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Title: United States of America v. Curtis Jeffrey Benford

June 22, 2012

TITLE: UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
CURTIS JEFFREY BENFORD



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Present: The Honorable David O. Carter, Judge

O

CIVIL MINUTES -- GENERAL

Julie Barrera N/A Courtroom Clerk Court Reporter

ATTORNEYS PRESENT FOR PLAINTIFF: ATTORNEYS PRESENT FOR DEFENDANT:

None Present None Present

PROCEEDINGS: (IN CHAMBERS): ORDER DENYING PETITIONER'S WRIT

OF HABEAS CORPUS

Before the Court is pro se Petitioner Curtis Jeffrey Benford's Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence by a Person in Federal Custody Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (the "Motion") (Dkt. 193). The Court finds this matter appropriate for decision without oral argument. Fed. R. Civ. P. 78; Local R. 7-15. After considering the moving, opposing, and replying papers, and for the reasons stated below, the Court hereby DENIES the Motion.

I.Background

Petitioner Curtis Jeffrey Benford ("Benford") was arrested and convicted in the Central District of California for armed robbery of a Bank of America branch. Upon denial of Benford's appeal and writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court, Benford brings this Motion based on claims of ineffective assistance of counsel and due process violations.

A.Benford's Offense Conduct

On December 29, 2004, between approximately 6:45 p.m. and 6:50 p.m., Benford entered a Bank of America branch located inside an Albertsons grocery store. E.R. at 38-40.*fn1 Benford, armed with a handgun, demanded that two bank tellers turn over money from their teller drawers and the bank vault, all the while pointing the handgun at the tellers and other Albertsons' shoppers. Id. at 42-43. With approximately $203,906 and an Electronic Tracking System ("ETS") planted by the bank teller in his bag, Benford walked through the rear exit of the Albertsons. Id. at 91.

Shortly thereafter, Orange County law enforcement began detecting and tracking an ETS signal transmitted from the ETS in Benford's bag. Id. at 113. Brea Police Department Officer Christopher Harvey and other officers tracked the ETS signal to a white Ford Explorer, and upon the vehicle's failure to yield, initiated a high speed chase. Id. at 115-19. With the help of Anaheim Police Officers Clint Melberg, who was observing from a helicopter, and Mark Brucks, who was handling a canine unit, law enforcement agents on the ground were able to apprehend Benford and the driver. Id. at 164-65. Benford was taken into police custody at 7:04, approximately fifteen minutes after Benford was seen inside Albertsons. Id. at 39, 122. From the white Explorer, law enforcement agents recovered a loaded handgun, a bag containing $203,906, and various articles of clothing matching the tellers' description of clothing worn by the bank robber. Id. at 106-11, 172-74.

B.Pretrial Status Conference

On February 28, 2005, the Court held a pretrial status conference to determine the trial date. (Dkt. 36). Although counsel for the co-defendant was present, Benford's counsel was not present and did not appear on the record. E.R. at 25-28. The Court set the trial for March 8, 2005, despite the absence of Benford's counsel. (Dkt. 36).

C.Benford's Trial, Sentencing, and Appeal

Benford's trial commenced on March 8, 2005 and lasted three days. (Dkt. 49, 57). Prior to the beginning of the trial, Respondent, the United States of America (the "Government"), turned over a number of discovery documents including reports from officers and witnesses. E.R. at 1-22. On the first day of trial, counsel sought assistance from the Government in locating prospective witnesses, which the Government promptly provided. Id. at 32-33. During trial, counsel cross-examined each of the Government's witnesses regarding their ability to identify Benford and their inconsistent descriptions of the firearm used during the robbery. Id. at 50-74, 93-105. Trial counsel additionally made inquiries about the procedure used for a field identification of Benford and presented an affirmative case by calling three law enforcement officials in an effort to impeach statements made by eyewitnesses. Id. at 75-85, 178-192, 221-237. At the conclusion of the first day of trial, the Court reviewed the Government's proposed jury instructions and accepted them without objection from the defense. Id. at 125-144.

On March 10, 2005, the jury returned guilty verdicts against Benford and the co-defendant for bank robbery, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 2113(a) and (d), and using or carrying a firearm during a crime of violence, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c). (Dkt. 57). On April 18, 2007, the Court heard argument on Benford's motion for judgment of acquittal and sentencing before denying the motion and sentencing Benford to a term of imprisonment of 147 months. (Dkt. 149). On August 3, 2009, Benford's conviction and sentence were affirmed by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. United States v. Benford, 574 F.3d 1228, 1232 (9th Cir. 2009).

D.The Instant Motion

Benford filed the instant motion on April 15, 2011, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Mot. (Dkt. 193). Benford contends that his conviction should be vacated, set aside, or corrected on three separate grounds: (1) the unconstitutional denial of counsel at the February 28, 2005 pretrial conference; (2) the prosecution's withholding of favorable evidence constituting due process violations; and (3) ineffective assistance of counsel at all stages of the proceedings. Id.

The Government's opposition brief was filed on August 10, 2012. Opp'n (Dkt. 198). Benford filed his Traverse Reply on September 20, 2011. Reply (Dkt. 199). Benford filed subsequent amendments to his Traverse Reply on October 31, 2011, (Dkt. 200), November 18, 2011, (Dkt. 201), December 6, 2011, (Dkt. 202), and December 27, 2011, (Dkt. 203).*fn2

II.Legal Standard

A motion to vacate, set aside, or correct sentence of a person in federal custody pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 entitles a prisoner to relief "[i]f the court finds that . . . there has been such a denial or infringement of the constitutional rights of the prisoner as to render the judgment vulnerable to collateral attack." 28 U.S.C. § 2255(b). If the motion combined with the files and records of the case conclusively show that the prisoner is not entitled to relief, no evidentiary hearing on the issues is warranted. See id.

The standard of review of § 2255 petitions is "stringent" and the court "presumes earlier proceedings were correct." United States v. Nelson, 177 F. Supp.2d 1181, 1187 (D. Kan. 2001) (citation omitted). In a successful § 2255 motion, the "defendant must show a defect in the proceedings which resulted in a 'complete miscarriage of justice.'" Id. (quoting Davis v. United States, 417 U.S. 333, 346 (1974)). It is important to note that "relief is not available merely because of error that may have justified reversal on direct appeal." United States v. Frady, 456 U.S. 152, 165 (1982); United States v. Addonizio, 442 U.S. 178, 184 (1979).

III.Discussion

Petitioner Benford brings this Motion on three separate grounds. First, Benford alleges that the Court's decision to set a trial date without his counsel being present violated his constitutional right to counsel. Second, Benford alleges that the government withheld favorable evidence and presented false testimony in violation of Rule 16 and/or Benford's due process rights guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment. Third, Benford alleges ineffective assistance of counsel in violation of his ...


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