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Bennett v. United States

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

April 21, 2015

TAYLOR L. BENNETT, Petitioner,


RODNEY W. SIPPEL, District Judge.

This matter is before me on the motion of Taylor L. Bennett ("Bennett") to vacate, set aside, or correct a sentence by a person in federal custody pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. In her motion, Bennett alleges violations of her Fourth Amendment rights and a violation of her Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel. For the reasons below, I find that all of Bennett's claims are without merit. As a result, her motion will be denied.


On October 23, 2013, a grand jury charged Bennett with a five-count indictment. The indictment charged her with: Count 1, mail fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1341; Count 2, aggravated identity theft in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1028A; Count 3, access device fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1029(a)(2); Count 4, possession of 15 or more unauthorized access devices in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1029(a)(2) and § 1029(a)(3); and Count 5, possession of stolen mail in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1708.

The charges stem from the following incident. On August 27, 2013, officers of the Florissant, Missouri Police Department responded to a call from a Florissant resident who stated that he noticed a heavy set white male wearing a backpack opening mailboxes in his neighborhood. When the officers arrived at the scene, they made contact with Taylor Bennett who, although female, fit the description given by the caller. Bennett initially provided the officers with a false name and date of birth and stated she was looking at properties to purchase in the area. After conducting a record check on the name Bennett provided and determining it to be false, the officers questioned Bennett further, who then provided her true name. The officers requested consent to search Bennett's backpack, which they contend she granted, and discovered a counterfeit identification document, a credit card in a different name, stolen mail, identifying information of others, and a map with various addresses highlighted in yellow. Police later notified the post office about the incident. The office sent a postal inspector to investigate.

While Bennett was in custody, the officers conducted additional questioning. Bennett admitted to obtaining the names and social security numbers of others which she used to open email addresses in variations of the stolen identities to assist her in acquiring unauthorized credit cards. She then connected the stolen identities to vacant properties in the St. Louis area to direct the credit card issuers to mail the fraudulently acquired cards to those locations. Bennett further revealed that she had been residing at a local hotel. She consented to a search of that room. There, police discovered a laptop, notebooks containing identifying information of others, and credit cards in several different names. In total, police determined that Bennett possessed the personal identifying information of over 400 individuals, which they believed she used in furtherance of her scheme to fraudulently obtain credit cards. Based on this information, a grand jury indicted Bennett.

The Federal Public Defenders Office ("Counsel") represented Bennett throughout these proceedings. On October 9, 2013, Counsel provided Bennett with a copy of the discovery in her case, including a copy of the Florissant Police Report. During this meeting, Counsel and Bennett "discussed [] several Fourth Amendment issues in [Bennett's] case: the initial stop of Bennett by the police officer, the search of Bennett's backpack and seizure of several items from the backpack, the search of Bennett's hotel room and the seizure of several items from the hotel room, and the search of Bennett's computer." (Doc. #10-1, Affidavit of Counsel, at 1) They discussed the possibility of filing Motions to Suppress Evidence concerning those issues.

On October 30, Bennett and Counsel again discussed the possibility of filing pretrial motions regarding those issues. Bennett decided to wait for the Assistant United States Attorney to make a plea offer before deciding whether to file the motions. Counsel requested additional time to obtain and review discovery materials and to determine whether and which pretrial motions Bennett might file. On November 5, Counsel received the plea offer. She met with Bennett the next day to review it. As the offer was conditioned upon Bennett's waiver of pretrial motions, Counsel and Bennett discussed the odds that Bennett would prevail on potential motions. Following that discussion, Bennett accepted the plea offer and agreed to waive pretrial motions.

Before the waiver hearing, Counsel discussed the filing of pretrial motions with Bennett for the final time. The waiver motion stated, "Defendant and Counsel for Defendant have discussed pretrial motions and the issues to be raised by way of pretrial motions. Defendant feels that it is in her best interest to waive pretrial motions and Defendant agrees and concurs in the decision to waive pretrial motions." (Doc. #20, Pet'r's Mot. to Waive Pretrial Mot., at 1) At the waiver hearing, the presiding judge noted, "the Defendant appeared in person and with counsel on the record and announced that, understanding her rights in this regard, she wished to waive her right to file pretrial motions as well as her right to have a hearing on those motions." Concluding that Bennett understood her rights in waiving pretrial motions, the judge granted her motion.

On January 9, 2014, Bennett appeared before me at her change of plea hearing. At the hearing, Bennett stated that the stipulated facts in the plea agreement contained some errors. A recess was held to allow Bennett and Counsel the opportunity to amend the facts in the plea agreement to correct those alleged errors. When the proceedings resumed, Bennett then objected to facts contained in the police report. As a result of Bennett's hesitation, Counsel requested a trial date. However, Bennett requested to address me and, after being informed by Counsel that only the facts in the plea agreement were being considered as elements of the offense, affirmed the facts in the plea agreement as true and correct. I then accepted her guilty plea to Counts 1, 3, 4, and 5 of the indictment. In accordance with the plea agreement, the government dismissed Count 2 of the indictment at the time of sentencing. On August 18, after pleading guilty and being sentenced, Bennett filed a § 2255 claim stating four grounds for relief.


Bennett claims she is entitled to relief on the following grounds:

(1) Police did not establish probable cause required to carry out a warrantless arrest.
(2) Warrantless search and seizure violated Bennett's Fourth Amendment rights.
(3) Exclusionary rule barred admission of evidence seized in violation of Bennett's Fourth Amendment rights.
(4) Bennett received ineffective assistance of counsel.


A motion pursuant to § 2255 "is intended to afford federal prisoners a remedy identical in scope to federal habeas corpus.'" United States v. Wilson , 997 F.2d 429, 431 (8th Cir.1993) (quoting Davis v. United States , 417 U.S. 333, 343 (1974)). Under § 2255, "a defendant in federal custody may seek post conviction relief on the ground that his sentence was imposed in the absence of jurisdiction or in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States, was in excess of the maximum authorized by law, or is otherwise subject to collateral attack." Watson v. United States , 493 F.3d 960, 963 (8th Cir. 2007). A defendant's plea agreement waiver of the right to seek this relief does not waive the right to argue, pursuant to that section, that the decision to enter into the plea was not knowing and voluntary because it was the result of ineffective assistance of counsel. United States v. Morrison , 171 F.3d 567, 568 (8th Cir. 1999).


A. Fourth ...

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