United States v. Bryant

Decision Date31 January 2013
Docket NumberCriminal Case No. 3:04cr00047-1
CourtU.S. District Court — Western District of Virginia
By: Norman K. Moon
United States District Judge

Louis Antonio Bryant, a federal inmate proceeding pro se, filed this motion to vacate, set aside, or correct sentence, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, challenging his convictions and sentence in the above-referenced criminal proceeding. For the reasons stated herein, I will grant the United States' motion to dismiss.


Bryant was charged in the Western District of Virginia with several crimes stemming from his leadership of a violent drug organization in Charlottesville, Virginia, which operated from the mid-1990s through February, 2005. On February 16, 2005, in a Superseding Indictment, Bryant was indicted on twelve charges relating to narcotics trafficking, firearms offenses, and associated acts of violence. Count One charged Bryant with conspiring to possess with the intent to distribute and conspiring to distribute 50 grams or more of crack cocaine, 5 kilograms or more of hydrochloride, heroin, PCP, and marijuana, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), 846, 859, 860, and 861; Count Two charged him with continuing a criminal enterprise, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 848(a) and (b); Count Three charged him with conspiring to participate in a racketeer influenced corrupt organization, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1962(d); Counts Five and Six charged him with attempting to murder Natalie Reyes and James Jones, in aid of racketeering activity, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 2 and 1959(a)(5); Count Eleven chargedhim with possessing marijuana with the intent to distribute, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1); Count Twelve charged him with using, carrying, brandishing, and discharging a firearm during and in relation to a drug trafficking crime as charged in Count One, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1); and Counts Thirteen, Fourteen, Fifteen, Sixteen, and Seventeen charged him with attempting to murder Richard Koonce, Philip Green, and Robert Pryor, and threatening to murder Pryor and his family, in aid of racketeering activity, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 2 and 1959(a)(5).

Bryant's first trial commenced on November 14, 2005, but due to juror misconduct, I declared a mistrial on November 30, 2005. Bryant's second jury trial began on May 8, 2006, during which the government presented several witnesses, including Bryant's associates in the organization, as well as corroborative evidence from a variety of law-enforcement officers, chemists, and others. Specifically, law enforcement officers provided substantial forensic evidence, including shell casings found at relevant crime scenes, items discovered during the execution of search warrants, and forensic firearms evidence and analysis.

On May 22, 2006, the jury returned guilty verdicts on Counts One, Two, Three, Eleven, Twelve, Fifteen, Sixteen, and Seventeen and acquitted Bryant on Counts Five and Six. Counts Thirteen and Fourteen were dismissed on the government's motion. By special verdict, the jury found that Bryant was a principal supervisor and leader in the enterprise, that the enterprise involved the distribution of 1.5 kilograms or more of substances containing cocaine base, and that a number of violent acts and narcotics offenses were carried out in aid of the enterprise's racketeering activities.

On August 21, 2006, I sentenced Bryant to a total term of life imprisonment, consisting of life imprisonment as to Counts Two and Three, 60 months as to each of Counts Eleven,Sixteen, and Seventeen, and 120 months as to Count Fifteen, all to be served concurrently, and 120 months as to Count Twelve, to be served consecutively to all other counts.1 Bryant filed a motion to modify sentence and I granted his motion, reducing his sentence as to Count Three to 108 months. On September 1, 2006, I entered final judgment.

Bryant appealed and I appointed Bryant's trial counsel to represent him on appeal. Bryant raised several issues on appeal, including challenges to the jury venire, selection, and composition; challenges to witness testimony and document admission pursuant to Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36 (2004); and a constitutional challenge alleging a violation of his right to a speedy trial. United States v. Bryant, 417 F. App'x 220 (4th Cir. 2008). The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit remanded Bryant's appeal with instructions to vacate the conviction on Count One, but affirmed all other convictions and the life sentence. In accordance with the remand, I vacated Bryant's conviction on Count One. Bryant appealed the Fourth Circuit's decision to the Supreme Court of the United States, which denied his petition for writ of certiorari.

Bryant filed the instant § 2255 motion raising twenty-two claims concerning the court's jurisdiction, trial court error, prosecutorial misconduct, sentencing inequity, and ineffective assistance of counsel. The United States has filed a motion to dismiss and Bryant has responded thereto, making this matter ripe for disposition.

II. Procedurally Defaulted Claims

Bryant alleges that the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction in his criminal proceeding because the prosecutor failed to follow Department of Justice ("DOJ") policy (Claim One)2 and because the court records do not show compliance with grand jury procedures (Claim Three), that the court denied his right to a public trial when it excluded Bryant's family from the courtroom (Claim Five), that the prosecutor presented perjured testimony (Claim Thirteen), that Bryant's sentence should be reduced to reflect the disparity between cocaine powder and cocaine base (Claim Eighteen), and that the evidence is insufficient to support his conviction for continuing a criminal enterprise (Claim Nineteen). However, Bryant could, but failed to, raise any of these claims on direct appeal, and he has failed to demonstrate grounds to excuse his default. Accordingly, I find that these claims are procedurally barred and, therefore, will dismiss them.

"[H]abeas review is an extraordinary remedy and will not be allowed to do service for an appeal." Bousley v. United States, 523 U.S. 614, 621 (1998). Claims that could have been but were not raised on direct appeal are procedurally defaulted unless the petitioner demonstrates both cause for the default and actual prejudice from the failure to review the claim, Bousely, 523 U.S. at 622; United States v. Frady, 456 U.S. 152, 170 (1972); Wainwright v. Sykes, 433 U.S. 72, 84 (1977); United States v. Mikalajunas, 186 F.3d 490, 492-95 (4th Cir. 1999); United States v. Maybeck, 23 F.3d 888, 891 (4th Cir. 1994), or demonstrates that he is actually innocent, Schlup v. Delo, 513 U.S. 298, 321 (1995); Mikalajunas, 186 F.3d at 493.

To establish cause, Bryant must point to some objective factor beyond his control that impeded or prevented him from presenting his claim. Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 753(1991). Objective factors that may constitute "cause" include: (1) interference by officials that makes compliance impracticable; (2) a showing that the factual or legal basis for a claim was not reasonably available; (3) novelty of the claim; and (4) constitutionally ineffective assistance of counsel. Wright v. Angelone, 151 F.3d 151, 160 n.5 (4th Cir. 1998) (quoting McCleskey v. Zant, 49 U.S. 467, 493-94 (1991)). To show prejudice, Bryant must demonstrate "not merely that the errors at his trial created a possibility of prejudice, but that they worked to his actual and substantial disadvantage, infecting his entire trial with error of constitutional dimensions." McCarver v. Lee, 221 F.3d 583, 892 (4th Cir. 2000) (quoting United States v. Frady, 456 U.S. 152, 170 (1972)). Actual innocence means factual innocence, not merely the legal insufficiency of his conviction or sentence. Bousley, 523 U.S. at 623-24. "[P]risoners asserting innocence as a gateway to defaulted claims must establish that, in light of new evidence, it is more likely than not that no reasonable juror would have found petitioner guilty beyond a reasonable doubt." House v. Bell, 547 U.S. 518, 536-37 (2006) (internal quotation marks omitted). Bryant has procedurally defaulted his claims concerning lack of jurisdiction (Claims One and Three),3 court error (Claim Five), prosecutorial misconduct (Claim Thirteen), sentencing (Claim Eighteen), and sufficiency of the evidence (Claim Nineteen) because he failed to raise them on direct appeal. The court may consider these claims on habeas review only if Bryant demonstrates cause and prejudice or actual innocence.

Bryant does not allege any cause or prejudice to excuse his default. Nor does he demonstrate that he is actually innocent of his convictions.4 Accordingly, I find that Bryantprocedurally defaulted Claims One, Three, Five, Thirteen, Eighteen, and Nineteen and that he has alleged nothing to excuse his default. Therefore, I will dismiss these claims.

III. Remaining Ineffective Assistance of Counsel Claims

Bryant also raises sixteen claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. However, I find that none of these claims meet both the performance and prejudice prongs of Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 669 (1984), and, therefore, I will dismiss them.

To establish a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, petitioner must show that counsel's performance fell below an objective standard of reasonableness and that he was prejudiced by counsel's allegedly deficient performance. Strickland, 466 U.S. at 669; see also Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362 (2000). Courts apply a strong presumption that counsel's performance was within the range of reasonable professional assistance. Strickland, 466 U.S. at 689; see also Fields v. Att'y Gen. of Md., 956 F.2d 1290, 1297-99 (4th Cir. 1992); Hutchins v. Garrison, 724 F.2d 1425, 1430-31 (4th Cir. 1983); Marzullo v....

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