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United States v. Eldabaa

United States District Court, D. Montana, Helena Division

September 17, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
JOSEPH LEE ELDABAA, Defendant.

          ORDER

          CHARLES C. LOVELL SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court are several documents filed by Defendant Eldabaa since October of 2018. On October 15, 2018, Defendant filed two documents: (1) a motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to vacate his judgment on the grounds that he had been denied effective assistance of counsel at both the sentencing and appellate stages of his case, (Doc. 314); and (2) a supporting memorandum (Doc. 315). A request for appointment of counsel "under 18 USC S 3000A" was attached to his supporting memorandum. (Doc. 315 at 8). On the same date the motion and memorandum were filed, the clerk of court sent Defendant a standard letter informing him of the prescreening requirement. (Doc. 316).

         On January 10, 2019, Defendant sent a letter to the Clerk of Court, which was filed as a "pro se letter." (Doc. 317). The letter appears to relate to an order entered by the Court on May 4, 2019, denying Defendant's motion for release of certain funds seized at the time of his arrest. (Doc. 282).

         On April 16, 2019, Defendant filed a document titled "Motion in Limine, Motion to Show Cause, Addenda to Memoranda" which was docketed as a supplement to his motion to vacate. (Doc. 318). On April 22, 2019, Defendant filed a document titled "Memorandum in Support of Motion Under 28 USC Section 2244, Motion Under USC 18 Section 3006A Addenda," which was docketed as a supplement to his motion to vacate. (Doc. 319).

         On July 8, 2019, Defendant filed a document titled "Request for Judicial Notice of this Habeas," (Doc. 331).[1] On July 28, 2019, Defendant sent a letter to the undersigned asking for the current status of his 2255 motion. That request was filed by the clerk of court as a "Pro Se Motion for Status Update re: Motion to Vacate." (Doc. 332).

         These filing were reviewed as they were received and found by me to be without merit. Unfortunately, there was a delay in issuing this opinion because of other pressing matters and the retirement of my 25-year career clerk.

         PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Before addressing Defendant's pending motions, the Court first reviews the procedural background of this criminal matter. In August of 2015, the grand jury returned a multiple-count indictment against five separate defendants. (Doc. 2). Count I of the indictment charged Defendant Eldabaa and the other defendants with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and to distribute 50 grams or more of actual methamphetamine and 500 grams or more of a substance containing a detectable amount of methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1) and 21 U.S.C. 846. Count VIII charged Defendant Eldabaa and his co-defendant, Joseph Jayne, with distribution of 50 grams or more of pure methamphetamine in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 18 U.S.C. § 2. Count IX charged Defendants Eldabaa and Jayne with possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A)(ii) and 18 U.S.C. § 2. . Count XI charged Defendant Eldabaa with being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1).

         Defendant Eldabaa first appeared to answer those charges before Magistrate Judge Lynch in Missoula, Montana, on September 1, 2015. Palmer Hoovestal, a member of the CJA panel for the Helena Division of the United States District Court, was present during Defendant Eldabaa's initial appearance and arraignment and was appointed to represent him. Mr. Hoovestal filed a number of motions on Mr. Eldabaa's behalf, including a motion to suppress statements made during a custodial interrogation by Agent Ken Poteet of the Montana Department of Justice and FBI Special Agent Brandon Mercer on February 20, 2015.

         The Court denied Defendant Eldabaa's motion to suppress on May 26, 2016, following an April 8, 2016, evidentiary hearing. On June 3, 2016, Defendant Eldabaa, his counsel, and counsel for the United States entered into a plea agreement. (Doc. 202). In the plea agreement, Defendant Eldabaa agreed to plead guilty to a superseding information charging him with "possession with the intent to distribute methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1)," an offense with a mandatory minimum of five years imprisonment and a potential maximum term of 40 years imprisonment. (Doc. 202 at 2, ¶ 2). As part of the plea agreement, Defendant reserved his right to appeal the Court's adverse ruling on his motion to suppress and the government consented to his reservation of rights. (Doc. 202 at 2, ¶ 3).

         The government also agreed to dismiss the indictment, to make certain recommendations, and to refrain from filing an "Information pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 851" even though Defendant had "one or more prior felony drug offense convictions." (Doc. 202 at 3). Had Defendant been convicted of Counts I and IX of the original indictment, he would have faced a mandatory minimum term of 10 years on Count I and 5 consecutive years on Count IX.

         Based on the concessions made by the United States in the plea agreement, Defendant Eldabaa waived his right to appeal any aspect of his sentence and his right to challenge the sentence in a proceeding under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. He reserved his right to pursue a § 2255 action based on alleged ineffective assistance of counsel.

         The United States filed an Offer of Proof prior to the change of plea hearing (Doc. 206) and relied on that document to provide the factual basis for Defendant's guilty plea, which he entered on June 15, 2016. Although Defendant did not agree with all of the facts presented by the government, he admitted that he possessed five or more grams of methamphetamine and intended to distribute it.

         The Court accepted Defendant Eldabaa's guilty plea and set sentencing for September 15, 2016. The Court also established a schedule for preparation and submission of the presentence report and the filing of sentencing memoranda. At Defendant Eldabaa's request, the Court continued his sentencing until October 5, 2016.

         Counsel for Defendant Eldabaa raised three legal objections to the presentence report, arguing: (1) the two-level enhancement for possessing a firearm under USSG § 2D 1.1 (b)(1) should be stricken because the firearm in question belonged to his co-defendant, Jayne; (2) the base offense level should be 24, as opposed to 34, because Defendant was responsible for less than 20 grams of actual methamphetamine; and (3) the resulting guideline range for a total ...


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