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United States v. Harris

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Florence Division

January 30, 2015

United States of America,
v.
Gilbert Harris, Jr.

ORDER

TERRY L. WOOTEN, Chief District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on Defendant's Motion for Relief from Judgment, filed January 21, 2015, in which Defendant asserts that he is actually innocent and that his convictions are the result of constitutional violations by the Government. Doc. #134. Having reviewed the motion, the record, and relevant authority, the Court finds that, for the reasons stated below, the motion should be denied.

On February 1, 2005, Defendant pleaded guilty to (1) conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute 50 grams or more of cocaine and (2) knowingly using and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. See Docs. #8, 34. Defendant was sentenced to 200 months on June 22, 2005. Doc. #40. On appeal, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the District Court. Doc. #62. Subsequently, Defendant's sentence was reduced to 180 months pursuant to reductions in the crack cocaine guidelines. Doc. #105. Defendant appealed this reduction, and the Fourth Circuit affirmed the reduced sentence on July 2, 2009. Doc. #114. Defendant has also challenged his convictions through a petition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255; however, the petition was denied on October 19, 2009. Doc. #119. Defendant did not appeal denial of his § 2255 petition.

Defendant now comes before the Court asserting two grounds for relief. First, Defendant claims that he is actually innocent of his crimes because the Government failed to prove each element of his convictions. Specifically, he asserts that the Government failed to (1) provide a lab report indicating "proof of drugs"; (2) prove Defendant used a firearm in connection with "a drug trafficking offense"; and (3) prove that he committed a drug trafficking crime to support his 924(c) violation. Second, Defendant claims that because the Government failed to prove each element of his crimes, the Government violated his constitutional rights.

Actual Innocence

To bring a claim for actual innocence, a defendant must provide new evidence showing "more likely than not that no reasonable juror would have convicted [the petitioner]." McQuiggin v. Perkins, 133 S.Ct. 1924, 1933 (2013). Here, Defendant has not offered any new evidence, and "[w]ithout any new evidence of innocence, even the existence of a concededly meritorious constitutional violation is not in itself sufficient to establish a miscarriage of justice that would allow a habeas court to reach the merits of a barred claim." Schlup v. Delo, 513 U.S. 298, 316, 115 S.Ct. 851, 861, 130 L.Ed.2d 808 (1995). Furthermore, even absent a procedural bar, the Defendant's claims are without merit.

Defendant asserts that the Court should find him actually innocent because the Government offered insufficient proof of his crimes. In making this claim, Defendant offers no new evidence; indeed, Defendant's appeal to the Fourth Circuit in 2006 was partially based on the same grounds. See United States v. Harris, 200 F.Appx. 182, 183 (4th Cir. 2006) (finding that Defendant "admitted his guilt, and the factual basis for the plea disclosed that there was ample evidence to convict Harris of each offense."). Because the Defendant offers no new evidence, this Court is barred from reaching the merits of his actual innocence claim.

Moreover, Defendant's claim fails even absent a procedural bar. As already stated by the Fourth Circuit, the evidence presented at the plea - which included factual presentations by the Government's agent and admissions by the Defendant - amply supported the Defendant's convictions. See id.; see also United States v. Lemaster, 403 F.3d 216, 221-22 (4th Cir. 2005) ("[I]n the absence of extraordinary circumstances, the truth of sworn statements made during a Rule 11 colloquy is conclusively established, and a district court should, without holding an evidentiary hearing, dismiss any § 2255 motion that necessarily relies on allegations that contradict the sworn statements."). At the guilty plea hearing, the Defendant admitted to each element of his convictions Doc. #45. First, following a factual summary by the Government, the Court questioned the Defendant regarding the drug conspiracy:

THE COURT:... Mr. Harris, you heard what Agent Flamini said. And I'm not going to go back through that. But the indictment charges that you conspired with others to possess with intent to distribute and to distribute 50 grams or more of crack cocaine. Do you admit that you did that?
DEFENDANT HARRIS: Yes.

Doc. #45 at 20.

The Court next questioned the Defendant regarding his use of a firearm. The Defendant initially denied that the gun was connected to his drug activity. Doc. #45 at 21. However, following an opportunity to discuss the matter with his attorney, the Court again questioned the Defendant about the firearm:

THE COURT:... Now, let me ask you again, Mr. Harris. After consulting with your attorney, I want to be sure that we're clear with regard to my question. The indictment charges you with using, carrying or possessing a firearm or firearms in furtherance of your drug trafficking activity. That was set forth in this Count 1. I've asked you ...

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