United States v. Walker

Decision Date28 December 2021
Docket Number5:17-cr-5-RH/MJF,5:19-cv-131-RH/MJF
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of Florida


Michael J. Frank, United States Magistrate Judge.

This matter is before the court upon the “Motion Under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence by a Person in Federal Custody” filed by Defendant Willie Walker (“Walker”). Doc. 157.[1] The government filed a response, Doc. 166, and Walker filed a reply, Doc 170. After a review of the record and the arguments presented, the undersigned recommends that the section 2255 motion be denied without an evidentiary hearing. See Rule 8(a)-(b), Rules Governing Section 2255 Cases.

I-Procedural Background

On March 8, 2017, a federal grand jury charged Walker in a single-count indictment with a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 242. Doc. 1. Walker, who was acting under color of law as a correctional officer employed by the State of Florida allegedly assaulted and struck “WH, ” an inmate at Gulf Correctional Institution (“Gulf CI”) resulting in bodily injury and depriving WH of the right not to be subjected to cruel and unusual punishments.[2] After Walker's arrest, the court-appointed attorney Jean Marie Downing to represent him. Doc. 16.

After a four-day trial, a jury found Walker guilty and specifically found that he caused bodily injury to the victim. Doc. 120. The final Presentence Investigation Report (“PSR”) determined Walker's base offense level for an offense was 10. Doc. 126 ¶ 31. A six-level adjustment applied pursuant to section 2H1.1(b)(1)(B), because Walker was acting under color of law when he committed the offense. Id. ¶ 32. His total offense level was 16, which, when combined with his criminal history category of I, resulted in a guidelines range of 21 to 27 months of imprisonment. Id. ¶¶ 39, 44, 86. The District Court sentenced Walker to a term of 21 months of imprisonment followed by 12 months of supervised release. Doc. 147.

Walker appealed and challenged only the substantive reasonableness of his sentence. United States v. Walker, 769 Fed.Appx. 837, 838 (11th Cir. 2019). The Eleventh Circuit affirmed Walker's sentence on April 24, 2019. Id.

Walker timely filed the instant motion on May 6, 2019. He raises nine claims of ineffective assistance of counsel.

II-Facts Established at Trial

Walker was employed as a corrections sergeant at Gulf CI run by the Florida Department of Corrections (“FDC”). On March 5, 2015, Walker and his colleagues were conducting a planned search of one of the prison dormitories. The inmates were informed there was a fire drill and that they should immediately exit the dormitory without dressing. Each inmate was searched by a metal-detector wand upon exiting and instructed to go to a designated area and not speak.

Walker motioned to WH, who had passed the wand search, to get the attention of another inmate, who was speaking. WH refused. WH explained at trial that he did not comply with Walker's order because he could have been blamed by the other inmate and been in physical harm if the inmate had been subjected to any punishment. Walker then ordered WH to take a half-seated squat position against the wall, and WH again refused. Walker began yelling at WH, and the officer-in-charge, Joseph Mastro, instructed Walker to bring WH to the Center Gate office to resolve their dispute.

Officers Mullins and Walker escorted WH to the Center Gate office where Mullins transferred custody of WH to Officer Mamoran. Walker spontaneously sprayed WH in the eyes with Oleoresin Capsicum (“O.C.”) or “pepper” spray, punched and kicked him, and hit him in the head with the O.C. can. WH fell to the floor, and Walker continued to beat him until Officer Mamoran got between them and handcuffed WH. Mamoran left when other officers arrived on the scene, and officers discovered a 14-inch shank on the floor near WH. WH suffered serious lacerations, facial swelling, and a broken nose. The FDC transferred WH to another facility to obtain medical attention.

Walker submitted an incident report which stated that WH had failed the wand test. According to Walker's report, when Walker took WH into the office, it appeared that WH was going to draw a weapon, and Walker responded in self-defense. Walker's report contradicted the testimony of other inmates and officers, including the officer who was in the Center Gate office with Walker. Witnesses indicated that a 14-inch shank would have been discovered during a pat-down if WH had failed the metal-detector wand search; there were closer locations where Walker could have conducted a strip search of WH; and Walker could have used a walkthrough metal detector if he believe that WH had a weapon. It was reasonable to conclude that Walker planted the shank because there was no blood or O.C. spray on the shank, and neither fingerprints nor DNA were discernable.

III-Legal Standards

Section 2255 does not provide a remedy for every alleged error in conviction and sentencing.” Spencer v. United States, 773 F.3d 1132, 1138 (11th Cir. 2014). Collateral review is not a substitute for direct appeal, and therefore the grounds for collateral attack on final judgments pursuant to section 2255 are extremely limited.

A prisoner is entitled to relief under section 2255 if the court imposed a sentence that (1) violated the Constitution or laws of the United States, (2) exceeded its jurisdiction (3) exceeded the maximum authorized by law, or (4) otherwise is subject to collateral attack. 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a); McKay v. United States, 657 F.3d 1190, 1194 n.8 (11th Cir. 2011). Relief under section 2255 “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) (citations omitted). The “fundamental miscarriage of justice” exception recognized in Murray v. Carrier, 477 U.S. 478, 496 (1986), provides that it must be shown that the alleged constitutional violation “has probably resulted in the conviction of one who is actually innocent.”

Because a motion to vacate under section 2255 is not a substitute for direct appeal, issues which could have been raised on direct appeal generally are not actionable in a section 2255 motion and are procedurally barred. Lynn, 365 F.3d at 1234-35; see Bousley v. United States, 523 U.S. 614, 621 (1998); McKay, 657 F.3d at 1195. An issue is ‘available' on direct appeal when its merits can be reviewed without further factual development.” Lynn, 365 F.3d at 1232 n.14 (quoting Mills v. United States, 36 F.3d 1052, 1055 (11th Cir. 1994)).

Absent a showing that the ground of error was unavailable on direct appeal, a court may not consider the ground in a section 2255 motion unless the defendant establishes (1) cause for not raising the ground on direct appeal, and (2) actual prejudice resulting from the alleged error, that is, alternatively, that he is “actually innocent.” Id. at 1234; Bousley, 523 U.S. at 622 (citations omitted). To show cause for procedural default, a defendant must show that “some objective factor external to the defense prevented [him] or his counsel from raising his claims on direct appeal and that this factor cannot be fairly attributable to [defendant's] own conduct.” Lynn, 365 F.3d at 1235. A meritorious claim of ineffective assistance of counsel can constitute cause. See United States v. Nyhuis, 211 F.3d 1340, 1344 (11th Cir. 2000).

Ineffective assistance of counsel claims generally are properly raised by a section 2255 motion regardless of whether they could have been brought on direct appeal. Massaro v. United States, 538 U.S. 500, 503 (2003); United States v. Franklin, 694 F.3d 1, 8 (11th Cir. 2012). To prevail on a constitutional claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, a defendant must demonstrate both that counsel's performance was below an objective and reasonable professional norm and that he was prejudiced by this inadequacy. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 686 (1984); see Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 390 (2000); Darden v. United States, 708 F.3d 1225, 1228 (11th Cir. 2013). In applying Strickland, the court may dispose of an ineffective assistance claim if a defendant fails to carry his burden on either of the two prongs. Strickland, 466 U.S. at 697; Brown v. United States, 720 F.3d 1316, 1326 (11th Cir. 2013); Holladay v. Haley, 209 F.3d 1243, 1248 (11th Cir. 2000).

In determining whether counsel's conduct was deficient, a court must consider “whether counsel's assistance was reasonable considering all the circumstances.” Strickland, 466 U.S. at 688; Dingle v. Sec'y for Dep't of Corr., 480 F.3d 1092, 1099 (11th Cir. 2007). Reviewing courts are to examine counsel's performance in a highly deferential manner and “must indulge a strong presumption that counsel's conduct fell within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance.” Hammond v. Hall, 586 F.3d 1289 1324 (11th Cir. 2009) (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 689); see Chandler v. United States, 218 F.3d 1305, 1315B16 (11th Cir. 2000) (discussing presumption of reasonableness of counsel's conduct); Lancaster v. Newsome, 880 F.2d 362, 375 (11th Cir. 1989) (emphasizing that petitioner was “not entitled to error-free representation”). To show counsel's performance was unreasonable, a defendant must establish that “no competent counsel would have taken the action that his counsel did take.” Gordon v. United States, 518 F.3d 1291, 1301 (11th Cir. 2008) (citations omitted); Chandler, 218 F.3d at 1315. When reviewing the performance of an experienced trial counsel the presumption that cou...

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