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United States v. Eiland

United States District Court, District of Columbia

July 23, 2018



          Royce C. Lamberth United States District Judge

         Before the Court is the Motion Pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 2255 to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence by a Person in Federal Custody [ECF No. 1159] by the defendant Gerald Eiland. Defendant claims ineffective assistance of trial counsel and requests that this Court vacate, set aside or correct the sentence imposed on him. Upon consideration of the Motion [ECF No. 1159], the government's Opposition [ECF No. 1169], the entire record herein, and applicable law, the Court DENIES the defendant's Motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Beginning in March of 2003, the Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI") and .the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department investigated a suspected narcotics trafficking operation in the District of Columbia. United States v. Eiland, 738 F.3d 338, 345 (D.C. Cir. 2013). This investigation, which included the use of physical surveillance, informants, pen register and toll record analysis, and judicially authorized wiretaps, resulted in charges against twenty-one defendants for conspiring to distribute heroin, cocaine, cocaine base, and PCP between 1999 and 2004 in Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia. Id. Gerald Eiland ("Eiland") and Frederick Miller ("Miller") were identified as the leaders of the operation. Id.

         Prior to trial, many of the defendants moved to suppress evidence collected through the use of the wiretaps, which they argued were authorized in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2510, et seq. United States v. Eiland, 398 F.Supp.2d 160, 162-63 (D.D.C. 2005). Of particular relevance to this motion is the February 13, 2004, affidavit supporting a wiretap of Miller's telephone submitted by Special Agent Sparks ("Sparks 2/13/2004 Affidavit"), which the defendants argued contained misleading information and omitted material facts. Id. at 163-65. This Court denied the motions to suppress. Id. at 176.

         On October 3, 2006, Eiland proceeded to jury trial with codefendants Miller, Robert Bryant, and Alvin Gaskins. 738 F.3d at 345-46. Bryant was acquitted on all charges, and Gaskins was found guilty only of narcotics conspiracy. Id. Eiland and Miller were both found guilty of: (1) narcotics conspiracy with intent to distribute heroin, cocaine, and cocaine base; (2) RICO conspiracy; (3) continuing criminal enterprise; (4) attempt to possess with intent to distribute heroin; and (5) three counts of unlawful use of a communication facility. United States v. Eiland, 525 F.Supp.2d 37, 39 (D.D.C. 2007). Eiland and Miller were sentenced to concurrent sentences of life imprisonment for RICO conspiracy and continuing criminal enterprise, with additional lesser sentences imposed for the other convictions. 738 F.3d at 346.

         On appeal, Eiland and Miller raised several points of error, including, inter alia: (1) that the affidavits supporting the application for (and subsequent extensions of) a wiretap on Miller's phone failed to establish probable cause or necessity, and therefore the trial court erred in denying the defendants' motions to suppress; (2) that the trial court erred in allowing FBI Agent John Bevington's testimony, which the defendants argued provided a superfluous overview of conspiracy investigations and improperly vouched for cooperating informants; and (3) that the trial court erred in allowing FBI Agent Hall's lay opinion testimony interpreting the wiretap evidence. Eiland, 738 F.3d at 347-54. The D.C. Circuit affirmed the convictions, holding in relevant part: (1) that both probable cause and necessity had been established for the wiretap applications and extensions thereof; (2) that while Agent Bevington's testimony was plain error pursuant to the recent holding in United States v. Moore, 651 F.3d 30, 59-61 (D.C. Cir. 2011), the error was harmless; and (3) that the defendants failed to demonstrate that any error in allowing Agent Hall's testimony, if existent, was prejudicial. Id. at 348-54.

         Eiland timely filed the present Motion [ECF No. 1159] within one year of the Circuit's denial of his petition for rehearing. The Motion prays that this Court vacate, set aside, or correct Eiland's sentence pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 2255 on the grounds that Eiland was denied effective assistance of counsel as guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution. ECF No. 1159 at 10. Specifically, Eiland asserts that his counsel performed deficiently by failing to:

(1) raise meritorious arguments challenging the sufficiency of the affidavits supporting the wiretap applications and extensions thereof under Title III of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act, 18 U.S.C. § 2510, etseq. (Id. at 10-33);
(2) move in limine to exclude or object to FBI Agent Bevington's irrelevant and vouching testimony concerning cooperating witnesses (Id. at 33-52);
(3) present evidence that Eiland had a source of income from his auto-shop business that could have justified his personal spending and lifestyle (Id. at 52); and (4) object to FBI Agent Hall's lay opinion testimony interpreting wiretaps (Id. at 52-53).


         A. Section 2255 Motion

         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, a prisoner may collaterally attack an otherwise final sentence if it 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). Under such a motion, a prisoner may ask a court to vacate, set aside, or correct the sentence. Id. If the sentence is found by the court to deny or infringe upon a prisoner's constitutional rights such that the judgment is "vulnerable to collateral attack, the court shall vacate and set the judgment aside and shall discharge the prisoner or resentence him or grant a new trial or correct the sentence as may appear appropriate." § 2255(b). "Unless the motion and the files and records of the case conclusively show that the prisoner is entitled to no relief," a court shall grant a hearing. Id.

         Under § 2255, the petitioner bears the burden of proof, and must demonstrate by a preponderance of the evidence that he is entitled to relief. United States v. Pollard, 602 F.Supp.2d 165, 168 (D.D.C. 2009). "Relief under § 2255 is an extraordinary remedy in light of society's legitimate interest in the finality of judgments." United States v. Zakas, 793 F.Supp.2d 77, 80 (D.D.C. 2011). A petitioner asserting a § 2255 motion must therefore "clear a significantly higher hurdle than would exist on direct appeal." United States v. Frady, 456 U.S. 152, 166 (1982).

         B. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

         Eiland claims ineffective assistance of counsel as to his trial counsel-a claim he did not raise on direct appeal. Ordinarily, claims not raised on direct appeal may not be raised as part of a collateral attack on the sentence unless the petitioner shows either: (1) cause for failing to raise the issue and prejudice as a result of the alleged constitutional violation, or (2) actual innocence. Bousley v. United States, 523 U.S. 614, 622 (1998). Ineffective assistance of counsel claims, however, are not subject to this procedural default, and petitioners asserting such claims need not show cause and prejudice for having failed to raise the issue on direct appeal. Massaro v. United States, 538 U.S. 500, 504 (2003).

         An ineffective assistance of counsel claim is comprised of two elements: (1) "counsel's performance was deficient," and (2) "the deficient performance prejudiced the defendant." Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984). "Failure to make the required showing of either deficient performance or sufficient prejudice defeats the ineffectiveness claim." Id. at 700.

         Deficiency of performance is established by demonstrating "that counsel made errors so serious that counsel was not functioning as the 'counsel' guaranteed ... by the Sixth Amendment." Id. More specifically, the defendant must show that his counsel's performance "fell below an objective standard of reasonableness." Id. at 688. A court reviewing the actions of counsel at trial must "indulge a strong presumption that the counsel's conduct falls within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance." Id. at 689. The ...

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