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Turner v. United States

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

September 13, 2019




         This matter is before the Court on Movant Antonio Turner's Motion to Vacate, Set Aside or Correct Sentence filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. (Doc. 1.) Respondent United States of America responded (Doc. 3), and Movant filed a reply (Doc. 4).

         Also pending is Movant's request “to incorporate his 2255 petition with the 2255 petition of Corey Turner Sr.” (Doc. 5.) While Movant and Corey Turner, Sr. were co-defendants in their criminal trial, their habeas motions are separate actions raising individualized claims and cannot be combined. Further, Movant's only grounds for habeas relief are based on his trial counsel's allegedly ineffective assistance. Movant and Corey Turner, Sr. had different trial counsel and therefore none of Movant's claims relate to Corey Turner Sr.'s habeas motion. Accordingly, this Court will deny the request to incorporate the motions or otherwise consolidate the two actions.

         Finally, Movant also has a pending Motion for Leave to File Notice of Supplement Authority. (Doc. 6.) The supplemental authority Movant proffers speaks to the requirement that the government prove drug quantity as an element of the crime. (See Doc. 6 (citing United States v. Rowe, 191 F.3d 752 (3d Cir. 2019).) He did not raise that issue in his motion. (See Doc. 1.) As such, the Court construes Movant's motion for leave as an attempt to amend his motion to add the failure to prove drug quantity as an additional ground for habeas relief.

         While pro se filings are held to “less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers, ” Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976), this Court does not allow amendments by interlineation. Movant has not asked for leave to file an amended § 2255 motion and any request at this late date would be untimely. Moreover, any habeas ground premised on the government's failure to prove drug quantity has no legal merit because the jury did find, as an element of the offense, that the conspiracy involved more than five kilograms of cocaine. (United States v. Turner, No. 1:11-cr-00103-JAR-5, Doc. 1059 at Inst. 25; Doc. 1060.) Accordingly, the Court will deny this motion.


         On March 28, 2013, Movant was charged with conspiring to possess with intent to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine and with distributing cocaine in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841 and 846. (Turner, Doc. 1005.) On April 12, 2013, a jury found Movant guilty on both counts. (Turner, Doc. 1056.) Movant's Final Presentence Report calculated a total offense level of 38 and a criminal history category of VI, which corresponded to a guidelines range of 360 months to life in prison. (Turner, Doc. 1128 at 25.) However, because Movant had three prior convictions for felony drug offenses, the Government filed a § 851 Notice with the Court indicating that Movant was subject to an enhanced sentence of life in prison. (Turner, Docs. 1054, 1128 at 25.)

         The Court sentenced Movant to life in prison. (Turner, Doc. 1143.) The Eighth Circuit affirmed Movant's conviction and sentence (Turner, Doc. 1305), and the United States Supreme Court denied his petition for a writ of certiorari (Turner, Doc. 1342).

         Movant then filed this Motion, advancing two instances of ineffective assistance of trial counsel. (Doc. 1.) First, he argues that counsel was ineffective for failing to argue that Movant's enhanced sentence violated the Supreme Court's decision in Alleyne v. United States, 570 U.S. 99, 117 (2013), which held that aggravating facts that increase a defendant's mandatory minimum sentence are elements of the crime which the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt. (Id.) Relatedly, Movant argues that counsel failed to argue that the holding in Alleyne undermined the Court's holding in Almendarez-Torres v. United States, 523 U.S. 224, 243 (1998), when the Court carved out an exception for prior convictions, holding that they need not be proved. (Id.)

         Respondent argues that Alleyne expressly retained the Almendarez-Torres exception for prior convictions and that counsel is not ineffective for failing to challenge existing precedent. (Doc. 3.) Likewise, Respondent argues, Movant was not prejudiced by that failure because the challenge would have been futile. (Id.)

         In his reply, Movant recognizes that the Alleyne Court did not overrule Almendarez-Torres, but he nonetheless argues that its holding undermines the reasoning of the earlier case and argues that counsel should have said so. (Doc. 4.)

         Legal Standards

          A § 2255 movant is entitled to relief when his sentence “was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States.” Sun Bear v. United States, 644 F.3d 700, 704 (8th Cir. 2011) (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a)). The movant must show that the “claimed error constituted ‘a fundamental defect which inherently results in a complete miscarriage of justice.'” Id. (quoting United States v. Addonizio, 442 U.S. 178, 185 (1979)).

         To prove ineffective assistance of counsel, a movant must show that his attorney's performance was objectively unreasonable, and that he was prejudiced as a result. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984). To establish prejudice, the movant must show “a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding ...

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