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United States v. Mendoza

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Greeneville Division

June 4, 2015

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent,
v.
PLACIDO VENTURA MENDOZA, Petitioner.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

J. RONNIE GREER, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on the "Motion To Vacate, Set Aside, Or Correct A Sentence By A Person In Federal Custody Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, " [Doc. 244], [1] filed by Placido Ventura Mendoza ("Mendoza" or "petitioner"), including an Affidavit, [Doc. 244-1], and a Memorandum in Support, [Doc. 245]. The United States has responded in opposition, [Doc. 262], and petitioner has replied, [Doc. 265].[2] The matter is now ripe for disposition. The Court has determined that the files and records in the case conclusively establish that the petitioner is not entitled to relief under § 2255 and, therefore, no evidentiary hearing is necessary. For the reasons which follow, the petitioner's § 2255 motion lacks merit, and the motion will be DENIED.

I. Procedural and Factual Background

A criminal complaint was filed on May 15, 2010, [Doc. 1], charging Mendoza and three co-defendants with conspiracy to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute 500 grams or more of methamphetamine in violation of Title 21 United States Code §§ 846, 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(A). Mendoza was ordered temporarily detained by the United States Magistrate Judge on May 18, 2010, [Doc. 16], and was ordered detained pending trial by order entered on May 27, 2010, after a detention hearing, [Doc. 34]. On June 8, 2010, a federal grand jury returned a ten-count indictment charging Mendoza and co-defendants with a conspiracy to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute 500 grams or more of methamphetamine. Mendoza was also charged in Count Four of the indictment with possessing with the intent to distribute 500 grams or more of methamphetamine and in Count Five with possession of a firearm in furtherance of the drug trafficking offenses charged in Counts One and Four of the indictment. In Count Eight, he was charged with illegal reentry in violation of Title 8 United States Code sections 1326(a) and (b). The Court appointed counsel to represent the petitioner, [ see Doc. 15].

On April 25, 2011, the United States filed a Plea Agreement signed by the petitioner, and the Court held a Change of Plea Hearing on April 27, 2011. An Amended Plea Agreement was filed at the hearing. The petitioner pleaded guilty to Count One of the Indictment, and the Court took the plea agreement under advisement. A sentencing hearing was held on September 12, 2011, and Mendoza was sentenced to 174 months of imprisonment. [ See Doc. 206]. Judgment was entered on September 26, 2011, [Doc. 206]. Mendoza did not file a direct appeal. The petitioner filed this timely motion to vacate on August 22, 2012.

II. Standard of Review

This Court must vacate and set aside petitioner's sentence if it finds that "the judgment was rendered without jurisdiction, or that the sentence imposed was not authorized by law or otherwise open to collateral attack, or that there has been such a denial or infringement of the constitutional rights of the prisoner as to render the judgment vulnerable to collateral attack, ..." 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Under Rule 4 of the Governing Rules, the Court is to consider initially whether the face of the motion itself, together with the annexed exhibits and prior proceedings in the case, reveal the movant is not entitled to relief. If it plainly appears the movant is not entitled to relief, the court may summarily dismiss the § 2255 motion under Rule 4.

When a defendant files a § 2255 motion, he must set forth facts which entitle him to relief. Green v. Wingo, 454 F.2d 52, 53 (6th Cir. 1972); O'Malley v. United States, 285 F.2d 733, 735 (6th Cir. 1961). "Conclusions, not substantiated by allegations of fact with some probability of verity, are not sufficient to warrant a hearing." O'Malley, 285 F.2d at 735 (citations omitted). A motion that merely states general conclusions of law without substantiating allegations with facts is without legal merit. Loum v. Underwood, 262 F.2d 866, 867 (6th Cir. 1959); United States v. Johnson, 940 F.Supp. 167, 171 (W.D. Tenn. 1996). To warrant relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 because of constitutional error, the error must be one of constitutional magnitude which had a substantial and injurious effect or influence on the proceedings. Brecht v. Abrahamson, 507 U.S. 619, 637 (1993) (citation omitted) (§ 2254 case); Clemmons v. Sowders, 34 F.3d 352, 354 (6th Cir. 1994). See also United States v. Cappas, 29 F.3d 1187, 1193 (7th Cir. 1994) (applying Brecht to a § 2255 motion). If the sentencing court lacked jurisdiction, then the conviction is void and must be set aside. Williams v. United States, 582 F.2d 1039, 1041 (6th Cir.), cert. denied, 439 U.S. 988 (1978). To warrant relief for a non-constitutional error, petitioner must show a fundamental defect in the proceeding that resulted in a complete miscarriage of justice or an egregious error inconsistent with the rudimentary demands of fair procedure. Reed v. Farley, 512 U.S. 339, 354 (1994); Grant v. United States, 72 F.3d 503, 506 (6th Cir.), cert. denied, 517 U.S. 1200 (1996). In order to obtain collateral relief under § 2255, a petitioner must clear a significantly higher hurdle than would exist on direct appeal. United States v. Frady, 456 U.S. 152 (1982).

The Sixth Amendment provides, in pertinent part, "[i]n all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right... to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense." U.S. Const. amend. VI. A defendant has a Sixth Amendment right not just to counsel, but to "reasonably effective assistance" of counsel. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984). In Strickland, the Supreme Court set forth a two-pronged test for evaluating claims of ineffective assistance of counsel:

First, the defendant must show that counsel's performance was deficient. This requires showing that counsel made errors so serious that counsel was not functioning as the "counsel" guaranteed the defendant by the Sixth Amendment. Second, the defendant must show that the deficient performance prejudiced the defense. This requires showing that counsel's errors were so serious as to deprive the defendant of a fair trial, a trial whose result is reliable. Unless a defendant makes both showings, it cannot be said that the conviction... resulted from a breakdown in the adversary process that renders the result unreliable.

Strickland 466 U.S. at 687. As with any other claim under § 2255, the burden of proving ineffective assistance of counsel is on the petitioner. Virgin Islands v. Nicholas, 759 F.2d 1073, 1081 (3rd Cir. 1985).

In considering the first prong of the test set forth in Strickland, the appropriate measure of attorney performance is "reasonableness under prevailing professional norms." Strickland, 466 U.S. at 688. A defendant asserting a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel must "identify the acts or omissions of counsel that are alleged not to have been the result of reasonable professional judgment." Id. at 690. The evaluation of the objective reasonableness of counsel's performance must be made "from counsel's perspective at the time of the alleged error and in light of all the circumstances, and the standard of review is highly deferential." Kimmelman v. Morrison, 477 U.S. 365, 381 (1986).

The second prong of the Strickland test requires the petitioner show counsel's deficient performance prejudiced the defense. Thus, "[a]n error by counsel, even if professionally unreasonable, does not warrant setting aside the judgment of a criminal proceeding if the error had no effect on the judgment." Strickland, 466 U.S. at 691. The petitioner must show "there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different." Id. at 694. The Strickland Court emphasized both prongs must be established in order to meet the claimant's burden, and if either prong is not satisfied the claim must be rejected, stating:

Although we have discussed the performance component of an ineffectiveness claim prior to the prejudice component, there is no reason for a court deciding an ineffective assistance claim to approach the inquiry in the same order or even to address both components of the inquiry if the defendant makes an insufficient showing on one.... If it is easier to dispose of an ineffectiveness claim on the ground of lack of sufficient prejudice, which we expect will often be so, that course should be followed. Courts should strive to ...

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