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Parker v. United States

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

November 5, 2018

SHAYNE PARKER, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER ON PETITION FOR A WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS

          F. Dennis Saylor IV United States District Judge

         This is a pro se petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. On March 18, 2018, the jury found petitioner Shayne Parker guilty of being a felon in possession of ammunition in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g), and transporting a firearm across state lines without a license in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(a)(3). He was sentenced to a 60-month term of incarceration followed by a three-year term of supervised release.

         Petitioner has filed a motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, alleging ineffective assistance of counsel in violation of the Sixth Amendment. The petition is based on trial counsel's alleged (1) failure to raise an Equal Protection Clause challenge based on the Court's denial of individual voir dire, and (2) failure to object to evidence admitted under Fed.R.Evid. 404(b). For the reasons set forth below, the motion will be denied.

         I. Background

         A. Factual Background

         The following facts are taken from the opinion of the Court of Appeals.

         On March 21, 2014, Shayne Parker drove with Ronald Scott, a drug dealer, from Massachusetts to New Hampshire and checked into the Keene Inn in Keene, New Hampshire. United States v. Parker, 872 F.3d 1, 3 (1st Cir. 2017). The room was registered in Parker's name. Id. Parker and Scott met with Mitchell Riddell, one of Scott's customers. Id. In Parker's presence, Riddell talked to Scott about buying guns. Id.

         The next day, March 22, Parker, Scott, and Riddell met again and were joined by Melanie LaMott. Id. LaMott could legally buy firearms in New Hampshire and had agreed with Riddell to act as a straw buyer. Id. Parker, Scott, Riddell, and LaMott first went to the Alstead Gun Shop in Alstead, New Hampshire, but left before purchasing anything because Scott became uncomfortable with someone in the shop. Id. at 3-4. Next, they went to the Sporting and Hunting Depot in Charlestown, New Hampshire, where LaMott bought several firearms. Id. at 4. After the purchase, they went to LaMott's apartment in Keene where Scott gave Riddell and LaMott crack cocaine as partial payment for their services. Id. On their way to Boston, the four stopped at Dick's Sporting Goods in Keene where Scott and LaMott bought ammunition. Id. Once in Boston, Parker and Scott examined the firearms and ammunition and paid Riddell and LaMott. Id. Parker was subsequently arrested. Id.

         On March 18, 2016, a jury convicted Parker of two counts: (1) being a felon in possession of ammunition in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g); and (2) transporting a firearm across state lines without a license in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(a)(3). Parker was sentenced to 60-month terms of imprisonment on both counts, to be served concurrently, followed by a three-year term of supervised release.

         1. Individual Voir Dire

         Prior to trial, petitioner's counsel moved for the Court to conduct individual voir dire of prospective jurors to determine if any of the jurors “harbor any racial prejudice.” Petitioner's counsel requested that the Court ask five questions:

1. Do you have any feelings or opinions about black people that would cause you to question your ability to be impartial in evaluating the evidence in this case?
2. Would the fact that Mr. Parker is a black man make it more difficult for you to decide a verdict in his favor than if he were white?
3. Do you believe that black men are more likely to commit a crime than others?
4. Have you had any experiences with black people that might make you unable to be fair and impartial in this case?
5. Can you honestly assure the court that the race of the defendant will not affect your ability to be fair and impartial?

Parker, 872 F.3d at 4-5. (Docket No. 72). At the final pretrial conference, petitioner's counsel explained why he was requesting individualized voir dire. He stated:

Well, my client is an African-American man, and I've requested a series of questions regarding racial prejudice. And I think that it's very important, in order for Mr. Parker to get a fair trial, that the jurors do not harbor any prejudice against him based on race. And I don't believe that we can realistically expect jurors to respond in the audience in front of all of their other prospective jurors to questions about whether they are biased or prejudiced against people based on their race. And I think, especially in a case like this where he's charged with firearms offenses and where that plays into a stereotype, frankly, that it's very important that the jurors, at least on that limited issue, be voir dired individually so that we can make sure that we don't end up with jurors who are - come into the process predisposed to find Mr. Parker guilty based on his race.
Just one other factor, just to make the record complete. I believe there - basically, this case involves an allegation that my client and another individual went to the state of New Hampshire and recruited people to purchase firearms from gun stores. And, again, there's a cross-racial component to that. So I think the witnesses that are going to be called by the Government, I haven't met them, but I believe that they're Caucasian. And they're going to be testifying that they were recruited into purchasing firearms primarily by this other individual named Scott.

(Final Pretrial Conf. Tr. at 8, 10). At a status conference, the Court denied the individual voir dire request, stating the following:

This is a relatively routine case; [it's] not a death penalty case, not a murder case, not a highly publicized case. There's no racial angle to it that I can see, like a victim and a perpetrator being of different races. Nothing about it particularly will evoke a strong emotional response or a racially charged response, and I see no reason to take the highly unusual and time-consuming and resource-consuming step of individual voir dire.

(Motion Hearing Tr. at 2-3).

         On the first day of trial, petitioner's counsel requested reconsideration of the denial of individualized voir dire. He contended:

Well, your Honor, the first thing I would say is this: We have an extremely racially polarized society, and there is systemic racism. Those are pretty undeniable facts, and as far as my client, Shayne Parker, [who is] African-American[, ] getting a fair ...

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