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Lonnie D. Morris v. United States of America

June 22, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge James B. Zagel


Lonnie D. Morris seeks relief under § 2255. He was charged (in 2006) with three related offenses: possession with intent to distribute 23.7 grams of heroin, being a felon in possession of a firearm and possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense. He was convicted of all three counts after trial by jury. In accordance with the law he received a stiff sentence--240 months concurrent for the drug related offenses and a consecutive 60 months for the felon in possession count, amounting to 25 years in prison. He appealed and judgment was affirmed. United States v. Morris, 576 F.3d 661 (7th Cir. 2009). His petition for post-conviction relief is timely.

Morris challenges various aspects of his sentence, but the key point for him is his claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. He was represented by retained counsel, an experienced and well-regarded criminal defense lawyer. Nevertheless, lawyers and similarly experienced and well-regarded judges make mistakes that they should not have made. To see if this happened here, I set forth the facts drawn from the record and the opinion of the Court of Appeals.


The case began with a single family house on Albert Avenue in Rockford, a place suspected of being a drug trafficking locus. The lead officer of the investigation, Detective Rich Gambini of the Rockford, Illinois police, arranged for pick up of trash bags placed for collection in front of the Albert house. The search of the trash uncovered 286 empty plastic baggies with the corners cut off, two empty Dormin sleeping pill containers and 49 empty Dormin capsules. Dormin, a sleeping powder, is commonly used to cut heroin before the drug is sold.

From May 22, 2005 until June 2, 2005, Det. Gambini watched the house one or two times a day. On occasions, he observed Morris at the location.

On June 2nd, Gambini seized three more trash bags abandoned in front of the house. They found about 300 more cut baggies and evidence of Dormin use. The police also found papers addressed to Morris at the house and other documents addressed to Morris's wife at that address.

Late that same day - in anticipation of executing a search warrant - Gambini watched the house and surrounding area again. He saw a maroon car some distance from the house. It was a car Gambini knew was frequently driven by Morris. Morris's ex-wife had confirmed at least his occasional use of the auto. The detective observed the vehicle parked in the lot of a local liquor store. Morris was alone in the car as Gambini watched. Gambini saw a black male come to the car and lean into the vehicle at the driver's side window. There appeared to be a brief conversation and then a hand-to-hand exchange of objects the nature of which could not be determined from where Gambini was located. After this Morris drove off. Gambini followed.

Morris stopped next at an intersection where another black male leaned into the car. An exchange similar to the one in the liquor store took place. After the second exchange, Morris drove back to the Albert Avenue house and pulled into the driveway. He remained in the car. Yet another black male drove up, stopped, and exited his car. He, too, walked to Morris's car, leaned in, and made a hand-to-hand exchange. After this Morris left the car and entered the house through a north door.

Seeing this, Gambini called in the team to execute the warrant. The team arrived, knocked and announced and, getting no response, entered the back (east) door by force. There was a woman and four children on the front porch. A police officer guarded the front door.

Gambini, now inside the house, heard the sound of footsteps running up a flight of stairs emerging from the basement. Gambini ordered him to stop. The person (who was Morris) looked at Gambini and then ran outside through the front door. The officer at the front door chased Morris and tackled him. Morris had $163 in his pocket.

During the search of the basement Gambini found a cell phone, a razor blade, a digital scale and two plastic baggies on top of a dryer. Behind a mattress leaning on a wall, he found a one gallon ziplock bag containing powder which was found later to be 23.6 grams of heroin.

Gambini then searched the car used by Petitioner and found two small baggies in the handle well. These two contained heroin and another baggie held 4 Dormin capsules like those previously found in the trash. In the driver's side door compartment, the detective found a loaded .22 handgun lodged beneath a paper with Morris' name on it.

In the garage, Gambini discovered a Lincoln Town Car registered to Donte Webb. Gambini found another auto, a Pontiac Grand Prix, also inside the garage. The Lincoln's trunk was partially open and, using a flashlight, Gambini saw three large plastic bags with stacks of cash inside. ...

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