United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
RONNIE GREER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Jesus Huerta (“Huerta” or
“petitioner”) has filed a motion to vacate, set
aside or correct his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
2255 [Doc. 1417]. The United States has responded to the
motion, objecting to Huerta's requested relief [Doc.
1421]. The matter is now ripe for consideration. 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 set forth herein,
petitioner's § 2255 motion lacks merit and will be
DENIED and the case (No. 2:14-CV-84) DISMISSED.
February 10, 2009, a federal grand jury returned an
indictment charging thirty-three defendants with multiple
drug and firearms charges. [Doc. 228, Second Superseding
Indictment]. In Counts One and Two, Huerta was charged
with a conspiracy to manufacture marijuana in violation of 21
U.S.C. § 846 (Count One), and possessing a firearm in
furtherance of the drug trafficking offense in violation of
18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A)(Count Two). In Counts Three and
Seven, Huerta was charged with a conspiracy to distribute and
possess with the intent to distribute 1, 000 kilograms or
more of marijuana (Count Three), and possessing, or aiding
and abetting the possession of, multiple firearms in
furtherance of the drug trafficking offense (Count Seven). On
January 4, 2010, the Court dismissed Count Two on the
government's motion, leaving only Counts One, Three and
Seven for trial [Doc. 865, Order].
January 6, 2010, Huerta, along with six other co-defendants
proceeded to a trial by jury [Doc. 872, Courtroom
Minutes]. Huerta was convicted of conspiracy to
manufacture marijuana (Count One) and conspiracy to
distribute marijuana (Count Three), but was acquitted of the
firearms charge (Count Seven) [Doc. 916]. After the Court
granted Huerta a new trial on Count One [Doc. 1268], the
government moved to dismiss that count without prejudice
[Doc. 1269]. The Court dismissed Count One, which left only
Count Three for sentencing.
United States Probation Office found Huerta responsible for
1, 301 kilograms of marijuana, resulting in a corresponding
base offense level of 32 [PSR ¶ 23, 29]. It also found
that Huerta possessed a firearm in connection with a drug
trafficking crime, under Section 2D1.1(b)(1) of the United
States Sentencing Guidelines (“USSG”), and
increased his offense level by two levels, to level
[Id. at ¶ 30]. Huerta's criminal history
was category II, resulting in an advisory guideline range of
168 to 210 months' imprisonment [Id. at ¶
29, 30, 34, and 45]. Given the offense of conviction, the PSR
noted that he was subject to a mandatory minimum of ten
years' imprisonment [Id. at ¶ 62].
the government and Huerta filed objections to the PSR. The
government objected to the failure of probation to enhance
the offense level based on Huerta's role in the offense,
arguing that he was, under Section 3B1.1, an organizer or
leader of criminal activity that involved five or more
participants [Doc. 1322, Transcript of Sentencing
Hearing, pg. 28].
objected to the firearms enhancement under Section
2D1.1(b)(1). The government also presented evidence of
alternative bases to support the firearm enhancement under
Section 2D1.1(b)(1) of the Guidelines.
to sentencing, the Court conducted an evidentiary hearing
that spanned three days. On the first day, the government
called William Bradford, an inmate who had pled guilty to a
drug conspiracy charge, and who claimed to have provided
Huerta a firearm [Doc. 1322, Transcript, at 30].
Bradford testified that he had provided Huerta a Sig 9
millimeter sometime in July or August 2008. [Doc. 1322,
Transcript of Sentencing hearing, at 39-40].
Huerta's counsel moved the Court to continue the
sentencing hearing as he claimed he did not have any notice
of this witness and needed additional time to prepare to
cross-examine effectively his testimony. The Court granted
that request and continued the sentencing hearing
[Id. at 57].
second day of the sentencing hearing, Huerta's counsel
cross examined Bradford about his allegations. At that
hearing, Bradford again testified that Huerta took the gun
with him to Gatlinburg and left it in
“Mundo's” RV and that Huerta eventually
recovered the firearm [Doc. 1323, Transcript, at
40]. At the conclusion of Bradford's testimony,
Huerta's counsel objected to the Court even considering
Bradford's testimony regarding the firearm [Doc. 1323,
Transcript, at 46-49]. The Court denied that request
and continued the hearing to a third day.
third day, Huerta took the stand and testified about his role
in the conspiracy. [Doc. 1324, Transcript, at 4]. He
denied he had any managerial or supervisory role in the
offense. He claimed he had no control over anyone
[Id. at 26-27]. He also denied ever possessing a
firearm and disputed Bradford's account that Bradford had
given him a Sig 9 millimeter firearm. [Id. at 50-52,
116]. He also denied knowing anything about the firearms or
ammunition that were found at his residence on 750 Georgia
Street [Doc. 1324, at 93-94, 112- 13]. In rebuttal, the
Government called Lt. William Gregg, who testified that 9
millimeter ammunition was found at Huerta's home [Doc.
1324, at 129].
Court noted that Probation applied the firearm enhancement
because it found that “it was reasonably foreseeable to
… Huerta that a firearm would be possessed in
connection with the offense.” [Id. at ¶
30]. Probation noted that “[w]hen Wiley Barnett was
arrested after the traffic stop on September 23, 2008, a
loaded .45 caliber handgun was found inside one of the bags
of marijuana. On September 23, 2008, Jesus Huerta told
Esquivel-Jaimes to ‘be sure to bring the pistol out
with the marijuana.' Esquivel-Jaimes placed the firearm
in his backback.” [Id. at ¶ 30]; [Doc.
1324, at 134].
government argued that the enhancement was also supported by
the trial testimony of Jeremy Bennett, who testified that he
had traded Huerta a shotgun with a “loose stock”
in exchange for marijuana. [Doc. 1325, pg. 134]. In fact, a
shotgun with a loose stock was found at Huerta's
residence. The government also argued the Bradford's
testimony supported the application of the firearm
enhancement. Id. at 134-35.
ruling on the objections, the Court found that the firearm
cited in the PSR was not connected to the offense of
conviction. Count One had been dismissed. Id. at
141. However, the Court found that both Jeremy Bennett's
trial testimony and Bradford's testimony at the
sentencing hearing were adequate to support the firearm
enhancement. Bennett had testified that he sold Huerta a
Mossberg 12-gauge shotgun for a half pound of marijuana, and
a 9 millimeter handgun with an extended clip in 2007. [Doc.
1324, at 154]. The Court made the following observation:
[Huerta's counsel] argues that at best Mr. Bennett is no
more credible than Mr. Huerta. The Court disagrees. I have
previously found based upon my observations of Mr. Bennett at
trial, based upon my own evaluation of his credibility, based
on his demeanor at trial and the answers to the question that
he gave at trial that his testimony was truthful….I
find Mr. Bennett's testimony that he traded this shotgun
to Mr. Huerta for marijuana; that he sold him a handgun for
$250 to be credible….Certainly Mr. ...