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Roulhac v. United States

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Norfolk Division

April 30, 2014

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent. Criminal No. 2:09cr115


MARK S. DAVIS, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on Leonard Earl Roulhac's ("Petitioner") Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence, filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Petitioner's 2255 motion alleges that his counsel was ineffective for failing to investigate and argue various defenses based on his mental capacity. The government opposes such motion, contending that it is time-barred and that it separately fails on the merits. Having considered the briefs and record, the Court finds that an evidentiary hearing is unnecessary because the materials before the Court conclusively demonstrate that Petitioner is not entitled to the relief sought in his § 2255 motion. See R. Governing § 2255 Proceedings in U.S. Dist. Cts. 8(a). For the reasons discussed below, Petitioner's 2255 motion is DISMISSED and DENIED.


During June and July of 2009, two separate criminal complaints were filed in this Court asserting that Petitioner committed a bank robbery as well as various firearms offenses. After Petitioner was arrested and appointed counsel, his lawyer filed a motion to determine competency as well as notices to rely on the defense of insanity. In response to such notices, the government moved for the evaluation of Petitioner with respect to sanity. The Court granted the motions seeking competency and sanity evaluations, and Petitioner was transferred to a detention facility in Florida where he was evaluated over a period of more than a month. Prior to the start of Petitioner's evaluation period, a grand jury returned an indictment charging Petitioner with thirty-two criminal counts, including robbery of a Walmart, eleven bank robberies or attempted bank robberies, as well as numerous associated firearms offenses. ECF No. 15.

On October 23, 2009, Dr. Lisa B. Feldman of the U.S. Bureau of Prisons Federal Detention Center in Miami, Florida, completed a written psychological report on Petitioner. ECF No. 25. Dr. Feldman's eighteen page sealed forensic evaluation was based on lengthy inpatient observation of Petitioner, several independent tests, a review of some of Petitioner's prior medical records, and a review of Petitioner's telephone conversations during his evaluation period, including a call on which he stated "I ain't pleading to nothing... I'm playin retarded." ECF No. 25, at 16. Dr. Feldman concluded that Petitioner was competent to stand trial and was not insane at the time of the offenses contained in the indictment. Id. at 17. She further concluded that, based on the various psychological test results and inpatient observation, Petitioner was feigning mental defects in an attempt to evade punishment and/or to receive a lesser sentence.[1] Id.

On November 22, 2009, Petitioner's appointed attorney was forced to withdraw from the case based on a conflict of interest, and Petitioner was appointed a new lawyer. On January 8, 2010, the Court held a hearing to determine whether Petitioner was competent to stand trial, at which Petitioner appeared with his new attorney. At that hearing, defense counsel did not challenge Dr. Feldman's findings, and he acknowledged that Petitioner's previous mental evaluation yielding a recommendation of "incompetence" appeared to have only been based on a "one-hour interview" with Petitioner and it relied heavily on "the personal statements of Mr. Roulhac as opposed to independent tests." Hearing Tr. 3, ECF No. 103. Defense counsel was also candid with the Court about his personal interactions with Petitioner, stating: "I've talked to my client, and based on my observations, I believe that he's, he does understand the nature of the proceeding against him, he has been able to assist me in his defense...." Id.

Although defense counsel had requested an evaluation of Petitioner's competency, and had followed the proper procedural steps to pursue an insanity defense at trial, defense counsel ultimately chose not to pursue any defense based on mental defect. Rather, at trial, the defense argued that the government had insufficient evidence to prove Petitioner's guilt. Such defense was supported by the fact that several of the eye-witnesses to the various robberies were not able to identify Petitioner as the robber/attempted robber.

At the conclusion of Petitioner's five-day jury trial, the jury returned a verdict finding Petitioner guilty on all counts pursued by the government at trial. ECF No. 70. Petitioner was later sentenced to over two hundred years imprisonment, a sentence driven primarily by the statutorily mandated consecutive sentences on the numerous firearm counts. ECF No. 83. Petitioner timely appealed his convictions, and on October 26, 2011, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ("Fourth Circuit") affirmed his convictions by unpublished per curiam opinion. ECF No. 109. Petitioner subsequently filed a petition for writ of certiorari in the Supreme Court of the United States ("Supreme Court"). The Supreme Court denied such petition on January 17, 2012. Roulhac v. United States , 132 S.Ct. 1128 (2012).

On January 28, 2013, the United States District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia received Petitioner's § 2255 motion. ECF No. 119. The West Virginia district court, the incorrect court in which to file, forwarded Petitioner's motion to this Court, and it was filed "subject to defect" by the Clerk of this Court on January 31, 2013. Id . The defect noted by the Clerk was the fact that Petitioner had not himself signed the motion, but it was instead signed and submitted by an unidentified individual asserting to be Petitioner's "next friend."[2] The final typed page of the § 2255 motion indicates, purportedly under penalty of perjury, that the motion was placed in the prison mailing system on January 16, 2013. Id.

On April 22, 2013, the government filed a brief in opposition to Petitioner's § 2255 motion. The government both challenged the timeliness of Petitioner's motion and alternatively argued that it fails on the merits. On May 14, 2013, Petitioner filed a reply brief, this time with the assistance of counsel, and argued: (1) that the initial motion was timely; (2) if deemed untimely, the limitations period should be equitably tolled; and (3) that the motion presents a meritorious argument demonstrating ineffective assistance of counsel.


A federal prisoner, in custody, may collaterally attack his sentence or conviction by moving the district court "to vacate, set aside or correct the sentence." 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a). To obtain such relief, a petitioner bears the burden of proving that his sentence or conviction was "imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States, " that the district court "was without jurisdiction to impose such sentence, " that the sentence exceeds "the maximum authorized by law, " or that the sentence or conviction is "otherwise subject to collateral attack." Id . A petitioner must prove the asserted grounds for relief by a preponderance of the evidence. Miller v. United States , 261 F.2d 546, 547 (4th Cir. 1958). Because a § 2255 motion "is ordinarily presented to the judge who presided at the original conviction and sentencing... the judge's recollection of the events at issue may enable him summarily to dismiss a § 2255 motion." Blackledge v. Allison , 431 U.S. 63, 74 n.4 (1977).

A § 2255 motion is, in essence, a statutory federal habeas corpus action that collaterally attacks a sentence or conviction through the filing of a new proceeding, as contrasted with a direct appeal. See In re Jones , 226 F.3d 328, 332-33 (4th Cir. 2000) ("[Section] 2255 was intended to afford federal prisoners a remedy identical in scope to federal habeas corpus.'" (quoting Davis v. United States , 417 U.S. 333, 343 (1974))). The existence of the right to pursue a collateral attack does not displace a direct appeal as the "usual and customary method of correcting trial errors." United States v. Allgood , 48 F.Supp.2d 554, 558 (E.D. Va. 1999). On the contrary, with limited exceptions, a petitioner advancing new claims asserted for the first time in a § 2255 motion "must clear a significantly higher hurdle than would exist on direct appeal." United States v. Frady , 456 U.S. 152, 166 (1981). Accordingly, a § 2255 collateral challenge "may not do service for an appeal." Id. at 165.

A freestanding claim of ineffective assistance of counsel is properly asserted for the first time in a § 2255 motion. See United States v. King , 119 F.3d 290, 295 (4th Cir. 1997) ("[I]t is well settled that la claim of ineffective assistance should be raised in a 28 U.S.C. § 2255 motion in the district court rather than on direct appeal, unless the record conclusively shows ineffective assistance.'" (quoting United States v. Williams , 977 F.2d 866, 871 (4th Cir. 1992))). Such rule exists because the Federal Rules Governing § 2255 Proceedings permit expansion of the record, which is generally unavailable on direct appeal and often necessary to properly resolve an ineffective assistance claim. United States v. Baptiste , 596 F.3d 214, 216 n.1 (4th Cir. 2010); see United States v. Allen , 491 F.3d 178, 191 (4th Cir. 2007) (indicating that ineffective assistance of counsel claims "are normally raised before the district court via 28 U.S.C. § 2255").

The Sixth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States provides that "the accused shall enjoy the right.. to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence." U.S. Const. amend. VI. The Supreme Court has interpreted the right to counsel as providing a defendant "the right to the effective assistance of counsel.'" Strickland v. Washington , 466 U.S. 668, 686 (1984) (quoting McMann v. Richardson , 397 U.S. 759, 771 n.14 (1970)) (emphasis added). To obtain relief based on an allegation of ineffective assistance, a petitioner must establish both that: (1) counsel's performance fell below an objective standard of reasonableness; and (2) counsel's inadequate performance caused the petitioner prejudice. Id. at 687-88. "[U]nsubstantiated ...

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