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Smith v. United States

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Southwestern Division

July 23, 2015

TODD C. SMITH, Movant,


GREG KAYS, Chief District Judge.

A jury convicted Movant Todd C. Smith ("Smith") of one count of sexual exploitation of a minor. He now files a motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (Doc. 1) and a motion for free transcripts (Doc. 6). For the reasons below, Smith's § 2255 motion is DENIED without an evidentiary hearing and the Court shall not issue a certificate of appealability. His motion for free transcripts is also DENIED.

Factual Background and Procedural History

Police in Carthage, Missouri, received a call that a thirteen-year-old girl, A.M., had been slapped. The police concluded that the assailant was Smith, an adult friend of the victim and her family. The police encountered Smith while he was driving, stopped him, and placed him under arrest for the assault.

Smith used his cellular telephone to call someone to pick up his vehicle. While he did so, an officer noticed a picture of A.M. on the telephone. The officers grew suspicious that the two might have had an inappropriate relationship. The police contacted two detectives with the Jasper County Sheriff's Office, Tim Williams ("Williams") and Ed Bailey ("Bailey").

Williams arranged for an interview with A.M. During the interview, A.M. did not mention any sexual contact with Smith, though young victims of sexual assault frequently do not immediately make such disclosures.

Detectives Williams and Bailey interrogated Smith (Doc. 10-2 (transcript of interrogation)). They began by reading him his Miranda rights. Over the course of the interrogation, Smith asked to speak to an attorney three times. The detectives began to end the interrogation, but Smith continued the conversation by asking them questions. After the detectives told him their conversation had to end because he had said he wanted to talk to an attorney, Smith said, "I still want to talk to you, obviously that's what's going on." (Doc. 10-2 at 10). The detectives attempted to obtain Smith's consent to search his telephone, but Smith equivocated. He eventually signed a written consent to search, but the detectives decided to apply for a search warrant to be on the safe side. Smith was released.

A few weeks later, A.M. asked for another interview after her friends made disclosures of sexual contact with Smith. She admitted that Smith had had sexual contact with her.

A Jasper County Circuit Court judge issued the search warrant about a week later. It is unclear what supporting affidavits were filed to establish probable cause for the warrant, but the Court takes as true Smith's allegation that the affidavits relied exclusively on statements he made during his interrogation after he asked for an attorney.

Acting pursuant to the search warrant, a forensic examiner attempted to search the telephone, but was thwarted by its password protection. He instead accessed the telephone's memory card, where he found videos of Smith engaging in sexual acts with A.M.

A federal grand jury returned a one-count indictment against Smith, charging him with sexual exploitation of a minor in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2251(a), (e). See generally United States v. Smith, Case No. 11-CR-5044-SW-DGK (W.D. Mo. filed Nov. 8, 2011). After a two-day trial during which Smith testified in his own defense, the jury returned a verdict of guilty. The district court sentenced Smith to life imprisonment and a supervised released term of life, plus restitution.

Smith timely appealed. The Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit rejected each of his claims, and affirmed his conviction and sentence. United States v. Smith, 529 F.Appx. 798 (8th Cir. 2013), cert. denied, 134 S.Ct. 1569 (2014).

Smith filed the instant post-conviction motion on November 26, 2014. He did not receive a transcript of his interview with Detectives Williams and Bailey until Respondent ("the Government") filed its response in this matter.

Standard of Review

A prisoner in custody for violating a federal law may move the district court under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 "to vacate, set aside or correct the sentence." 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a). A § 2255 motion "is not a substitute for a direct appeal, and is not the proper way to complain about simple trial errors." Anderson v. United States, 25 F.3d 704, 706 (8th Cir. 1994) (internal citations omitted). To qualify for § 2255 relief, a movant must surmount several obstacles, two of which are relevant here. See Sun Bear v. United States, 644 F.3d 700, 702 (8th Cir. 2011) (en banc). First, the grounds for the motion must be "cognizable" under the statute, meaning the claimed error must be constitutional, jurisdictional, or "an error of law... constitut[ing] a fundamental defect which ...

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