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Islaam v. United States

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

March 21, 2019

SANTO ISLAAM, Petitioner,



         Petitioner, Santo Islaam, is a federal prisoner currently incarcerated at the Federal Correctional Institute Allenwood Medium in White Deer, Pennsylvania. He is proceeding pro se with a motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. For the reasons set forth below, Petitioner's motion will be denied and a certificate of appealability shall not issue.


         On direct appeal, the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit succinctly described the underlying circumstances as follows:

On February 24, 2012, Camden City Police arrested Appellant after observing him providing cash to another individual in exchange for certain small items. The police officers who stopped him found a loaded revolver, two zip-lock bags of heroin, and a bag of cocaine on his person. Appellant was arrested and subsequently indicted for unlawful possession of a firearm as a felon, unlawful transportation of firearms, and possession of heroin and cocaine. Appellant was represented by an Assistant Federal Public Defender and entered a plea of guilty on September 16, 2013 to Possession of a Weapon by a Convicted Felon. In exchange for this plea, the Government agreed to dismiss his other two counts at his sentencing.
Subsequently, [Appellant] filed a pro se letter to the District Court, which it interpreted as a Motion for New Counsel and Motion to Withdraw his Guilty Plea. In the letter, Appellant asserted that his counsel coerced him to plead guilty by advising him that he was potentially facing a penalty of 25 years to life if convicted at trial, and that he had no realistic chance of being found not guilty. The District Court appointed him new counsel, who represented in the hearing on his withdrawal motion that, if called to testify, Appellant would state that the firearm was not his, was not in his possession at the time of arrest, and that he was not aware of its existence at the time of his arrest. Appellant's new counsel also stated that Appellant would testify that the officers who arrested him lied when they stated that they found the firearm on his person, and that it was in fact recovered from the wheel well of a nearby car.
The District Court denied Appellant's motion to withdraw his plea, finding that he had not met his burden of showing sufficiently strong reasons to justify the withdrawal. The Court credited his sworn testimony of his guilt from his prior court appearances over his unsworn recantations of his plea through his attorney, and found that he had not demonstrated that his original counsel had given him incorrect legal advice, or coerced him to plead guilty.

United States v. Islaam, 615 Fed.Appx. 69, 70-71 (3d Cir. 2015).

         Petitioner was sentenced to a term of ten years imprisonment and three years supervised release. (See ECF No. 10-1 at 4-8.) Petitioner thereafter filed a notice of appeal to the Third Circuit challenging this Court's denial of his motion to withdraw his guilty plea. (See ECF No. 10-3.) The Third Circuit denied Petitioner's appeal on June 22, 2015. See Islaam, 615 Fed.Appx. 69.

         Petitioner timely filed the instant motion in June 2016. (See ECF No. 1.) Respondents submitted a response on January 27, 2017. (See ECF No. 10.) Petitioner filed a traverse thereafter. (See ECF No. 14.)


         Under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, a motion to vacate, set aside or correct a sentence of a person in federal custody entitles a prisoner to relief if “the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States, or that the court was without jurisdiction to impose such sentence, or that the sentence was in excess of the maximum authorized by law, or is otherwise subject to collateral attack.” 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a). When considering a § 2255 motion, a district court “‘must accept the truth of the movant's factual allegations unless they are clearly frivolous on the basis of the existing record.'” United States v. Tolliver, 800 F.3d 138, 141 (3d Cir. 2015) (quoting United States v. Booth, 432 F.3d 542, 545 (3d Cir. 2005)). Additionally, a district court must hold an evidentiary hearing on the motion if “‘the files and records do not show conclusively that [the movant] was not entitled to relief.'” United States v. Tolliver, 800 F.3d 138, 141 (3d Cir. 2015) (alteration in original) (quoting Solis v. United States, 252 F.3d 289, 294 (3d Cir. 2001)).


         Petitioner raises several claims in his motion. He argues that he was denied his Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial, that he was compelled to be a witness against himself in violation of his Fifth Amendment rights, that his federal public defender was ineffective, and there was not sufficient evidence to convict him of possession of a weapon by a convicted felon, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1). (See ECF No. 1.) This Court will address each claim in turn.

         A. Speedy Trial Violation

         Petitioner asserts that he was deprived of his Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial. (See ECF No. 3 at 7; ECF No. 3-3 at 9-10.) Petitioner argues that he was arrested on February 24, 2012, on state charges, and was “warehoused” in a county jail for nine months without ever being indicted. (See ECF No. 3 at 7.) Petitioner claims that the Camden County Prosecutor was in “collusion” with the United States Attorney's Office to keep him in jail until federal prosecutors were ready to arrest and indict him. (See Id. at 7; ECF No. 3-3 at 9.) Petitioner states that once he was indicted on federal charges, continuances on his case were granted without his consent and that federal prosecutors engaged in “stall tactics” to postpone his trial. (See ECF No. 3-3 at 9-10.)

         To determine whether a speedy trial violation has occurred, courts employ a “balancing test, in which the conduct of both the prosecution and the defendant are weighed.” Vermont v. Brillon, 556 U.S. 81, 90 (2009) (citing Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514, 530 (1997)). In Barker, the Supreme Court set forth the factors courts should consider when determining whether a defendant's right to a speedy trial has been violated. See Barker, 407 U.S. at 530. The four Barker factors are: “(1) the length of the delay; (2) the reason for the delay; (3) the extent to which the defendant asserted his speedy trial right; and (4) the prejudice suffered by the defendant. No one factor is controlling, and any violation depends on the peculiar circumstances of the case.” United States v. Sodano, 592 Fed.Appx. 114, 115 (3d Cir. 2014) (internal citations omitted) (citing Barker, 407 U.S. at 530-31).

         i. Length of Delay

         Addressing the first factor, “[t]he speedy trial clock, for Sixth Amendment purposes, begins to run from either the date of the arrest or indictment, whichever is earlier, and ends with the commencement of trial.” Id. However, “[w]hen an arrest on state charges is followed by a federal indictment, the right to a speedy trial in the federal case is triggered by the federal indictment, and the time period under consideration commences on that date.” United States v. Battis, 589 F.3d 673, 679 (3d Cir. 2009); see also United States v. MacDonald, 456 U.S. 1, 10 n.11 (1982) (“an arrest or indictment by one sovereign would not cause the speedy trial guarantees to become engaged as to possible subsequent indictments by another sovereign”). Thus, an “arrest on state charges does not engage the speedy trial protection for a subsequent federal charge.” United States v. Costello, 720 Fed.Appx. 120, 122-23 (3d Cir. 2018); see also Jones v. United States, Civ. No. 13-3748, 2016 WL 81253, at *9 (D.N.J. Jan. 7, 2016).

         Exactly how long of a delay is sufficient to trigger a review of the remaining Barker factors is unclear; however, the Supreme Court has noted that lower courts generally engage in a Barker analysis when the delay “approaches one year.” See United States v. Velazquez, 749 F.3d 161, 174 (3d Cir. 2014) (quoting Doggett v. United States, 505 U.S. 647, 652 n.1 (1992)). “[O]nce that [one-year] threshold has been passed, ‘the state, not the prisoner, bears the burden to justify the delay.'” Id. (quoting Hakeem v. Beyer, 990 F.2d 750, 770 (3d Cir. 1993)).

         Here, Petitioner was initially arrested on state charges on February 24, 2012. See Islaam, 615 Fed.Appx. at 70. Petitioner was not indicted or arrested on federal charges until November 28, 2012. See Crim. No. 12-7766, at ECF Nos. 1, 2 (D.N.J.). Petitioner's scheduled trial date - and ultimately the date on which he accepted a guilty plea -was September 16, 2013.[1] (See ECF No. 10-1 at 42-43 (stating date Petitioner was scheduled for trial).) Thus, the relevant period of delay is the almost ten months between the federal indictment on November 28, 2012, and Petitioner's scheduled trial date September 16, 2013. See Judge v. United States, 119 F.Supp.3d 270, 293 (D.N.J. 2015) (“Although Petitioner argues as to both his state and federal periods of detention, Battis makes clear that the period to be considered for his speedy trial claim would have begun when he was indicted on federal charges.”). Since Petitioner's period of pre-indictment delay was less than one year, the first Barker factor weighs against Petitioner.

         ii. Reason for Delay

         The second Barker factor considers the reason for the delay between a petitioner's indictment and his trial. The possible reasons for delay on the part of the Government comprise three categories: “deliberate effort by the Government to delay the trial ‘in order to hamper the defense'”; “negligence or overcrowded courts”; and “a valid reason, such as a missing witness[.]” See Battis, 589 F.3d at 679 (quoting Barker, 407 U.S. at 531). While each of these factors weighs against the Government, “‘delay caused by the defense weighs against the defendant,' including ‘delay caused by the defendant's counsel.'” See Id. at 679-80 (quoting Vermont, 556 U.S. at 90-91). “[T]he attorney is the [defendant's] agent when acting, or failing to act, in furtherance of the litigation.” See Vermont, 556 U.S. at 90 (quoting Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 753 (1991)). In evaluating the second Barker factor, delays caused by the petitioner must be subtracted from delays caused by the Government. See Battis, 589 F.3d at 680.

         In the instant case, Petitioner, through his counsel, requested three sixty-day continuances. United States of America v. Islaam, Crim. No. 12-7766, at ECF Nos. 9, 10, 11 (D.N.J.). Although Petitioner contends that he “never consented to any continuance”, these requests for continuances by defense counsel are still attributable to Petitioner. See Battis, 589 F.3d at 679-80. Consequently, the almost six-month delay caused by the requests for continuances must be subtracted from the ten months it took to bring Petitioner to trial.

         Additionally, after the last continuance request expired in July 2013, several pre-trial motions were filed by both Petitioner and the Government, including a motion by Petitioner for a change of counsel. See United States of America v. Islaam, Crim. No. 12-7766, at ECF Nos. 12, 14, 19, 20, 23, 24 (D.N.J.). The pendency of these motions constituted most, if not all, of the “delay” between July 2013 and Petitioner's scheduled trial date in September 2013. (See id.) Accordingly, there is simply no evidence here that the Government induced any delay. Rather, the majority ...

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