill maintains were involved in the conspiracy.

On May 7, 2012, law enforcement arrested Hill again. He was again found in possession of cocaine base and cocaine powder, as well as a digital scale and a beverage container with a hidden compartment. (PSR ¶ 31.) He was arraigned the next day. (Doc. 26.) Attorney Gregory Glennon was appointed to represent Hill pursuant to the Criminal Justice Act, 18 U.S.C. § 3006A. The defense filed no motions to suppress evidence. Additional facts regarding Attorney Glennon's representation are set forth in more detail below.

In September 2012, Hill executed a written plea agreement. (Doc. 103.) On October 2, 2012, he appeared before the District Court to enter a plea of guilty to the conspiracy count against him. (Docs. 116, 203.) The Court engaged in the complete plea colloquy required by Fed. R. Crim. P. 11 with Hill, reviewing the nature of the conspiracy charge, Hill's constitutional rights, the substance of the plea agreement, and certain issues regarding sentencing. The government recited the factual basis for the plea. The Court found that the plea of guilty was made voluntarily and competently by the defendant, with full knowledge and understanding of the charge. The Court accepted the plea, ordered a presentence report, and set a date for sentencing. (Doc. 203 at 21.)

II. Sentencing

In January 2013, the United States Probation Office prepared the PSR regarding Hill. The PSR concluded that Hill's total offense level was 23 and that his criminal history category was V, for a guideline imprisonment range of 84 to 105 months. (PSR at 26.) Hill's criminal-history calculation reflected his three prior drug felony convictions. (PSR ¶¶ 53-55.)

Both the government and the defense filed sentencing memorandums on January 25, 2013. (Docs. 160, 162.) The government argued for a prison term within the guidelines range of 84 to 105 months. (Doc. 160 at 1.) Hill's ten-page sentencing memorandum requested a non-guideline sentence or a downward departure, with an adjusted offense level of 21 and a downward departure to 19, for a non-guideline sentence of 60 months. (Doc. 162 at 10.) The memorandum recounted Hill's longstanding substance abuse difficulties, his service in the United States Army, and a criminal history driven by substance abuse. The memorandum also described Hill's ability and willingness to work, and discussed his redeeming qualities. Describing Hill as a "small fish" in the conspiracy ( id. at 7), the defense urged a minor role adjustment and a downward departure.

The Court held a sentencing hearing on February 4, 2013. (Docs. 165, 202.) After hearing presentations from the parties, the Court declined to apply a minor role adjustment. The Court also found that there were both aggravating and mitigating circumstances in the case, concluding that Hill was a "street-level dealer" and that a modest reduction was appropriate. (Doc. 202 at 23.) The Court adjusted Hill's offense level to 21, and with his criminal history category of V, concluded that the sentencing range was 70 to 87 months. As noted above, the Court sentenced Hill to a 70-month term of imprisonment, to be followed by a four-year term of supervised release. (Doc. 166.)

III. Direct Appeal

Hill pursued a direct appeal of his sentence. His claims on appeal were that: (1) his guilty plea was not knowingly, voluntary, and intelligently made because Judge Sessions asked compound questions during the plea hearing, and (2) his sentence was unreasonable because Judge Sessions applied a crack-to-powder cocaine ratio greater than 1:1. (Doc. 264-2 at i-ii.) On March 6, 2014, after Hill had filed his § 2255 Motion, the Second Circuit granted Hill's motion to withdraw his appeal. (Doc. 254.)


I. Section 2255 Motion

As noted above, Hill raises four claims in his § 2255 Motion. He claims that the grand jury indicted him based on perjured testimony. He also claims prosecutorial misconduct, arguing that his arrest and prosecution were the result of vindictiveness and racial profiling. Hill's third claim is that his Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights were violated. Specifically, he argues that his arrest at the Anchorage Inn was unlawful, and that he was questioned in violation of his Fifth Amendment rights.

Finally, Hill claims that he received ineffective assistance of counsel. He alleges that Attorney Glennon failed to raise the alleged grand jury perjury, prosecutorial misconduct, and Fourth and Fifth Amendment issues. (Doc. 250 at 7-8; Doc. 251 at 3-4.) Hill also alleges that Attorney Glennon was ineffective because, according to Hill, Glennon: (1) misled him concerning the definition of a federal drug conspiracy (Doc. 251 at 2); (2) made statements suggesting that Hill would not receive a fair trial, thereby inducing him to plead guilty ( id. ); (3) withheld exculpatory Brady information (Doc. 250 at 7); and (4) proceeded to sentencing without presenting the results of a psychological examination (Doc. 251 at 3-4).

The government argues that, except for the ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim, all of Hill's § 2255 claims are procedurally barred because he failed to advance them on appeal. (Doc. 264 at 6.) Regarding the ineffective-assistance claim, the government argues that Attorney Glennon's performance was at or above an objective standard of reasonableness, and ...

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