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United States v. Dollison

United States District Court, D. Alaska

October 3, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent,
v.
DARNELL DOLLISON, Petitioner.

          ORDER RE FINAL REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION REGARDING HABEAS CORPUS PETITION UNDER 28 U.S.C. § 2255 [DOCS. 75, 91]

          SHARON L. GLEASON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court at Dockets 75 and 91 are, respectively, Petitioner Darnell Dollison's Petition and Amended Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. The United States filed a response in opposition at Docket 103. Mr. Dollison filed a reply at Docket 108, and a merits brief at Docket 121.

         The motion was referred to the Honorable Magistrate Judge Matthew M. Scoble. At Docket 126, Magistrate Judge Scoble issued his Initial Report and Recommendation, in which he recommended that the petition be denied. The United States objected to the Initial Report and Recommendation at Docket 127, and Mr. Dollison did so at Docket 128. The United States filed responses to Mr. Dollison's objections at Docket 129, and amended responses at Docket 131.

         At Docket 132, Magistrate Judge Scoble issued his Final Report and Recommendation (“FRR”), in which he recommended that the petition be denied. The government objected to the FRR at Docket 135, and Mr. Dollison did so at Docket 136. The government filed responses to Mr. Dollison's objections at Docket 137. Mr. Dollison filed a response to the government's objections at Docket 138.

         The matter is now before this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). That statute provides that a district court “may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge.”[1] A court is to “make a de novo determination of those portions of the magistrate judge's report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made.”[2]But as to those topics on which no objections are filed, “[n]either the Constitution nor [28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)] requires a district judge to review, de novo, findings and recommendations that the parties themselves accept as correct.”[3]Accordingly, the Court accepts those portions of the FRR to which no subsequent objections were filed.

         On de novo review, the Court addresses the parties' objections as follows:

         1. Factual findings on drug purity

         The government's first objection relates to the FRR's factual findings on the level of drug purity. The Court concurs with the government's assertion that the State of Alaska Crime Lab did not test for the purity of the cocaine.[4] The Magistrate Judge's finding to the contrary is rejected.[5] The Court makes no finding regarding the purity level of Mr. Dollison's cocaine.

         2. Hypothetical false positive result

         The government's second objection is to the FRR's finding that “if the evidence contained only a non-controlled substance before the sale, a reference sample adulterated with that same substance would incorrectly yield a positive test result.”[6] As explained in the Affidavit of Charles Foster appended to the government's objections, the Crime Lab's testing protocol “would not lead to a false positive for cocaine even if the reference material used for mass spectral comparison was adulterated or completely substituted.”[7] The Court finds Mr. Foster's testimony persuasive, and concurs with the government's objection on this topic. The FRR's contrary finding is rejected.

         3. Applicability of United States v. Ruiz

         The government next objects to the FRR's holding that United States v. Ruiz, 536 U.S. 622 (2002), does not apply to this case. The government maintains that pursuant to Ruiz, it would not have been required to disclose Mr. Palmer's conduct prior to Mr. Dollison's plea even if it had knowledge of that conduct.[8] The FRR disagrees, finding Ruiz inapplicable because it was concerned with the government's obligation “to disclose impeachment information relating to any informants or . . . witnesses.”[9] The Magistrate Judge reasoned that a lab personnel's tampering with drug evidence and reference samples constitutes more than impeachment evidence, but is instead “information [that might] establish[] the factual innocence of [a] defendant.”[10]

         The government observes that Mr. Dollison is not claiming actual innocence.[11] Moreover, as noted above, the Court is not adopting the Magistrate Judge's finding that there could hypothetically have been a false positive if Mr. Dollison pretended to sell cocaine, but actually sold 100% inositol, and Mr. Palmer had adulterated the reference sample with 100% inositol as well.[12] Therefore, any such adulteration by Mr. Palmer could not establish factual innocence, but would be impeachment information. The Court agrees with the government's objection on this point. This case is controlled by Ruiz, and the government was not obligated to disclose Mr. Palmer's misconduct to the defense prior to Mr. Dollison's guilty plea.[13]

         4. Chain of custody

         The government's final objection is to the FRR's finding that the government's evidence to the Magistrate Judge does “not establish a sufficient ‘chain of custody [to] demonstrate that [the reference sample used in the Dollison testing] was the same as the sample [the DEA] tested.'”[14]

         The Foster affidavit appended to the government's objections aims to set forth a chain of custody for the reference sample used in Mr. Dollison's case, from its testing in Alaska in 2009 to its testing by the DEA in 2014.[15] The Court has reviewed that affidavit, [16] but based on its review of the entire record, the Court adopts the Magistrate Judge's conclusion that “this Court cannot completely rule out the possibility of Palmer's tampering with the Dollison evidence, the associated reference sample, or both.”[17]

         5. Effect of Kyles v. Whitley

         Mr. Dollison objects to the FRR's holding that Mr. Palmer's concealment of his tampering did not constitute suppression of evidence pursuant to Kyles v. Whitley, 514 U.S. 419 (1995). Mr. Dollison argues that under Kyles, information withheld by government actors, for whatever reason, must be imputed to the prosecution.[18] He maintains that the government bears the burden of uncovering that information.[19] The FRR disagrees, concluding that this argument would result “in a sort of infinite regression” by requiring prosecutors to investigate every government agent involved in a case.[20] The Magistrate Judge reasoned that Mr. Palmer's conduct was not governed by Kyles because he “did not withhold his conduct in an effort to thwart the defense's case, but rather in an effort to avoid the consequences of his drug abuse and theft.”[21]

         The Court finds that Kyles is not controlling, but for reasons other than those articulated by the Magistrate Judge. The Court agrees with Mr. Dollison's assertion that the “defense does not bear the burden of proving why exculpatory evidence is suppressed, ” such that the prosecution's ignorance of Mr. Palmer's tampering is immaterial under Brady v. Maryland.[22] To the extent that the FRR reasoned to the contrary, the Court rejects that analysis. Nonetheless, as ...


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