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Dixon v. United States

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Terre Haute Division

August 27, 2018

LENARD DIXON, Petitioner,


          Hon. Jane Magnus-Stinson, Chief Judge

         For the reasons discussed in this Entry, the motion of Lenard Dixon for relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 must be denied and the action dismissed with prejudice. In addition, the Court finds that a certificate of appealability should not issue.

         I.§ 2255 Motion Standards

         A motion pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 is the presumptive means by which a federal prisoner can challenge his conviction or sentence. See Davis v. United States, 417 U.S. 333, 343 (1974). A court may grant relief from a federal conviction or sentence pursuant to § 2255 “upon the ground that 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). The scope of relief available under § 2255 is narrow, limited to “an error of law that is jurisdictional, constitutional, or constitutes a fundamental defect which inherently results in a complete miscarriage of justice.” Borre v. United States, 940 F.2d 215, 217 (7th Cir. 1991) (internal citations omitted).

         II. Factual Background

         In May 2013, while Mr. Dixon was incarcerated at the United States Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana, a grand jury charged Mr. Dixon with being an accessory after the fact to murder, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 3. Another inmate, co-defendant William Bell, was charged with committing premeditated murder of another inmate, Brian Pendelton, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1111. Mr. Dixon and Bell were tried jointly before a jury the following year.

         During voir dire, the Court advised the jury that “[i]f at any time you realize you know something about the case, you know a witness or you know the Defendant, … you must inform the courtroom deputy at your earliest opportunity.” USA v. Bell, et al., No. 2:13-cr-00021-JMS-CMM-2 (S.D. Ind.) (hereinafter, “Crim. Dkt.”), Crim. Dkt. 136 at 7 [sealed]. The Court emphasized the need to provide the defendant a fair trial and to ensure that the “people who are selected as jurors can keep an open mind throughout trial” and decide the case “based solely on the evidence that is presented” in the courtroom. Crim. Dkt. 136 at 8, 15 [sealed]. The Court read the names of potential witnesses in the case, including the name “Nurse T. Bixler, who works at the Bureau of Prisons.” Crim. Dkt. 136 at 16 [sealed]. When the Court asked the prospective jurors if they knew any of the named witnesses, only Prospective Juror #21, who ultimately was not selected as a juror, stated he knew a witness. Crim. Dkt. 136 at 16 [sealed].

         Nurse Bixler testified the morning of the second day of the three day trial. Crim. Dkt. 139 at 143. She testified that she performed an injury assessment of Mr. Bell three days after the murder and observed a one centimeter abrasion on the inside of Mr. Bell's lower lip. Crim. Dkt. #139 at 145-46. Nurse Bixler further testified that when asked how he got the abrasion, she believed Mr. Bell refused to answer. Crim. Dkt. 139 at148.

         During the lunch break, the Court was advised that Juror #1 was acquainted with Nurse Bixler. Crim. Dkt. 139 at 165. In the presence of the parties and outside the presence of the other jurors, the Court questioned Juror #1 as to the nature of her relationship with Nurse Bixler. Crim. Dkt. 139 at 165-66. Juror #1 stated that she knew Nurse Bixler only because her husband has repaired Nurse Bixler's vehicles. She stated that she had called Nurse Bixler to advise her when the repairs were completed and the cost of the repairs. Crim. Dkt. 139 at 166. Juror #1 confirmed that her relationship with Nurse Bixler did not affect her ability to be fair and impartial. Id. No. party expressed concern or objected to continuing the trial with Juror #1 serving as a juror. Id.

         After a three-day jury trial, Mr. Bell and Mr. Dixon were both convicted. Mr. Dixon was sentenced to a 156-month term of imprisonment, to be served consecutively to the federal sentence he was serving at the time of Pendelton's murder. Crim. Dkt. 114. The Court entered judgment on October 31, 2014. Crim. Dkt. 114.

         On November 6, 2014, Mr. Dixon filed a notice of appeal. Crim. Dkt. 124. In his appeal, Mr. Dixon challenged the sufficiency of evidence and argued that the district court erred by allowing his legs to be shackled during the trial. See United States v. Bell, 819 F.3d 310 (7th Cir. 2016). On February 17, 2016, the Seventh Circuit affirmed Mr. Dixon's conviction and sentence in all respects. Id. The Seventh Circuit held that (1) the “district judge applied the correct legal standard and identified the facts that, in her considered judgment, presented a special need for restraints” and that “appropriate precautions [were taken] to minimize risk that the jury could infer that Dixon was shackled”; and (2) “[t]he evidence was more than sufficient to support Dixon's conviction as an accessory after the fact. Id. at 320-23.

         On February 14, 2017, Mr. Dixon filed a motion for post-conviction relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. The United States responded and Mr. Dixon has replied. The action is ripe for resolution.

         III. Discussion

         Mr. Dixon seeks relief pursuant to § 2255 alleging: (1) that his due process rights were violated when the Court ordered that four United States marshals be positioned around the defense table throughout the trial; (2) prosecutorial misconduct; ...

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