The U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals granted a single Certificate of Appealability (COA) on Jan. 10 in the Motion 2255 Habeas Petition sought by former peanut broker Michael Parnell.

The order by the Atlanta-based appellate court sets Feb.20, 2024, as the deadline for Parnell’s attorney to file an appellant’s brief.  The government’s response is due 30 days later.

Michael Parnell, 65, is a resident of the low-security federal lockup located at Butner, NC.   He’s been in federal custody since 2015 after a jury convicted him of 31 charges related to the submission of false salmonella testing results to the FDA in his role as a peanut broker for the production plant located in Blakely, GA. 

Peanuts produced at that plant were linked in 2008-09 to a nationwide Salmonella outbreak. Hundreds were sickened and several patients died. His company, P.P. Sales, shipped peanut products from the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) to Kellogg’s.

Parnell filed a Motion 2255 Habeas Petition in 2019 seeking to overturn his convictions and 240-month sentence. In 2021, he was granted an evidentiary hearing in open court before the Magistrate Judge for Georgia’s Middle District Court.

The former peanut broker claimed he received ineffective assistance when his trial attorneys failed to seek a change of venue for his 2014 jury trial, and his defense attorneys failed to rebut loss and victim calculations and risk of injury enhancement put forth by the government.

After the District Court judges denied Parnell’s petition, the appellate court required one or more COAs to be reviewed.

“To obtain a COA, a movant must make a substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right,” according to the Jan 10 order.

“If the District Court denied a constitutional claim on the merits, the movant must demonstrate that ‘reasonable jurists would find the district court’s assessment of the constitutional claims debatable or wrong’ or that the issues ‘deserve encouragement to proceed further,’ ” the order continues.

The 11th Circuit said it had granted COAs for the Motion 2255 Habeas Petition filed by 69-year-old Stewart Parnell, the former CEO of the now defunct PCA, who is Michael’s brother.  

Stewart Parnell’s attorney could argue issues involving pretrial publicity and jury prejudice. The order for Michael Parnell grants a COA for the first issue involving jury prejudice based on adverse pre-trial publicity, but “a COA is DENIED as to Ground 2 because reasonable jurists would not debate its denial,”  according to the order.

The order says the District Court found Parnell’s attorneys “were not deficient and any deficiency did not prejudice (Stewart) Parnell.”

The federal prison at Hazelton, WV, is the current home of Stewart Parnell, whose release date is July 26, 2038.

According to attorney Ann Fitz, who practices federal criminal and appellate law in the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals,  2255 habeas petitions are a post-conviction remedy (also known as a Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct a Sentence). They are available to defendants convicted in federal court and currently in custody — either in prison or supervised release.

Under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, a defendant may seek relief because “the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States,” according to Fitz.

2255 habeas petitions are most commonly used to argue ineffective counsel assistance in violating the 6th Amendment.

To warrant relief under § 2255, the errors of which the movant complains must amount to a fundamental miscarriage of justice.

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