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Mullet v. United States

United States District Court, N.D. Ohio, Eastern Division

May 2, 2018

SAMUEL MULLET, SR., Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          DAN AARON POLSTER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court is Petitioner Samuel Mullet, Sr.'s Motion to Vacate Under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (the “Motion”). Doc #: 750.[1] For the following reasons, Mullet's Motion is DENIED.

         I. Background

         Mullet was indicted on December 20, 2011 for charges stemming from a series of beard and hair cutting attacks on Amish members and leaders. Doc #: 10; see also March 28, 2012 Superseding Indictment, Doc #: 87. On September 20, 2012, a jury found Mullet guilty of Count 1, Conspiracy (18 U.S.C. § 371), Counts 2, 4-6, violations of the Hate Crimes Act (“HCA”) (18 U.S.C. §§ 249(a)(2) and 2), Count 8, Obstruction (18 U.S.C. §§ 1519 and 2), and Count 10, Making False Statements (18 U.S.C. § 1001). Doc #: 230. The jury found two objects of the conspiracy in Count 1: (1) to willfully cause bodily injury to the alleged victims; and (2) to knowingly alter, conceal, or cover up evidence. See Doc #: 543 at 2576. Mullet was sentenced on February 8, 2013 to 15 years imprisonment. Doc #: 394. He appealed his HCA-related convictions (“HCA Convictions”), including the HCA-related first object of Count 1's conspiracy charge. Mullet did not initially appeal his three obstruction-related convictions (the “Obstruction Convictions”): (1) Count 1's second object, conspiring to conceal evidence, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371; (2) Count 8, concealing evidence, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1519 and 2; and (3) Count 10, lying to the FBI, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1001. The Sixth Circuit reversed Mullet's HCA Convictions on August 27, 2014 and remanded the case back to the Court for a new trial. Doc #: 557.

         The Government declined to re-try Mullet for the HCA charges and the Court re-sentenced him to 129 months imprisonment for the remaining Obstruction Convictions. Doc #: 732. On his second appeal, Mullet challenged the Obstruction Convictions and his sentence. Among other challenges to his sentence, Mullet challenged the four-level leadership enhancement to his guideline calculation, arguing that there was no evidence of his role in concealing evidence. Doc #: 735 at 13. The Sixth Circuit affirmed Mullet's convictions because he failed to challenge them in his first appeal. Id. at 4. The Sixth Circuit also affirmed Mullet's sentence and the leadership enhancement because “[t]he district court had ample reason to believe that [Mullet] played a starring role in [the concealing evidence] conspiracy.” Id.

         II. Standard

         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, a person in federal custody may move the Court to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence. 28 U.S.C. § 2255. “A motion brought under § 2255 must allege one of three bases as a threshold standard: (1) an error of constitutional magnitude; (2) a sentence imposed outside the statutory limits; or (3) an error of fact or law that was so fundamental as to render the entire proceeding invalid.” United States v. Doyle, 631 F.3d 815, 817 (6th Cir. 2011) (quoting Weinberger v. United States, 268 F.3d 346, 351 (6th Cir.2001)). Ineffective assistance of counsel claims are sufficient bases to bring a collateral proceeding under § 2255. Massaro v. United States, 538 U.S. 500, 504 (2003). A defendant claiming ineffective assistance of counsel must demonstrate that (1) counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness and (2) that the deficient performance prejudiced the defense. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687-88 (1984) (emphases added). “If it is easier [for the Court] to dispose of an ineffectiveness claim on the ground of lack of sufficient prejudice . . . that course should be followed.” Strickland, 466 U.S. at 670. To establish prejudice on a § 2255 motion, Mullet must show a reasonable probability that, but for his counsel's errors, his sentence would have been different. Id. at 694.

         III. Analysis

         Mullet makes four claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. Mullet claims that his counsel was ineffective by: (1) failing to argue during his second appeal that admission of evidence of Mullet's sexual misconduct was unfairly prejudicial; (2) failing to object at trial and in his second appeal to the admission of inflammatory expert testimony; (3) failing to object at trial to the admission of a newspaper article that violated Mullet's Confrontation Clause rights; and (4) failing to appeal Mullet's conviction on Counts 1 and 8 on sufficiency of the evidence grounds in the first appeal. The Court will address each of these arguments in turn.

         A. Admission of 404(b) Evidence of Sexual Misconduct

         Mullet argues that the Court improperly permitted the Government to introduce sexual misconduct evidence at trial. Mot 9. He objected to the admission of this evidence in pretrial motions and at trial, and he raised the issue on his first appeal.[2] See Doc #: 557 at 40-41. Mullet now argues that his counsel was ineffective for failing to raise this issue on the second appeal. Mot 9. To establish ineffective assistance of appellate counsel, a defendant must show a reasonable probability that but-for his counsel's error, he would have prevailed on his appeal. Smith v. Robbins, 528 U.S. 259, 287 (2000). This Mullet cannot do.

         In his first appeal, Mullet argued that the Court improperly admitted evidence of his sexual misconduct as a challenge to his HCA convictions. At trial, the Court allowed the Government to introduce evidence of Mullet's sexual misconduct under Rule 404(b) for the limited purpose of establishing the degree of control that Mullet had over the people in his community. Doc #: 314 at 53. Mullet directed married women in his community to engage in sexual relations with him as a form of “marital counseling.” Id. at 52. Evidence that Mullet's community members acquiesced to Mullet's marital counseling showed the almost absolute control he had over them. This level of control tied directly into the Government's theory of the case: Mullet ordered the beard and hair cutting attacks to retaliate against Amish members and leaders who countermanded Mullet's decree. Id. at 54. The Government was prohibited from admitting this evidence for any other purpose. Id. at 53. Thus, the Court properly admitted evidence of Mullet's sexual misconduct under Rule 404(b).

         Most importantly, evidence of Mullet's sexual misconduct was never admitted on the obstruction-related charges; the jury was directed not to consider that evidence in relation to those charges. The Court issued a limiting instruction to the jury directing them to “consider this evidence [of Mullet's sexual misconduct] only as it relates to the nature of the religious disputes between [Mullet's] community and other Amish practitioners, and to Samuel Mullet, Senior's intent, motive, plan, or knowledge with respect to the acts charged in the superseding indictment.” Doc #: 542 at 2313. Jurors are presumed to follow instructions. Caldwell v. Bell, 288 F.3d 838, 845 (6th Cir. 2002). Thus, the jury did not consider evidence of Mullet's sexual misconduct to convict him of the obstruction-related charges.

         During Mullet's first appeal, the Sixth Circuit did not address Mullet's argument against the admission of evidence of his sexual misconduct because it reversed his HCA Convictions on other grounds. Doc #: 557 at 23. Mullet's counsel did not argue in the first appeal that the sexual misconduct evidence required reversal of the Obstruction Convictions because he knew that the jury only considered this evidence as it related to the HCA charges. The Government chose not to re-try the HCA-related charges so Mullet's re-sentencing and subsequent second appeal were limited to his Obstruction Convictions. Mullet cannot show that he would have prevailed on the second appeal had he raised the sexual misconduct evidence issue because ...


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