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Adonis House v. United States of America

April 14, 2011

ADONIS HOUSE, PETITIONER,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, RESPONDENT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Virginia M. Kendall

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Petitioner Adonis House ("House") was convicted and sentenced for two counts of distributing a controlled substance in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and 18 U.S.C. § 2. House filed a Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. For the following reasons, the Court denies House's motion.

BACKGROUND

The following factual background is based on the records in the underlying criminal proceedings.*fn1 On August 31, 2006, a grand jury sitting in the Northern District of Illinois indicted House on two counts of distributing a controlled substance in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and 18 U.S.C. § 2. (R. 1) Eugene Steingold ("Steingold") first appeared on House's behalf on September 12, 2006, and he represented House at the arraignment, trial, and sentencing. (R. 9, Sent. Tr. at 3.) On June 4, 2007, the jury trial began. During jury selection, the government informed the Court that House allegedly had tried to contact the government's witness, Sylvester Avery ("Avery"), through an intermediary, Mary Brown ("Brown"), with the intent to persuade Avery against testifying. The Court admonished House not to have any contact with witnesses in the case. On June 7, 2007, the jury convicted House on both counts. (R. 79.)

Before the sentencing hearing the Probation Officer prepared a Presentence Investigation Report ("PSR"). The PSR recommended a base offense level of 34 based on the drug amount in this case as well as the stipulated drug amount from another case pending against House. (Supp. PSR at 2.) The PSR also indicated that House's base offense level should be increased two levels, from 34 to 36, for obstruction of justice. (PSR at 4, 5.) The Probation Officer explained that House's attempt to contact Avery was obstruction of justice under § 3C1.1 of the Sentencing Guidelines. (Id.) Steingold argued against the two point increase in his sentencing memorandum. (R. at 94.)

The Court sentenced House on December 13, 2007. (Id. at 97.) At this time the Court asked House if he was satisfied with Steingold's representation at trial and House stated "to a certain extent," but went on to articulate discontent with Steingold's refusal to file certain motions. (Sent. Tr. at 4, 5.) Specifically, House wanted Steingold to file motions requesting a reduced sentence based on House's incarceration in a non-federal facility, and also credit for time served. House did not otherwise complaint about Steingold's representation. (Id. at 5.)

After starting with the base offense level of 34, the Court addressed the two-level increase for obstruction of justice. Steingold claimed that House had no intention to threaten Avery, but rather tried to contact Avery through Brown to aid Steingold's investigation of the case. (Id. at 12, 13.) He also objected to testimony at sentencing by FBI Special Agent Helen Dunn ("Agent Dunn"), who investigated the obstruction of justice issue, on the basis that she could not provide specific details about the dates and times of the conversations between House, Avery, and Brown. (Id.) Because these objections lacked merit, the Court allowed Agent Dunn to testify at sentencing.

Agent Dunn testified that he spoke with Avery sometime in June 2007 in the U.S. Attorney's Office. (Id. at 17.) According to Agent Dunn, Avery told her that he ran into Brown at the scene of a traffic accident, where Brown asked him if he was going to testify against House at trial; Avery told Brown that he did not know what she was talking about. (Id. at 18.) Also, when Agent Dunn spoke with Brown in June 2007, a few days before House's trial, Brown confirmed that House asked her to tell Avery not to testify, and she carried out this request. (Id. at 19, 20-21.) Agent Dunn further testified that when she spoke with Brown again a few months after the June 2007 trial, Brown told her that House was upset with Brown for telling the FBI about these conversations. (Id. at 22.)

Steingold objected based on hearsay to Agent Dunn's testimony but the Court overruled the objection. The Court found that to obstruct justice the defendant's behavior need not be threatening; it was sufficient if the defendant attempted to influence or persuade someone to act in a certain way. (Id. at 25-26.) Accordingly, the Court applied a two-level enhancement for obstruction under Sentencing Guideline § 3C1.1. (Id. at 26.)

The offense level thus went from a 34 to 36, and House had criminal history category of I, resulting in a sentencing range of 188-235 months. The Court sentenced House to 188 months' imprisonment for Counts 2 and 3, which would run concurrently. (Sent. Tr. at 49-50.) House then filed a timely notice of appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals for Seventh Circuit, arguing that the Court erred by applying the obstruction of justice enhancement and by failing to consider Kimbrough v. U.S. and Section 3553(a) factors in sentencing. U.S. v. House, 551 F.3d 694 (7th Cir. 2008). The Seventh Circuit affirmed House's conviction and sentence.

On March 22, 2010, House timely filed this § 2255 motion in which he raises several ineffective assistance of counsel claims.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

House is proceeding pro se, so the Court construes his filings broadly. Kafo v. U.S., 467 F.3d 1063, 1066 (7th Cir. 2006). Section 2255 allows a prisoner convicted of a federal crime to move the district court that imposed the sentence to vacate, set aside, or correct the sentence. This relief is only available in cases where there have been jurisdictional or constitutional errors that result in a "complete miscarriage of justice." Harris v. U.S., 366 F.3d 593, 594 (7th Cir. 2004). It is an "extraordinary remedy because it asks the district court essentially to ...


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