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Stuart-Holt v. United States

United States District Court, D. New Hampshire

November 8, 2018

Zakee Stuart-Holt
v.
United States of America

          Zakee Stuart-Holt, pro se Seth R. Aframe, Esq.

          ORDER

          LANDYA B. MCCAFFERTY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         On August 16, 2016, Zakee Stuart-Holt pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute controlled substances, heroin and fentanyl, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 846 and 841, and one count of money laundering, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1956. On November 29, 2016, this court sentenced him to serve 210 months in prison. Stuart-Holt did not file a direct appeal but now, proceeding pro se, seeks relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 from his conviction and sentence.

         Stuart-Holt filed his petition on December 26, 2017. See doc. no. 1. With the court's leave, he filed an amended petition, see doc. no. 4, and an addendum to his amended petition, see doc. no. 9. In those filings, Stuart-Holt raises numerous ineffective assistance of counsel claims.

         Stuart-Holt has since filed several motions, four of which remain pending before the court. First, Stuart-Holt moves to join his co-defendant's, Jeannette Hardy's, § 2255 petition, see Hardy v. United States, 18-cv-182-LM (D.N.H. Dec. 23, 2018). In support of his motion, Stuart-Holt asserts that he and Hardy are adopting the same arguments and citing the same law. See doc. no. 10. Indeed, Stuart-Holt's and Hardy's petitions appear to be identical in many respects. But, as discussed below, Stuart-Holt's subsequent filings raise certain ineffective assistance of counsel claims that Hardy did not assert in her petition. In addition, the court has already issued an order denying Hardy's petition. See Hardy v. United States, No. 18-cv-182-LM, 2018 WL 5784991 (D.N.H. Nov. 2, 2018). Therefore, the court denies Stuart-Holt's motion to the extent it seeks to join his petition with Hardy's. In light of Stuart-Holt's pro se status, the court grants the motion to the extent it asks the court to consider the arguments raised and law cited in Hardy's filings in her § 2255 case.[1]

         The remaining pending motions are a “motion for the court to take judicial notice” (doc. no. 17), a “motion to amend/supplement motion seeking court to take judicial notice” (doc. no. 18), and a “motion to expedite judge's decision” (doc. no. 19). In each of these filings, Stuart-Holt cites additional case law and makes further arguments concerning his ineffective assistance of counsel claims. The court construes document nos. 17, 18, and 19 as addenda to Stuart-Holt's § 2255 petition, and addresses the arguments raised in those filings in this order.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Under § 2255, a federal prisoner may ask the court to vacate, set aside, or correct a sentence that “was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a). The burden of proof is on the petitioner. Wilder v. United States, 806 F.3d 653, 658 (1st Cir. 2015). Once a prisoner requests relief under § 2255, the district court must grant an evidentiary hearing unless “the motion and the files and records of the case conclusively show that the prisoner is entitled to no relief.” 28 U.S.C. § 2255(b). If the district court does not hold an evidentiary hearing, the allegations set forth in the petition are taken as true “unless those allegations are merely conclusory, contradicted by the record, or inherently incredible.” Ellis v. United States, 313 F.3d 636, 641 (1st Cir. 2002).[2]

         BACKGROUND

         On June 22, 2015, Jeannette Hardy was assaulted by an unknown man as she attempted to enter her apartment building and then was shot in the hand by him as she escaped and ran outside. At the time she entered her apartment building, she was speaking on the phone with Stuart-Holt, who was incarcerated at the Merrimack County House of Corrections (“MCHC”) and with whom she shared a lease on her apartment.

         In the aftermath of the shooting, and while she was in the hospital, Hardy made statements to law enforcement officers and signed a consent form, authorizing them to search her apartment for evidence related to the shooting. During the same time, Stuart-Holt attempted to reach Hardy by telephone, but law enforcement officers prevented him from doing so.

         While searching Hardy's apartment, officers discovered a large amount of what they believed to be heroin. The officers subsequently obtained a warrant, searched the apartment, recovered a large quantity of fentanyl, and arrested Hardy. Additional investigation led to evidence that (1) Hardy and Stuart-Holt had participated in a drug trafficking business since at least July 2014 and (2) Stuart-Holt maintained a safe deposit box in his name at Bank of America to conceal proceeds of the drug trafficking business.

         Both Hardy and Stuart-Holt were indicted on one count of conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute controlled substances, heroin and fentanyl, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 846 and 841. Stuart-Holt was also indicted on one count of money laundering in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1956. On October 13, 2015, Attorney Charles O'Leary appeared on Stuart-Holt's behalf.

         On November 17, 2015, Hardy filed two motions to suppress. The first sought to suppress certain statements she made following the shooting and the second sought to suppress evidence seized during the searches of the apartment. On November 18, 2015, Stuart-Holt filed a motion to suppress, seeking to suppress evidence seized during the searches of the apartment as well as evidence seized pursuant to a warrant during the subsequent search of the safe deposit box.

         On January 14 and 15, 2016, the court held evidentiary hearings on the motions to suppress. During the hearings, several Manchester Police Department officers testified, as did two medical professionals. The court heard oral argument on the motions to suppress on January 22, 2016. On February 25, 2016, the court denied the motions. See United States v. Casellas, 149 F.Supp.3d 222 (D.N.H. 2016).

         Stuart-Holt subsequently pleaded guilty to the charged offenses. The court sentenced him to 210 months' imprisonment.

         DISCUSSION

         Stuart-Holt moves to vacate his conviction and sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. In support, he asserts eight claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. He claims that his attorney was ineffective for: (1) failing to argue in the suppression motion that Hardy's consent to search the apartment was involuntary because the police did not permit her to speak to Stuart-Holt before she provided consent; (2) failing to argue in the suppression motion that the police violated the Fourth Amendment by searching and field testing drugs found in the apartment;[3] (3) failing to argue in the suppression motion that the evidence log showed that the seizure of a bag containing drugs went beyond the scope of Hardy's consent to search; (4) advising him to plead guilty to conspiracy to distribute and intent to possess heroin when there was no evidence that he possessed heroin;[4] (5) failing to argue in the suppression motion that Hardy's consent to search the apartment was involuntary because law enforcement officers deliberately prevented Stuart-Holt from being present and objecting prior to Hardy signing the consent-to-search form; (6) failing to adequately argue that the seizure of the bag containing drugs did not fall within the plain view exception; (7) failing to recognize that the government's representations in his plea agreement established his innocence of the charged offenses; and (8) failing to object to the court's sentencing calculation. The court addresses each claim in turn.

         When a § 2255 petition is based on ineffective assistance of counsel, the petitioner “must demonstrate both: (1) that ‘counsel's performance was deficient,' meaning that ‘counsel made errors so serious that counsel was not functioning as the “counsel” guaranteed the defendant by the Sixth Amendment'; and (2) ‘that the deficient performance prejudiced the defense.'” ...


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