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United States v. Headcarrier

United States District Court, D. Montana, Great Falls Division

January 25, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff/Respondent,


          Brian Morris United States District Court Judge.

         This case comes before the Court on Defendant/Movant Samantha Renee Headcarrier's motion to vacate, set aside, or correct her sentence, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Headcarrier filed the motion pro se. After requiring the United States to file certain discovery and to serve a copy on Headcarrier, the Court appointed counsel Daniel V. Donovan to file an amended motion and to ensure that Headcarrier or counsel were able to review the discovery.

         Counsel filed two technical amendments to the original § 2255 motion and determined the discovery produced by the United States had been produced to defense counsel at the time of trial. See Notice of Ams. (Doc. 73) at 1-2; Resp. to Order (Doc. 75) at 2-3.

         I. Preliminary Review

         Before the United States must respond to the § 2255 motion, the Court must determine whether “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); see also Rule 4(b), Rules Governing Section 2255 Proceedings for the United States District Courts. A petitioner “who is able to state facts showing a real possibility of constitutional error should survive Rule 4 review.” Calderon v. United States Dist. Court, 98 F.3d 1102, 1109 (9th Cir. 1996) (“Nicolas”) (Schroeder, C.J., concurring) (referring to Rules Governing § 2254 Cases). The Court should “eliminate the burden that would be placed on the respondent by ordering an unnecessary answer.” Advisory Committee Note (1976), Rule 4, Rules Governing § 2254 Cases, cited in Advisory Committee Note (1976), Rule 4, Rules Governing § 2255 Proceedings.

         II. Background

         The case concerned grave injuries inflicted on two separate occasions on M.L.R., a niece of Defendant Headcarrier. At the time of the first incident, in July of 2013, M. was six months old. At the time of the second incident, on September 4, 2013, M. was eight months old. Headcarrier was 23 years old, pregnant, had a four- or five-year-old son, and was addicted to prescription pain relievers due to rheumatoid arthritis and other issues. She took custody of her niece when Child Protective Services was looking for a home for the girl. Despite her initial attempt to take responsibility for her niece, Headcarrier was unable to care for her properly.

         In July 2013, when M. was crying, Headcarrier hit M. on the left side of her head with the back of her hand, “like an adult.” M. fell backwards and struck her head on the cement floor. After the assault, M. slept and threw up a lot and would sometimes fall over while sitting.

         On September 4, 2013, when M. was again crying, Headcarrier hit her in the back of the head with a baby bottle. Five minutes later, M. had a seizure. She was unable to breathe properly and unable to hold up her head. M.'s injuries seriously impeded her development. M. may have long-term or permanent disabilities, including seizures, cognitive impairment, blindness, and inability to walk, talk, or eat without assistance.

         A grand jury indicted Headcarrier on November 22, 2013, on one count of assault resulting in serious bodily injury in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 113(a)(6) (Count 1); one count of assault with a dangerous weapon in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 113(a)(3) (Count 2); one count of felony child abuse in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1153(b) and Mont. Code Ann. § 45-5-212 (Count 3); and one count of making a false statement to a federal officer in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1001(a)(2) (Count 4).[1] Conviction on either Count 1 or Count 2 carried a mandatory minimum penalty of ten years and a maximum of life in prison. See 18 U.S.C. § 3559(f)(3). The Court appointed Assistant Federal Defender David Ness to represent Headcarrier. Minutes (Doc. 6); Order (Doc. 8).

         The parties reached a plea agreement. Headcarrier agreed to plead guilty to Counts 1 and 3 of the Indictment (the September and July assaults, respectively) and waived her right to appeal the sentence. The United States agreed to dismiss Counts 2 and 4 and to give Headcarrier full credit for acceptance of responsibility. Plea Agreement (Doc. 36) at 2-3 ¶¶ 2-3, 7-8 ¶ 6, 8 ¶ 8. Headcarrier pled guilty in open court on June 3, 2014. Minutes (Doc. 34).

         Before sentencing, counsel submitted letters from friends and relatives and certificates from a treatment program on Headcarrier's behalf. See Letters (Doc. 43). Headcarrier's base offense level was 14. She received upward adjustments because she used a dangerous weapon, she inflicted permanent or life-threatening injury, and M. was a vulnerable victim. Headcarrier also received a three-level downward adjustment for acceptance of responsibility. Her total adjusted offense level was 23. She had no criminal history points and was in category I. Her advisory guideline range would have been 46-57 months, but the statutory mandatory minimum term attached to Count 1 overrode the guideline range and set it at 120 months. Cf. U.S.S.G. §§ 5G1.1(b), 5G1.2(a), (c). The Court sentenced Headcarrier to serve the mandatory minimum sentence of 120 months in prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release. Minutes (Doc. 48); Judgment (Doc. 50) at 2-3.

         Headcarrier appealed. Counsel moved to withdraw and filed an Anders brief. See Anders v. California, 386 U.S. 738 (1967). Following its independent review of the record, the Ninth Circuit granted the motion to withdraw and dismissed the appeal on August 3, 2015. Mem. (Doc. 58) at 1-2, United States v. Headcarrier, No. 14-30203 (9th Cir. Aug. 3, 2015).

         Headcarrier's conviction became final on November 2, 2015. Gonzalez v. Thaler, 565 U.S. 134, 150 (2013). She timely filed her § 2255 motion on July 19, 2016. See 28 U.S.C. § 2255(f)(1); Mot. § 2255 (Doc. 60) at 6 ¶ C; Houston v. Lack, 487 U.S. 266, 270-71 (1988).

         III. Headcarrier's Claims

         Headcarrier claims that trial counsel violated her Sixth Amendment right to the effective assistance of counsel in several respects. Headcarrier first alleges that counsel should have moved to suppress her self-incriminating statements. She also claims that she would have been in a stronger plea-bargaining position had counsel filed such a motion. Mem. in Supp. of § 2255 Mot. (Doc. 61) (“Mem.”) at 5-8. Headcarrier next asserts that counsel failed to investigate and present important exculpatory or mitigating evidence regarding Child Protective Services' decision to place M. in Headcarrier's home and regarding Headcarrier's drug and alcohol dependence. She claims this evidence would have been useful in plea negotiations, might have supported a defense, and should have been cited in a request that she be admitted to the Residential Drug Abuse Prevention program in prison. Mem. at 9-12. Third, Headcarrier argues that counsel should have hired experts “to review the victim's medical history and refute the prosecution's theory of causation of the victim's injuries.” Id. at 9-10; see also Notice of Ams. (Doc. 73) at 1-2. Finally, Headcarrier claims that counsel provided ineffective assistance because he failed to raise these issues on appeal. Mem. at 12-13.

         IV. ...

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