Stewart v. United States

Docket Number1:20-cv-01021-JPH-TAB
Decision Date02 May 2023
PartiesDANIEL STEWART, Petitioner, v. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent.
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of Indiana



Daniel Stewart "was convicted of drug trafficking, firearms offenses, and money laundering, primarily based on evidence gathered as a result of a traffic stop and a subsequent confession." United States v. Stewart, 902 F.3d 664, 667 (7th Cir. 2018). Because of previous drug offenses he received a life sentence. He now seeks relief from his conviction and sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Finding that further development of some of Mr. Stewart's claims was required, the Court appointed counsel to represent Mr Stewart and directed additional briefing. Dkt. 18. That briefing is complete and the § 2255 motion is now ripe for ruling.

For the reasons explained in this Order, Mr. Stewart's motion is GRANTED to the extent that he is entitled to resentencing. The motion is, in all other respects DENIED. In addition, the Court finds that a certificate of appealability should not issue.

I. The § 2255 Motion

A motion pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 is the presumptive means by which a federal prisoner can challenge his conviction or sentence. See Davis v. United States, 417 U.S. 333, 343 (1974). A court may grant relief from a federal conviction or sentence pursuant to § 2255 "upon the ground that the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States, or that the court was without jurisdiction to impose such sentence, or that the sentence was in excess of the maximum authorized by law, or is otherwise subject to collateral attack." 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a). "Relief under this statute is available only in extraordinary situations, such as an error of constitutional or jurisdictional magnitude or where a fundamental defect has occurred which results in a complete miscarriage of justice." Blake v. United States, 723 F.3d 870, 878-79 (7th Cir. 2013) (citing Prewitt v. United States, 83 F.3d 812, 816 (7th Cir. 1996); Barnickel v. United States, 113 F.3d 704, 705 (7th Cir. 1997)).

II. Background

An investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration and Indianapolis Police identified Mr. Stewart as a possible customer of a large-scale cocaine supplier. Stewart, 902 F.3d at 667-68. This led police officers to surveil Mr. Stewart, follow him to a gas station where he conducted what they believed to be a drug transaction, and perform a traffic stop of his vehicle. Id. During the traffic stop, a drug-detecting canine alerted to the scent of drugs in Mr. Stewart's car, and officers searched it and found a handgun, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, a digital scale, and thousands of dollars in cash. Id. at 670.

Officers obtained a search warrant for his home where they discovered more drugs and cash. Id.

Mr. Stewart was charged in a six-count superseding indictment with possession with intent to distribute controlled substances, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841 and 851; possession of a firearm by a felon, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1); possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c); engaging in monetary transactions in property derived from specified unlawful activity, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1957; and two counts of money laundering, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1956(a)(1). United States v. Stewart, No. 1:15-cr-24-JPH-TAB-1 (Cr. Dkt.), dkt. 44.

Before trial, Mr. Stewart moved to suppress the evidence obtained during and as a result of the traffic stop and the confession he gave at the police station, and that motion was denied. Cr. Dkt. 33, 70. After a four-day trial, a jury convicted Mr. Stewart on all counts. Cr. Dkt. 142. Because Mr. Stewart had two qualifying prior felony drug convictions, his sentence on the drug possession count was life imprisonment without parole. See 21 U.S.C. § 841(b). For four of the remaining counts, the Court sentenced Mr. Stewart to terms of imprisonment between five and fifteen years to be served concurrent with the life sentence. Cr. Dkt. 165. The sentence for possession of a gun in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime added five consecutive years to the sentence of life imprisonment. Id.

Mr. Stewart appealed, and his conviction and sentence were affirmed. He now seeks relief pursuant to § 2255. Mr. Stewart's § 2255 motion attacks both his convictions and sentence. In support, he argues that his trial and appellate counsel rendered ineffective assistance. He also argues that his firearm convictions are invalid under Rehaif v. United States, and that the prosecutor was biased against him. The United States agrees that Mr. Stewart is entitled to resentencing but contests the challenges to his convictions. Each of Mr. Stewart's grounds for relief, along with the relevant facts, will be discussed below.[1]

III. Sentencing Challenge

Mr. Stewart argues that his sentence was improperly enhanced under 21 U.S.C. §§ 841 and 851 and under 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(1). The United States concedes that Mr. Stewart's claims regarding his predicate offenses under § 851 and § 924 are meritorious, that his mandatory minimum sentence was incorrectly calculated, and that he is entitled to resentencing. Dkt. 34 at 1, 14.

At the time Stewart was convicted, a person convicted under § 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(A) faced a minimum 10-year sentence. However, if that person had two prior convictions for a "felony drug offense," the minimum sentence became life. 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(A). Similarly, Mr. Stewart's conviction for being a felon in possession of a firearm was subject to an enhancement based on his prior convictions for "serious drug offenses." See 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(1).

The following offenses were used to support the enhancement of Mr. Stewart's sentence:

1. June 26, 2001, felony Possession of Cocaine or Narcotic, in Marion County, Indiana, Superior Court, Cause Number 49G20-0012-CF- 25153;
2. June 13, 2002, felony Dealing in Cocaine or Narcotic, in Marion County, Indiana, Superior Court, Cause Number 49G20-0108-CF-158484;
3. October 11, 2005, felony Dealing in a Schedule I, II, III Controlled Substance, in Marion County, Indiana, Superior Court, Cause Number 49G20-0410-FB-191924;
4. October 11, 2005, felony Dealing in a Schedule I, II, III Controlled Substance, in Marion County, Indiana, Superior Court, Cause Number 49G20-0412-FB-215137; and
5. December 30, 2009, Dealing in a Schedule I, II, III Controlled Substance, in Marion County, Indiana, Superior Court, Cause Number 49G20-0907-FB-060573.

Cr. Dkt. 57.

The United States agrees that these convictions no longer qualify as predicate offenses to support the sentence enhancements. Dkt. 34 at 10-14; see also Harris v. United States, 13 F.4th 623, 626-27, 630 (7th Cir. 2021) (Indiana cocaine convictions do not qualify as § 851 predicates); United States v. De La Torre, 940 F.3d 938, 951 (7th Cir. 2021) (an "Indiana conviction for dealing in a schedule I, II, or III controlled substance cannot serve as a predicate felony drug offense under § 841(b)(1)(A) and § 802(44)."). The United States explains that, without the enhancements, Mr. Stewart's statutory sentencing range would be 10 years to life on Count 1, see 21 U.S.C. § 841(a); and he would be subject to a maximum sentence of ten years, not 15, on Count 2, see 18 U.S.C. § 924(a)(2). (The sentencing ranges for Counts 3 through 6 remain unchanged. Id. at 14.)

Mr. Stewart's request for resentencing is GRANTED. For the reasons explained below, however, Mr. Stewart's challenges to his conviction are denied.

IV. Sixth Amendment Right to Trial Counsel

Mr. Stewart claims that he was denied his Sixth Amendment right to counsel because trial counsel was ineffective in several ways. A petitioner claiming ineffective assistance of counsel bears the burden of showing (1) that trial counsel's performance fell below objective standards for reasonably effective representation and (2) that this deficiency prejudiced the defense. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 688-94 (1984); United States v. Jones, 635 F .3d 909, 915 (7th Cir. 2011). If a petitioner cannot establish one of the Strickland prongs, the court need not consider the other. Groves v. United States, 755 F.3d 588, 591 (7th Cir. 2014). To satisfy the first prong of the Strickland test, the petitioner must direct the Court to specific acts or omissions of his counsel. Wyatt v. United States, 574 F.3d 455, 458 (7th Cir. 2009). The Court must then consider whether in light of all of the circumstances counsel's performance was outside the wide range of professionally competent assistance. Id. To satisfy the prejudice component, Mr. Stewart must establish that "there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different." Strickland, 466 U.S. at 694.

Mr. Stewart argues that his trial counsel was ineffective by failing to: (1) adequately litigate challenges to the traffic stop at the suppression hearing; (2) challenge the search of his residence; (3) request a jury instruction directing the jury not to credit the officer's trial testimony; (4) sufficiently challenge the alleged waiver of his Miranda rights; (5) challenge the delivery of seized currency and other items; (6) object to the forfeiture; (7) move to dismiss the substantive drug offense as duplicitous; (8) object to prosecutor's reference to him as a drug dealer; and (9) challenge his § 924(c) conviction.

A. Traffic Stop

Several of Mr. Stewart's claims of ineffective assistance are based on his contention that co...

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