USA v. Jorge Santo
Per Curiam OPINION filed: AFFIRMED; decision not for publication. Danny J. Boggs, Circuit Judge; Bernice Bouie Donald, Circuit Judge and Gordon J. Quist, U.S. District Judge for the Western District of Michigan, sitting by designation.
NOT RECOMMENDED FOR FULL-TEXT PUBLICATION
File Name: 15a0561n.06
UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS
FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
JORGE SANTOS, aka Jorge J. Santos,
Aug 10, 2015
DEBORAH S. HUNT, Clerk
ON APPEAL FROM THE UNITED
STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR
THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF
BEFORE: BOGGS and DONALD, Circuit Judges; QUIST, District Judge.*
PER CURIAM. Jorge Santos, a federal prisoner, appeals his conviction and sentence.
Santos entered a guilty plea to charges of conspiring to possess with intent to distribute more
than five kilograms of cocaine and possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug-trafficking
crime. He was sentenced to the mandatory minimum of 120 months of imprisonment for the
drug conviction and a mandatory consecutive 60 months of imprisonment for the firearm charge.
The parties had engaged in plea negotiations, during which the government offered to
dismiss the firearm charge, which would have lowered the total sentence by five years, and to
move for a downward departure on the drug charge if Santos made a proffer of information about
others involved in the crime. Santos was not willing to implicate family members and therefore
rejected the government’s offer. Due to his minimal criminal history, the guidelines sentencing
The Honorable Gordon J. Quist, United States District Judge for the Western District of
Michigan, sitting by designation.
United States v. Santos
range would have been 70 to 87 months of imprisonment if the mandatory minimum sentences
did not apply.
Santos argues on appeal that his counsel was ineffective in failing to argue that the
government violated his equal-protection and due-process rights in charging him with offenses
that carried mandatory minimum sentences. Ordinarily, a claim of ineffective assistance of
counsel cannot be raised on direct appeal because the record is insufficient to review the claim.
United States v. Ferguson, 669 F.3d 756, 762-63 (6th Cir. 2012). But the record here shows that
trial counsel was not ineffective. As discussed below, neither the equal-protection nor the dueprocess claim would have succeeded. Counsel cannot be deficient for failing to take a position
that has no chance of success, and no prejudice can result. United States v. Carter, 355 F.3d 920,
924 (6th Cir. 2004) (citing the test for ineffective assistance of counsel under Strickland v.
Washington, 466 U.S. 688, 694 (1984).)
To raise an equal-protection claim of discriminatory prosecution, Santos must identify
similarly situated defendants of different ethnic groups who were not charged with offenses
triggering mandatory minimum sentences. See United States v. Armstrong, 517 U.S. 456, 465
(1996). Santos makes no such showing. Instead, he states that he is a member of a minority
group based on his Hispanic origin and points to the deleterious effects of mandatory minimum
sentences on minority defendants. Statistical data cannot establish selective prosecution without
any evidence that decision-makers prosecuted Santos with a discriminatory purpose and effect.
See United States v. Lawrence, 735 F.3d 385, 439 (6th Cir. 2013).
Santos also points to an August 12, 2013, memorandum of policy of the Department of
Justice that directs federal prosecutors not to charge drug quantities that trigger mandatory
minimums in certain cases. 26 Fed. Sent’g Rep. 80, 81 (Dec. 2013).
United States v. Santos
His reliance on the policy memorandum is misplaced for two reasons. First, the memo
does not confer any rights on defendants. United States v. Nagy, 760 F.3d 485, 490 (6th Cir.
2014), cert. denied, 135 S. Ct. 1009 (2015). Second, the policy on its face does not apply to
Santos because he possessed firearms in furtherance of his drug-trafficking crime. Because
Santos has not presented any evidence of a discriminatory prosecution and did not satisfy the
criteria to fit within the policy of the Department of Justice, he cannot demonstrate that his
counsel was ineffective in failing to make this argument and raise an equal-protection challenge
to his sentence. See United States v. Smith, 596 F. App’x 482, 483 (6th Cir. 2015) (per curiam).
With respect to Santos’s due-process challenge that he was unconstitutionally “punished”
by charges carrying mandatory minimum sentences, prosecutorial discretion in deciding what
charges to file in any given case cannot ordinarily be challenged. See United States v. Marshall,
736 F.3d 492, 501 (6th Cir. 2013). Unless there is “clear evidence to the contrary,” it is
presumed that prosecutors discharge their duties properly. See Armstrong, 517 U.S. at 464-65.
There is no evidence to the contrary in this case1 and no dispute that, when presented with two
permissible options, Santos freely chose to plead guilty and go to prison for at least 15 years in
lieu of proffering information.
Accordingly, we affirm the district court’s judgment.
Even if the prosecutor was influenced by the penalties available upon conviction, “so long as the
prosecutor has probable cause to believe that the accused committed an offense defined by the
statute,” there is no abuse of discretion and no due-process violation. Bordenkircher v. Hayes,
434 U.S. 357, 364 (1978); see also United States v. Batchelder, 442 U.S. 114, 125 (1979).
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