Alexander v. United States

Decision Date04 May 1961
Docket NumberNo. 18313.,18313.
Citation290 F.2d 252
PartiesRaymond G. ALEXANDER, Appellant, v. UNITED STATES of America, Appellee.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Fifth Circuit

Raymond G. Alexander, in pro. per.

Arthur L. Luethcke, Asst. U. S. Atty., San Antonio, Tex., for appellee.

Before TUTTLE, Chief Judge, and JONES and BROWN, Circuit Judges.

JONES, Circuit Judge.

The appellant, by a motion filed pro se pursuant to 28 U.S.C.A. § 2255, sought to vacate a sentence imposed upon him for a violation of the narcotics tax statute. The record shows that on February 27, 1958, police officers of the City of San Antonio, Texas, entered his hotel room without his consent and without a search warrant and there seized 15 1/6 grains of morphine sulphate and 3 1/16 grains of dilaudid. A grand jury of the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas returned a two-count indictment against the appellant, the first count charging unlawful interstate transportation of the morphine sulphate, and the second count charging the unlawful purchase of the dilaudid otherwise than from an original stamped package. The appellant, represented by an attorney of his own choice, filed a motion for the suppression of the seized narcotics. On the case being called for trial, the motion was denied and the trial proceeded. The narcotics, procured by the police search, were offered and received in evidence over objection. At the conclusion of the Government's case the appellant, acting through his attorney, moved for a directed verdict on the second count of the indictment. The motion was granted.

Upon the granting of the motion for a directed verdict upon the second count, the appellant withdrew his plea of not guilty on the first count and entered a plea of guilty. It is from the judgment and sentence on the plea of guilty that relief is here sought. The appellant, by his motion, has asserted that he was told by his attorney that, having lost on his motion to suppress, he had no chance for an acquittal by the jury and that a plea of guilty would leave the court with "a better taste in its mouth". It is said by the appellant that at the time of the entry of his guilty plea he had insufficient time to realize the full impact of changing his plea. He also states, in his motion, that at the time he entered his plea of guilty he was suffering from withdrawal pains because of being deprived of narcotics to which he was addicted. The district court, without a hearing, denied the motion to vacate the sentence and this appeal is from that order.

It is the appellant's position that the denial of his motion to suppress and the admission in evidence against him of the seized narcotics were in violation of his constitutional rights. The appellant urges that his plight with the illegal evidence pending against him, coupled with the physical and mental anguish caused by his being deprived of narcotics, resulted in the plea of guilty being coerced and involuntary. In a slightly different approach the appellant says that he was undergoing physical and mental torture by reason of having been deprived of narcotics, to which he was addicted, and was incompetent to make a voluntary and intelligent plea of guilty.

At the time the appellant entered his plea it might well have been believed that the United States had the right, in a criminal prosecution, to introduce evidence improperly seized by state officers operating entirely on their own account. Weeks v. United States, 232 U.S. 383, 34 S.Ct. 341, 58 L.Ed. 652, L.R.A.1915B, 834; Center v. United States, 267 U.S. 575, 45 S.Ct. 230, 69 L.Ed. 795; Byars v. United States, 273 U.S. 28, 47 S.Ct. 248, 71 L.Ed. 520; Manning v. United States, 5 Cir., 1960, 274 F.2d 926, reversed on rehearing 5 Cir., 280 F.2d 422; Huff v. United States, 5 Cir., 1959, 273 F.2d 56; Kendall v. United States, 5 Cir., 1959, 272 F.2d 163; Papworth v. United States, 5 Cir., 1958, 256 F.2d 125, certiorari denied 358 U.S. 854, 79 S.Ct. 85, 3 L.Ed.2d 88, rehearing denied 358 U.S. 914, 79 S.Ct. 239, 3 L.Ed.2d 235; Henderson v. United States, 5 Cir., 1956, 237 F.2d 169, 61 A.L.R.2d 666; Grimes v. United States, 5 Cir., 1956, 234 F.2d 571; Watson v. United States, 5 Cir., 1955, 224 F.2d 910; Helton v. United States, 5 Cir., 1955, 221 F.2d 338; Shurman v. United States, 5 Cir., 1955, 219 F.2d 282, certiorari denied 349 U.S. 921, 75 S.Ct. 661, 99 L.Ed. 1253. After the decisions of the Supreme Court in Elkins v. United States, 364 U.S. 206, 80 S.Ct. 1437, 4 L.Ed.2d 1669, Rios v. United States, 364 U.S. 253, 80 S.Ct. 1431, 4 L.Ed.2d 1688, Euziere v. United States, 364 U.S. 282, 80 S.Ct. 1615, 4 L.Ed.2d 1720, and Camara v. United States, 364 U.S. 283, 80 S.Ct. 1619, 4 L.Ed.2d 1720, it would have been error to admit the evidence procured by a search which, had it been conducted by federal officers, would have been unlawful.

If the appellant had submitted his guilt or innocence to a jury and had been convicted we would, of course, guided by Elkins, reverse the conviction. Even in such a case the question could only be considered on appeal and could not be properly raised in a proceeding under Section 2255, Kinney v. United States, 10 Cir., 1949, 177 F.2d 895. However, the error of the trial court was removed from our consideration by the plea of guilty, assuming of course that the plea was advisedly and voluntarily made. Warren v. United States, 5 Cir., 1956, 232 F.2d 629. The mistake of appellant's counsel, if mistake it was, in recommending a plea of guilty, cannot be corrected by us. The entry of the plea of guilty on counsel's recommendation will not be set aside merely because the recommendation was based upon a legal opinion which subsequent events proved wrong. The complaint of a convicted prisoner that he was not properly represented by counsel of his own choice can only be sustained where the attorney's conduct amounts to a breach of a legal duty. Kennedy v. United States, 5 Cir., 1958, 259 F.2d 883, certiorari denied 359 U.S. 994, 79 S.Ct. 1126, 3 L.Ed.2d 982. A reliance, prior to Elkins, upon the doctrine announced by Weeks, can hardly be considered misconduct. Having been unsuccessful in suppressing the evidence by which the appellant's guilt was established, his counsel recommended a plea of guilty with the hope of obtaining a lesser sentence than he feared might result from a verdict of guilty. Cf. Martin v. United States, 5 Cir., 1958, 256 F.2d 345, writ denied 358 U.S. 921, 79 S.Ct. 294, 3 L.Ed.2d 240. The strategy, viewed as a calculated risk, as of the time of the plea, cannot be criticized.

The appellant, in his motion, says that he was in such a mental condition as rendered him unable to enter a plea of guilty knowingly and intelligently. He says that he was not able, because of being deprived of narcotics, to understand the consequences of his act. Cf. Edwards v. United States, 1958, 103 U.S.App. D.C. 152, 256 F.2d 707. It may seem improbable that the appellant could have been suffering to the extent now claimed without it being known to the court or to counsel, or both. We are, however, confronted with the allegations that he was incompetent. The charges are inartfully drawn. They may appear implausible. However, they are unrefuted in the record before us unless by an inference drawn...

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