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United States v. Cook

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

June 29, 2018

United States of America, Plaintiff,
Cartez Lamar Cook, Defendant.

          Jeffrey S. Paulsen, Assistant United States Attorney, United States Attorney's Office, Minneapolis, MN, on behalf of Plaintiff.

          Cartez Lamar Cook, pro se.




         This matter is before the undersigned United States District Judge for a ruling on Defendant Cartez Lamar Cook's (“Cook”) Motion to Vacate under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 [Criminal Docket No. 111] (“2255 Motion”).[1] Also before the Court are Cook's First Amended Motion to Vacate Under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 [Docket No. 114] (“Amended 2255 Motion”) and Motion for Leave to File an Amended Complaint [Docket No. 122].[2] For the reasons below, Cook's Motions are denied.


         In the early morning hours of November 25, 2013, police officers on routine patrol observed an idling car in a high crime area of south Minneapolis. United States v. Cook, 842 F.3d 597, 599 (8th Cir. 2016). The officers were unable to determine if the vehicle was occupied. Id. Concerned that an unoccupied idling vehicle could be targeted by thieves, the officers circled around the block to observe the vehicle. Id. As the officers approached the vehicle a second time, they could see two people were inside. Id.

         The officers decided to make contact with the occupants. Id. They parked behind the vehicle and then activated the emergency lights' “wig wag” setting in their squad car. Id. As the officers approached the vehicle on foot, an individual later identified as Cook rolled down the window next to the driver seat. Id. The officers detected the aroma of marijuana and took Cook into custody. Id. Cook was removed from the vehicle and handcuffed. Id. While the officers were attending to the other individual in the vehicle, Cook fled. Id. He was apprehended several blocks away and arrested. Id.

         Officers later observed marijuana and crack cocaine in the back seat of the vehicle. Id. The vehicle was towed and impounded. Id. After a warrant was obtained, officers searched the vehicle and uncovered a firearm hidden in the vehicle's center console. Id. DNA analysis revealed that the firearm was consistent with Cook's DNA, but not that of 99.6% of the general population, including the other passenger. Id. Ballistics testing connected the firearm to the homicide of Derek Holt (“Holt”), who was killed three days before Cook's arrest. Id. At the time Cook was arrested, he had already been identified by law enforcement as a person of interest in Holt's death. Id.

         On July 9, 2014, Cook was charged by Indictment [Docket No. 1] with being a Felon in Possession of a Firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). The Indictment charged Cook with being an Armed Career Criminal for having been previously convicted of at least three violent felonies. 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(1). Cook entered a not guilty plea and proceeded to trial.

         At trial, the Government's evidence included: 1) a witness who identified the firearm Cook was charged with possessing as belonging to Holt; 2) cell phone records connecting Cook with Holt, including evidence that Cook called Holt shortly before his death; 3) testimony that Holt's pants pocket had been turned out and that $80 Holt had been carrying the night before was missing; and 4) DNA consistent with Cook's was found in Holt's pants pocket. Cook, 842 F.3d at 601. In totality, the Government's circumstantial evidence strongly suggested that Cook met with Holt, shot him with his own gun, and stole the $80 from his pocket. Id. Cook's counsel unsuccessfully argued that this evidence should be excluded. The Court ruled that the evidence was admissible as an integral part of the immediate context of the crime charged, and was therefore not governed by Rule 404(b). Trial Tr. [Docket Nos. 102-05] 20:15-21:1. During trial, the Government reminded the jury that Cook was not on trial for the murder of Holt. The Court instructed the jury similarly, focusing the jury's attention on the question of whether Cook possessed the firearm charged in the Indictment. See Jury Ins. [Docket No. 68] 14.

         After a three day trial, the jury found Cook guilty of the firearm charge. The Presentence Investigation Report [Docket No. 81] (“PSR”) calculated Cook's total offense level to be 38, which yielded a guideline sentence range of 360 months to life imprisonment. PSR ¶ 28. The PSR noted that although the Indictment charged Cook as an Armed Career Criminal pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(1), it did not appear that Cook had the necessary three prior convictions to trigger the enhanced 15-year mandatory minimum sentence under 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(1).[3] PSR ¶ 2. As such, the statutory maximum sentence was 120 months imprisonment. 18 U.S.C. § 924(a)(2). Id. On November 2, 2015, Cook was sentenced to 120 months imprisonment. Cook's conviction was confirmed on direct appeal. Cook, 842 F.3d at 599.

         In his 2255 Motion, Cook argues that his conviction should be vacated for four reasons: 1) the prosecution failed to disclose exculpatory evidence; 2) his counsel was ineffective for failing to advise him to plead guilty; 3) his counsel was ineffective for failing to challenge testimony that was false and misleading; and 4) his sentence was incorrectly enhanced based on the connection with the Holt murder.

         After the Government filed its Response [Docket No. 113], on January 16, 2018, Cook filed his Amended 2255 Motion and raised new grounds for relief. In the Amended 2255 Motion, Cook identifies eight additional instances where he argues that his counsel failed to provide effective assistance. Cook also argues that the Eighth Circuit's decision in United States v. Black, 871 F.3d 590 (8th Cir. 2017), constitutes newly discovered evidence.[4] Cook next argues that the Government violated its obligations under Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), and Giglio v. United States, 405 U.S. 150 (1972). Cook also argues that photographic evidence introduced at trial elicited reactions from spectators in the gallery that impaired his right to a fair trial. Finally, Cook argues that the Government withheld evidence or knowledge that Cook was not an Armed Career Criminal.

         On February 13, 2018, Cook filed his Motion for Leave to File and Amended Complaint, requesting permission to supplement his original petition to cure alleged factual deficiencies identified by the Government.[5] Finally, on May 4, 2018, Cook filed a Reply [Docket No. 126] to the Government's Opposition. In his Reply, Cook raises two new issues. The first describes an “unidentified female officer” who was allegedly the only officer capable of detecting the aroma of marijuana coming from the idling vehicle. The second issue relates to cell phone evidence introduced at trial. Cook contends that the evidence at trial failed to connect the cell phone to Cook. The Government filed a Second Supplemental Opposition [Docket No. 127] to Cook's May 4, 2018 Reply.


         A. Section 2255 Standard

         28 U.S.C. § 2255 provides a person in federal custody with a limited opportunity to collaterally attack the constitutionality, jurisdictional basis, or legality of their sentence. See United States v. Addonizio, 442 U.S. 178, 185 (1979). Relief is reserved for violations of constitutional rights and for a narrow range of injuries which, if untreated, would result in a miscarriage of justice. See Poor Thunder v. United States, 810 F.2d 817, 821-22 (8th Cir. 1987).

         B. Disclosure of Exculpatory Evidence

         Cook argues that “[t]he prosecutor's office withheld favorable exculpatory evidence from the defendant and the jury. They also allowed FALSE statements to be entered on record by Police Officer's (sic) who where (sic) not the first responding officer's (sic) to the scene of the Terry Stop.” 2255 Motion at 4. Relatedly, Cook claims that the Government violated its disclosure requirements under Brady and Giglio. Cook additionally argues that the Government withheld evidence that Cook was not an Armed Career Criminal. None of Cook's arguments have merit.

         Cook appears to contend that the officer who first approached Cook while he was sitting in the idling vehicle was not the individual who testified to this fact at trial. This is incorrect. Officer Christopher Kelley (“Officer Kelley”) testified that he was the officer who had the initial encounter with Cook. Tr. at 162:6-8. Cook next appears to suggest that Officer Kelley's partner, who was also involved in the events that took place at the initial scene, was not disclosed to the defense. This is also incorrect. That officer, Officer Landmesser, was identified by name at the pretrial motions hearing and at trial. See Pretrial Tr. [Docket No. 36] at 4:22 (“I was with my partner, Officer Landmesser.”); Tr. at 158:22 (same). Moreover, reports created by Officers Kelley and Landmesser were disclosed to the defense. Second Supplemental Opp'n Ex. 1. Cook's arguments supporting his claim are factually flawed and therefore do not provide a basis to vacate his conviction.

         Cook next argues that the Government allegedly withheld knowledge or evidence that Cook was not an Armed Career Criminal. At the time Cook was charged, he had been previously convicted of three prior violent felonies, subjecting him to the enhanced penalties of the Armed Career Criminal Act (“ACCA”), 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(1). By the time Cook appeared for sentencing, the Supreme Court had decided Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015), which invalidated the residual clause of the ACCA. Based on Johnson, two of Cook's prior convictions no longer qualified as violent predicate felonies under the ACCA. Thus, Cook was no longer an Armed Career Criminal. ...

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