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United States v. Quattlebaum

United States District Court, District of Columbia

March 29, 2013

KEVIN QUATTLEBAUM, Defendant Criminal Action No. 07-235 (JDB)

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JOHN D. BATES, United States District Judge.

This case is before the Court on petitioner Kevin Quattlebaum's motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will deny the motion.

In 2007, Quattlebaum was arrested when, following a traffic stop, police officers found crack cocaine in his truck. He was charged with unlawful possession with intent to distribute 50 grams or more of cocaine base (also known as crack) in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(A)(iii) (2006). Quattlebaum moved to suppress the drugs, contending tat the police lacked probable cause either to stop the truck or to search it. The Court found probable cause for both the stop and the search, denying the motion to suppress, and Quattlebaum was convicted after a jury trial. He appealed, arguing that this Court erred by denying his motion to suppress. Rejecting his arguments, the D.C. Circuit affirmed Quattlebaum's conviction. See United States v. Quattlebaum, 331 F. App'x 755 (D.C. Cir. 2009) (per curiam).

On June 30, 2008, the Court sentenced Quattlebaum to 126 months of imprisonment, a sentence at " the lower end" of the then-applicable United States Sentencing Guidelines range. See Sentencing Tr. [Docket Entry 80] at 30:21-23 (June 30, 2008). [1] The Sentencing Guidelines were subsequently amended, significantly reducing the ranges for crack cocaine offenses to reduce the disparity between punishment for crack and powder cocaine crimes. In light of the amendment to the guidelines--which the Sentencing Commission made retroactive--the Court has now reduced Quattlebaum's sentence to 120 months, the mandatory minimum under the statute in effect at the time of Quattlebaum's sentencing, 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(A)(iii) (2006). See Memorandum Opinion [Docket Entry 97] (Mar. 22, 2013).

In this pro se motion to vacate, set aside or correct his sentence, Quattlebaum raises a number of arguments [Docket Entry 78]. The Court has made its best effort to understand Quattlebaum's arguments and construe them favorably. Nonetheless, the Court finds that all lack merit or are procedurally barred.

First, Quattlebaum argues that the Court " acted in clear absence of all jurisdiction" because " U.S. District Court Judges do not have any jurisdiction over the dispute . . . and no jurisdiction over the act." Pet'r's Mot. [Docket Entry 78] at 5 (May 11, 2010). But Quattlebaum was charged with a federal offense--violating 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) by possessing, with intent to distribute, crack cocaine. And this Court has jurisdiction over " all offenses

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against the laws of the United States." 18 U.S.C. § 3231 (" The district courts of the United States shall have original jurisdiction, exclusive of the courts of the States, of all offenses against the laws of the United States." ). Accordingly, the Court has jurisdiction over Quattlebaum's offense. [2]

Next, Quattlebaum alleges " fraud and no probable cause" for the stop of his vehicle and subsequent arrest. Pet'r's Mot. at 6. This claim, however, was already raised and rejected by the D.C. Circuit on direct appeal. See Quattlebaum, 331 F. App'x at 756.

Quattlebaum also argues that his counsel was constitutionally ineffective. The Sixth Amendment guarantees " the right to the effective assistance of counsel," Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 686, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed.2d 674 (1984) (internal quotation marks omitted), and a habeas petitioner may raise an ineffective assistance of counsel claim for the first time in a section 2255 proceeding " whether or not [he] could have raised the claim on direct appeal." Massaro v. United States, 538 U.S. 500, 504, 123 S.Ct. 1690, 155 L.Ed.2d 714 (2003). To succeed on a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, a habeas petitioner must show both that his lawyer performed deficiently, see Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687 (requiring showing that " counsel made errors so serious that counsel was not functioning as the 'counsel' guaranteed the defendant by the Sixth Amendment" ), and that he was prejudiced by the lawyer's mistakes, see id. at 694 (requiring " a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different" ). " Failure to make the required showing of either deficient performance or sufficient prejudice defeats the ineffectiveness claim." Id. at 700. In assessing counsel's performance, the Court must " indulge a strong presumption that counsel's conduct falls within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance." United States v. Toms, 396 F.3d 427, 432, 364 U.S. App. D.C. 397 (D.C. Cir. 2005) (internal quotation marks omitted).

In support of his ineffective assistance claim, Quattlebaum contends that his attorney failed to discuss the issue of jurisdiction with him or to object to the Court's lack of jurisdiction to handle his case. Such an argument would have been meritless--and, indeed, frivolous--for the reasons discussed above. Declining to file a frivolous motion is counsel's prerogative, and shows sound judgment rather than deficient performance. See United States v. Best, 426 F.3d 937, 945 (7th Cir. 2005) (" a strategic decision [is] generally not subject to review" (internal quotation marks ...

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