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Crane v. United States

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division

October 29, 2018




         Before the court is William Thomas Crane's motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to vacate, set aside, or correct sentence by a person in federal custody. Cv. Docs. # 2 & 3.[1]


         In April 2014, a federal grand jury in the Middle District of Alabama returned a superseding indictment charging Crane and five others with conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute at least 500 grams of methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 846. Cv. Doc. # 9-1. Crane's case came to trial in January 2015.

         The Government presented evidence showing that Crane was part of a largescale methamphetamine distribution ring operating throughout Alabama. See Cv. Doc. # 9-2. Crane, who owned an auto body shop in Crossville, Alabama, would install hidden compartments in motor vehicles that were driven to California by members of the conspiracy. In California, large quantities of methamphetamine obtained from suppliers were secreted in the hidden compartments of the vehicles, which were then driven back to Alabama. When the methamphetamine arrived in Alabama, Crane would assist in removing it from the hidden compartments and would place money from his drug dealing in the compartments.

         In April 2013, a member of the conspiracy, Phillip Burgin, was arrested by Oklahoma authorities after a traffic stop of the vehicle he was driving led to the discovery of approximately 30 pounds of methamphetamine in a hidden compartment Crane had installed in the vehicle. Cv. Doc. # 9-2 at 13-44. Burgin had picked up the methamphetamine from a supplier in California and was returning to Alabama with the drugs when he was arrested. Id. at 42-44.

         After his arrest, Burgin agreed to participate in a controlled delivery of two pounds of the methamphetamine, monitored by law enforcement officers, to coconspirator Stephanie Ausban in a mall parking lot near Birmingham, Alabama. Cv. Doc. # 9-2 at 49- 54 & 106-08. After meeting Ausban in the mall parking lot, Burgin switched vehicles with her, leaving Ausban the vehicle with the two pounds of methamphetamine secreted in a hidden compartment. Id. at 53 & 59-60.

         Officers monitoring the transaction followed Ausban to some apartment buildings in Crossville, where they saw Ausban meet up with Crane. Cv. Doc. # 9-2 at 60-61. The officers then observed Crane and Ausban leave the apartments in separate vehicles, with Ausban following Crane. Id. The officers followed the vehicles to Crane's auto body shop in Crossville. Id. at 61-63. Shortly after Crane and Ausban arrived at the shop, the officers closed in and arrested the two as they were attempting to access the hidden compartment in the vehicle containing the drugs. Id. at 62-65 & 91. In Crane's pants pocket, officers found a small plastic bag containing approximately one ounce of methamphetamine. Id. at 65 & 118-19. In a cloth bag on the ground near Crane, officers found $38, 500 in currency. Id. at 63-65. Crane told officers he intended to use the money to buy the two pounds of methamphetamine in the vehicle driven by Ausban. Id. at 65-66 & 128. A subsequent search of Crane's residence uncovered more methamphetamine, and the search of a storage unit near Crane's residence (with Crane's consent) uncovered an additional $47, 395 in currency. Id. at 116-17.

         During a custodial interview, Crane admitted to investigators that he maintained a livelihood by purchasing methamphetamine and then reselling it. Cv. Doc. # 9-2 at 127- 28. Crane told investigators he had been unemployed for several years and that dealing methamphetamine was his only means of making a living. Id. at 128-29. Crane also stated that the money he kept in the storage unit were proceeds from his methamphetamine sales that he used to pay for more methamphetamine, which he would then resell. Id. at 128. Crane told investigators that his supplier was an individual with whom he had only ever spoken on the telephone and whom he knew only as “Boss.” Id. at 125-26.

         Investigators determined that “Boss” was Alberto Trejo, a drug dealer and convicted murderer incarcerated by the Alabama Department of Corrections. Cv. Doc. # 9-2 at 109- 12; Cv. Doc. # 9-3 at 7-10. Trejo was the leader of the methamphetamine distribution ring, which had as members Crane, Burgin, [2] Ausban, and others.

         On January 13, 2015, the jury returned a verdict finding Crane guilty as charged in the indictment of conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute at least 500 grams of methamphetamine. Cv. Doc. # 9-3 at 31-32. After a sentencing hearing on April 21, 2015, the district court sentenced Crane to 200 months' imprisonment. Cv. Doc. # 9-5 at 2-3.

         Crane appealed, arguing that the district court erred in instructing the jury that the prosecution was required to prove venue by a preponderance of the evidence only. See Cv. Doc. # 9-6. On December 7, 2015, the Eleventh Circuit issued an opinion affirming Crane's conviction and sentence. Cv. Doc. # 9-7; see United States v. Crane, 635 Fed.Appx. 611 (11th Cir. 2015). Crane did not seek certiorari review in the United States Supreme Court.

         On May 20, 2016, Crane filed two pro se motions with this court, one styled as a “Motion of Plain Error Pursuant to Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure Rule 52(b)” (Cv. Doc. # 2) and the other styled as a “Motion for Relief Pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 60” (Doc # 3). The two pro se motions set forth the following laundry list of claims:

1. Testimony regarding the large amount of methamphetamine seized in the Oklahoma traffic stop of coconspirator Phillip Burgin unfairly linked Crane to the conspiracy.
2. The Government failed to prove Crane knew that two pounds of methamphetamine were in the hidden compartment of the vehicle used in the controlled delivery of the drugs.
3. The Government produced no photographic, audio, or video evidence proving Crane's involvement in drug dealing with coconspirator Stephanie Ausban.
4. The Government failed to produce search warrants for Crane's auto body shop and the storage unit near his residence; thus, evidence seized from the shop and the storage unit was due to be suppressed.
5. Currency recovered from the storage unit was wrongly attributed to Crane.
6. Crane did not knowingly and intelligently waive his Miranda rights.
7. The Government presented testimony from a “corrupt law officer.” 8. Crane was deprived of counsel of his choice and was forced to go to trial with a court-appointed attorney.
9. Trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance by failing to (a) adequately investigate and present possible defenses, such as Crane's low IQ; (b) file motions for the defendant; (c) obtain witnesses to defend the case and introduce expert testimony; and (d) cross-examine Government witnesses.
10. Crane suffers from a low IQ and dementia, and the district court failed to consider his deficiencies when it sentenced him.
11. Crane's sentence of 200 months was greater than necessary to comply with the purposes set forth in 18 U.S.C. § 3553.
12. The statute under which Crane was convicted is defective because it did not contain language regarding a “nexus to commerce.”
13. The Government did not have jurisdiction to prosecute Crane because it did not prove that Crane's actions “moved beyond the borders of the sovereign state.”
14. The U.S. Attorney misrepresented the Government's jurisdiction to the grand jury, resulting in “charging instruments that were fatally defective.”
15. The statute under which Crane is detained is not “positive law”; thus, his conviction and sentence are invalid.

Cv. Doc. # 2 at 2-5; Cv. Doc. # 3 at 3-9.

         In an order entered on June 3, 2016 (Cv. Doc. # 4), this court informed Crane that the claims in his pro se motions were properly presented in a motion to vacate, set aside, or correct sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. In accordance with Castro v. United States, 540 U.S. 375 (2003), the court notified Crane of its intention to treat his pro se motions as a § 2255 motion and directed him to advise the court whether he wished to proceed on his claims under § 2255, to amend his motion to assert additional claims under § 2255, or to withdraw his motion. Cv. Doc. # 4 at 2-3. The court's “Castro Order” also advised Crane that if he failed to file a response in compliance with the order's directives, the case would proceed as an action under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, with the court considering only those claims in Crane's two pro se motions. Id. at 3.

         Crane filed a response to the Castro Order objecting to the court's recharacterization of his pro se motions, but his response failed to comply with the Castro Order's directives. Cv. Doc. # 5. Consequently, Crane was informed that the case would proceed under § 2255 on the claims in his pro se motions, and the Government was ordered to file a response to these claims. Cv. Doc. # 6.

         On July 28, 2016, the Government filed a response arguing that (1) Crane has procedurally defaulted his substantive (i.e., non-ineffective assistance) claims by failing to assert them on direct appeal and has shown neither cause for failing to raise the claims previously nor actual prejudice affecting a fundamental right; and (2) Crane's claims of ineffective assistance of counsel are insufficiently pled, without merit, and rest on allegations that fail to establish deficient performance and prejudice under the standard of Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984). Cv. Doc. # 9.

         Approximately one year later, on July 31, 2017, Crane amended his § 2255 motion to add a claim that his 200-month sentence violates the Eight Amendment's cruel and unusual punishment prohibition because he suffers from mental disability and other health issues and that he is entitled to an evidentiary hearing on the issue of his mental disability. Cv. Doc. # 22.

         The Government filed a response arguing that Crane's new claim (1) is time-barred by the one-year limitation period in 28 U.S.C. § 2255(f); (2) is procedurally barred because it could have been raised on appeal, but was not; and (3) is in any event without merit. Cv. Doc. # 24.

         For the reasons that follow, the court concludes that Crane's § 2255 motion should be denied without an evidentiary hearing and dismissed with prejudice. Rule 8(a), Rules Governing Section 2255 Proceedings in the United States District Courts.


         A. General ...

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