Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Courtright v. United States

United States District Court, Seventh Circuit

October 30, 2013

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent. Criminal No. 07-cr-30179-DRH


DAVID R. HERNDON, Chief Judge:

I. Introduction

Now before this Court is petitioner Carl A. Courtright’s motion to vacate, set aside or correct sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (Doc. 1). The government opposes Courtright’s motion (Doc. 14). For the following reasons, Courtright’s motion for relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 is DENIED.[1]

II. Procedural and Factual History

On November 15, 2007, an indictment was returned charging Courtright with production and possession of child pornography (Cr. Doc. 1). On November 29, 2013, Assistant Federal Public Defender Judith Kuenneke entered an appearance on Courtright’s behalf (Cr. Doc. 11). On March 24, 2008, Courtright moved pro se for new counsel, citing his belief that Kuenneke was not working diligently on his behalf (Cr. Doc. 22). District Judge Gilbert granted Courtright’s request for new counsel and his previous request for a continuance (Cr. Doc. 24). Courtright’s second trial attorney, CJA panel attorney Timothy Capps, moved to withdraw on September 9, 2008, citing a newly-arisen conflict (Cr. Doc. 28). Thereafter, Judge Gilbert appointed a second CJA panel attorney, Jeffrey Rosanswank, to represent Courtright (Cr. Doc. 33). Rosanswank represented Courtright throughout the remainder of the trial court proceedings.

A superseding indictment was returned against Courtright on September 17, 2008, additionally charging receipt of child pornography and bank fraud (Cr. Doc. 30). Following Courtright’s arraignment on the superseding indictment (Cr. Doc. 36), Judge Gilbert granted Courtright’s motion to continue trial and the government’s oral motion to conduct Courtright’s trial in East St. Louis. As the trial was to be conducted in East St. Louis, Courtright’s case was reassigned to the undersigned to preside over the remainder of the trial court proceedings (Cr. Doc. 42).

On December 9, 2008, the Court granted Courtright an additional extension of time to file pretrial motions, requiring the filing of said motions by December 15, 2008 (Cr. Doc. 52). Courtright timely moved to suppress statements taken on August 9, 2007 (Cr. Doc. 53, Amended at Cr. Doc. 55), statements taken on August 30, 2007 (Cr. Doc. 56), and evidence seized from “Barn” on August 30, 2007 (Cr. Doc. 56). Courtright filed an additional untimely motion to suppress evidence obtained from a MySpace administrative subpoena, without leave of the Court, on February 6, 2009 (Cr. Doc. 60). The Court granted the government’s request to strike the untimely motion (Cr. Doc. 64).

Following a hearing, the Court denied Courtright’s motions to suppress (Cr. Doc. 71). A second superseding indictment was returned, adding a second possession of child pornography charge, on February 18, 2009 (Cr. Doc. 67). On February 24, 2009, the Court denied Courtright’s motion to reopen pretrial motions and continue trial (Cr. Doc. 78).

The case proceeded to trial on March 2, 2009. At trial, the government presented the following:

In May 2007, as part of a computer crime task force, the Illinois Attorney General’s Office served a subpoena on the social networking website MySpace regarding registered sex offenders in Illinois, based on information it had received of possible crimes in the Granite City, Illinois area (Cr. Doc. 126, Tr. Day 2, at pp. 7-8). Agents used the records to learn that in December 2006, the IP address registered to Courtright, a registered sex offender, had offered child pornography for distribution on the internet through a file sharing program called Limewire (Id. at pp. 9-13). Thereafter, a search warrant was obtained for Courtright’s residence where he lived with his parents (Id. at pp. 13-15). Execution of the search warrant resulted in the obtainment of multiple computers and computer equipment located throughout the home (Id. at pp. 14-18). A forensic preview determined that a laptop found in Courtright’s bedroom contained child pornography that had been downloaded through Limewire (Id. at pp. 14-18, 42). Evidence of bank fraud was also revealed (Id. at pp. 14-17). During a brief interview at Courtright’s residence, Courtright said he was the only user of the laptop found in his bedroom and the only Limewire user (Id. at p. 42). Courtright later denied he was the sole user of the laptop or Limewire (Id. at pp. 42-43).

In-depth forensic analysis revealed Courtright possessed an extensive collection of child pornography (Cr. Doc. 128, Tr. Day 4, at pp. 33-144). The images were found either on a computer password-protected for Courtright’s sole access, or on the laptop to which Courtright conceded he was the sole user. The government’s computer forensics expert offered evidence as to the contents of the hard drives, including the co-mingling of Courtright’s personal identifiers with evidence of child pornography and bank fraud (Id.).

While the majority of the images were downloaded off the internet, a series of images of a young girl was transferred directly from a Hewlett Packard (HP) camera. The young girl was later identified as S.J., a 14 year old living with her father (a former cellmate of Courtright’s) in the garage of a home Courtright’s parents owned at the time the images were made (Cr. Doc. 127, Tr. Day 3, at p. 74).

S.J. testified that Courtright convinced her to let him take a series of naked pictures of herself in exchange for $500.00. At the time, S.J.’s father was heavily abusing drugs, S.J. had no money for food, no ability to take a shower, and the water she had to drink made her sick (Id. at p. 85). Courtright took the pictures himself (Id. at p. 89). Courtright instructed S.J. to make the pictures seem like “a tease” with S.J. undressing in various stages. At one point, Courtright told S.J. to “spit” in her hand and “play with herself” to make her seem “aroused” in the pictures (Id. at pp. 88-91). S.J. testified that a week after taking the pictures, Courtright came to S.J. and told her he had accidentally deleted all the photos. He asked S.J. to retake all the photos, without payment, once her sores healed from the infection she received from a lack of clean water (Id. at pp. 95-96).

As to Courtright’s charge for bank fraud, Courtright was ordained on-line as a minister. Courtright created “Truth of God Ministries.” Courtright deposited numerous fake donation checks into the online ministry’s account (Doc. 127, Tr. Day 3, at pp. 226-end; Doc. 128, Tr. Day 4, at pp. 1-23). Courtright presented no witnesses.

Near the end of the first day of jury deliberations, the Court was made aware that certain properly-admitted exhibits were inadvertently left in the government’s possession and thus not provided to the jury. After discussing the issue with the government and defense counsel (defendant was not in attendance), the Court decided to provide the evidence to the jury, explain that they were inadvertently not provided at the beginning of deliberations, while informing the jury it was time to wrap up deliberations for the day (Cr. Doc. 129, Tr. Day 5, at pp. 34-37). The following Monday morning, the Court explained its reasoning to Courtright (Cr. Doc. 155, Tr. Day 6, at pp. 3-14).

On March 9, 2009, Courtright was convicted of each of the charges in the second superseding indictment (Id. at pp. 16-20). On July 17, 2009, the Court sentenced Courtright to life plus 120 months consecutive on Count 1, 240 months on Counts 2 and 3, 480 months on Count 4, and 360 months on Count 5, all such terms to run concurrently, for a total of life imprisonment, plus 120 months consecutively (Cr. Doc. 115).

On July 23, 2009, Courtright filed a notice of appeal (Cr. Doc. 117). Gareth Morris was appointed to represent Courtright on direct appeal. Courtright claimed that evidence of a prior sexual assault was erroneously admitted at trial and that certain jury instructions were improper. On January 13, 2011, the Seventh Circuit affirmed Courtright’s conviction, finding any error was harmless in light of the “abundant evidence” of Courtright’s guilt. United States v. Courtright, 632 F.3d 363, 372 (7th Cir. 2011). The Supreme Court denied Courtright’s petition for writ of certiorari on October 3, 2011. 132 S.Ct. 296. Thus, Courtright’s limitation period for filing a timely Section 2255 motion ended on October 3, 2012. See 28 U.S.C. § 2255(f)(1); Latham v. United States, 527 F.3d 651, 652 (7th Cir. 2008) (citing Clay v. United States, 537 U.S. 522, 525 (2003)).

Courtright’s initial petition under Section 2255 is dated September 28, 2012. Thus, Courtright’s initial petition is considered filed on that date. See Houston v. Lack, 487 U.S. 266, 271 (1988) (a pro se prisoner litigant’s notice of appeal is deemed to have been filed when placed in the hands of prisoner officials for mailing); Jones v. Bertrand, 171 F.3d 499 (7th Cir. 1999) (holding that Houston “mailbox rule” applies to prisoners filing pro se habeas petitions). The Court shall now address Courtright’s various claims in turn.

III. Courtright’s Section 2255 Petition is Denied

a. Law

A prisoner may move to vacate, set aside or correct his sentence if he claims “the sentence 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).

Section 2255 is an extraordinary remedy because it asks the district court “to reopen the criminal process to a person who has already had an opportunity for full process.” Almonacid v. United States, 476 F.3d 518, 521 (7th Cir. 2007). Accordingly, relief under Section 2255 is “reserved for extraordinary situations, ” Prewitt v. United States, 83 F.3d 812, 816 (7th Cir. 1996) (citing Brecht v. Abrahamson, 507 U.S. 619, 633-34 (1993)), as a collateral attack pursuant to Section 2255 is not a substitute for a direct appeal. Varela v. United States, 481 F.3d 932, 935 (7th Cir. 2007).

Thus, unless a movant demonstrates changed circumstances in fact or law, he may not raise issues already decided on direct appeal. Olmstead v. United States, 55 F.3d 316, 319 (7th Cir. 1995). Further, a petitioner cannot raise constitutional issues that he could have but did not directly appeal unless he shows good cause for and actual prejudice from his failure to raise them on appeal, or unless failure to consider the claim would result in a fundamental miscarriage of justice. Bousley v. United States, 523 U.S. 614, 622 (1998); Wainwright v. Sykes, 433 U.S. 72, 87 (1977); Fountain v. United States, 211 F.3d 429, 433 (7th Cir. 2000). Moreover, a Section 2255 motion cannot pursue nonconstitutional issues that were not raised on direct appeal regardless of cause and prejudice. Lanier v. United States, 220 F.3d 833, 842 (7th Cir. 2000). The only way such issues could be heard in the Section 2255 context is if the alleged error of law represents “a fundamental defect which inherently results in a complete miscarriage of justice.” United States v. Addonizio, 442 U.S. 178, 185 (1979).

Courtright raises various claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. Importantly, the Supreme Court has held that the usual procedural default rule does not generally apply to such claims as, “an ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim may be brought in a collateral proceeding under § 2255, whether or not the petitioner could have raised the claim on direct appeal.” Massaro v. United States, 538 U.S. 500, 504 (2003).

To succeed in an ineffective assistance of counsel claim, a petitioner must demonstrate (1) his attorney’s performance “fell below an objective standard of reasonableness, ” and (2) “but for counsel’s unprofessional errors the result of the proceeding would have been different.” Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 694 (1984). To satisfy the first prong, “the Court must determine whether, in light of all the circumstances, the identified acts or omissions were outside the wide range of professionally competent assistance.” Id. at 690. To satisfy the second prong, a petitioner must demonstrate to a “reasonable probability” that without the unprofessional errors, “the result of the proceeding would have been different.” Id. at 696. A district court’s analysis begins with a “strong presumption that the defendant’s attorney rendered adequate representation of his client.” United States v. Meyer, 234 F.3d 319, 325 (7th Cir. 2000). Thus, a petitioner must overcome a heavy burden to prove that his attorney was constitutionally deficient. Shell v. United States, 448 F.3d 951, 955 (7th Cir. 2006).

b. Application

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.