Rocha-Chacon v. USA

Filing 11

ORDERED: The Motion for Status (Doc. 10 ) is granted to the extent this Order informs Movant of the status of her case, but denied in all other respects. The Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (Doc. 1 ) is denied. The Clerk of Court is directed to close this case. Pursuant to Rule 11(a) of the Rules Governing Section 2255 Cases, in the event Movant files an appeal, the Court declines to issue a certificate of appealability, because reasonable jurists would not find the Court's ruling debatable. Signed by Judge Rosemary Marquez on 10/7/2019. (ARC)

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1 WO 2 3 4 5 6 IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 7 FOR THE DISTRICT OF ARIZONA 8 9 Maribel Rocha-Chacon, 10 Petitioner, 11 United States of America, 13 ORDER v. 12 No. CV-19-00079-TUC-RM Respondent. 14 15 Pending before the Court is Movant Maribel Rocha-Chacon’s (“Movant”) pro se 16 Motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence by a Person in 17 Federal Custody. (Doc. 1.)1 On May 13, 2019, Movant filed two Motions for Status. 18 (Docs. 3, 4.) On May 20, 2019, the Court issued an Order granting in part Movant’s 19 Motions for Status and requiring a response to the § 2255 Motion. (Doc. 5.) On August 20 15, 2019, the Government filed its Answer. (Doc. 9.) The deadline for filing a Reply has 21 expired. For the following reasons, the Court will deny the § 2255 Motion. I. 22 Background 23 On January 24, 2017, at a port of entry in Nogales, Arizona, Border Patrol agents 24 seized 53.8 kilograms of packaged methamphetamine from Movant’s vehicle. (CR Doc. 25 73 at 3, 5.) The methamphetamine had a net weight without packaging of 47.4 kilograms 26 and a purity of 99 percent, which constitutes “ice.” (Id. at 5.) Pursuant to a written plea 27 1 28 All record citations refer to the docket in the civil case, 19-cv-0079-RM, unless they are denoted CR, in which case they refer to the docket in the underlying criminal case, 17-cr00436-RM (EJM). All record citations refer to the page numbers generated by the Court’s electronic filing system. 1 agreement, Movant pled guilty to one count of Conspiracy to Possess with Intent to 2 Distribute 50 grams or More of Methamphetamine. (CR Doc. 42.) 3 The Presentence Investigation Report (“PSR”) identified a guideline imprisonment 4 range of 168 to 210 months. (CR Doc. 73 at 9.) The plea agreement stipulated to a range 5 of 108 to 135 months, which was a four-level downward departure from the advisory 6 guideline range. (Id. at 10.) The parties then agreed in their sentencing memoranda that 7 Movant should face a guideline range of 87 to 108 months. (CR Doc. 47 at 1-2; CR Doc. 8 75 at 3 n.1.) The PSR ultimately recommended 72 months in custody. (CR Doc. 73 at 13– 9 14.) Defense counsel argued for a sentence of “no more than 24 months of incarceration.” 10 (CR Doc. 75 at 3.) 11 The Court granted a variance below the guideline range pursuant to Movant’s role 12 in the offense, specifically her “role as a courier.” (CR Doc. 78 at 3.) Movant was 13 ultimately sentenced to forty (40) months of incarceration and three years of supervised 14 release. (CR Doc. 77.) The Court adopted the PSR’s proposed Sentencing Guideline 15 calculations, which were based on the lab report of 99 percent purity. (CR Doc. 78; CR 16 Doc. 73 at 5.) 17 II. Waiver 18 In her written plea agreement, Movant agreed to waive “any right to collaterally 19 attack” her “conviction and sentence under Title 28, United States Code, Section 2255.” 20 (CR Doc. 42 at 5.) She acknowledged that her waiver “shall result in the dismissal of any 21 . . . collateral attack [she] might file challenging” her “conviction or sentence in this 22 case.” 23 hearing, found that Movant’s guilty plea was knowingly and voluntarily made, and 24 recommended that the guilty plea be accepted. (CR Docs. 41, 43.) Movant did not object 25 to Judge Kimmins’s findings and recommendation, and this Court accepted the guilty 26 plea. (CR Doc. 44.) (Id. at 5-6.) Magistrate Judge Lynnette C. Kimmins held a change-of-plea 27 With limited exceptions not relevant here, a defendant may waive the statutory 28 right to bring a § 2255 motion if she knowingly and voluntarily signs a plea agreement -2- 1 that contains an express waiver of that right. United States v. Pruitt, 32 F.3d 431, 433 2 (9th Cir. 1994); United States v. Abarca, 985 F.2d 1012, 1014 (9th Cir. 1993); see also 3 United States. v. Charles, 581 F.3d 927, 931 (9th Cir. 2009) (a “defendant’s waiver of his 4 appellate rights is enforceable if (1) the language of the waiver encompasses his right to 5 appeal on the grounds raised, and (2) the waiver is knowingly and voluntarily made” 6 (internal quotation omitted)). 7 The Court finds that Movant waived her right to collaterally attack her conviction 8 and sentence in a 28 U.S.C. § 2255 Motion. Based on that waiver, Movant’s § 2255 9 Motion should be denied. However, because the Government did not make this argument 10 in its Answer to the § 2255 Motion (see Doc. 8), the Court will also address the merits of 11 the § 2255 Motion. 12 III. Merits 13 In her Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence, Movant argues that her 14 defense attorney provided ineffective assistance because he failed to argue that she 15 should have been sentenced under the more lenient Guidelines for “mixture” of 16 methamphetamine, rather than “actual” methamphetamine or “ice.” (Doc. 1 at 4, 12–13.) 17 Movant asserts a policy disagreement with the Guidelines’ disparate treatment of mixture 18 and ice, citing two recent cases from the Northern District of Iowa. Movant requests an 19 evidentiary hearing and a sentence reduction. (Doc. 1 at 13.) The Government opposes 20 the Motion. (Doc. 9.) 21 A. Applicable Law 22 The right to the effective assistance of counsel is rooted in the Sixth Amendment. 23 U.S. Const. amend. VI. A convicted defendant asserting a claim of ineffective assistance 24 of counsel (“IAC”) must show both deficient performance and prejudice. Strickland v. 25 Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984). To establish deficient performance, the defendant 26 “must show that counsel’s representation fell below an objective standard of 27 reasonableness.” Strickland, 466 U.S. at 688. A “reasonableness” inquiry is based on the 28 “facts of the particular case, viewed as of the time of counsel’s conduct.” Id. at 690. A -3- 1 defendant “must overcome the presumption that, under the circumstances, the challenged 2 action might be considered sound trial strategy.” Id. at 689; see also Kimmelman v. 3 Morrison, 477 U.S. 365, 381 (1986) (“The defendant bears the burden of proving that 4 counsel’s representation was unreasonable under prevailing professional norms and that 5 the challenged action was not sound strategy.”). Judicial scrutiny of counsel’s 6 performance is “highly deferential.” Strickland, 466 at 689. 7 The defendant must also show that the deficient representation prejudiced her. Id. 8 at 693. Prejudice results if “the reliability of the result of the proceedings” is undermined. 9 Id. “It is not enough … to show that the errors had some conceivable effect on the 10 outcome of the proceeding.” Id. The defendant must demonstrate “a reasonable 11 probability that, but for counsel’s unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding 12 would have been different.” Id. at 694. 13 Defense counsel’s “failure to raise a meritorious argument at sentencing that might 14 have significantly reduced [the defendant’s] criminal history score” may constitute 15 deficient performance. 16 (mem.). An increase in a defendant’s sentence resulting from error in a Sentencing 17 Guidelines determination is sufficient to show prejudice. Glover v. United States, 531 18 U.S. 198, 204 (2001). Curry v. Palmateer, 62 F. App’x 157, 158 (9th Cir. 2003) 19 The Sentencing Guidelines are advisory only, and a district court has discretion to 20 vary from the Guidelines. See Spears v. United States, 555 U.S. 261, 263 (2009) (citing 21 Kimbrough v. United States, 552 U.S. 85 (2007)). District courts retain significant 22 discretion in sentencing and consider many factors, in addition to the Guidelines, in 23 making sentencing decisions. See United States v. Rosales-Bruno, 789 F.3d 1249, 1255, 24 1259 (11th Cir. 2015). “[W]hen district courts impose discretionary sentences . . . such a 25 sentencing scheme will ordinarily raise no Sixth Amendment concern.” Rita v. United 26 States, 551 U.S. 338, 354 (2007). 27 .... 28 .... -4- 1 B. Discussion 2 Movant has not met her burden under Strickland of showing that defense counsel’s 3 failure to argue for a sentence pursuant to the Guidelines for mixture rather than ice fell 4 below an objective standard of reasonableness. Movant does not cite, nor has the Court 5 found, any authority requiring defense counsel to argue, or the Court to consider, the 6 possibility of a policy disagreement with the Sentencing Guidelines. The record indicates 7 that defense counsel vigorously advocated for Movant and ultimately obtained a sentence 8 far below the guideline range and below the recommendation of the PSR. While counsel 9 could conceivably have argued for a sentence pursuant to the Guidelines for mixture, his 10 failure to do so was not unreasonable given the fact that the methamphetamine found in 11 Movant’s car was 99 percent pure. See United States v. Lee, 725 F.3d 1159, 1162, 1167 12 (9th Cir. 2013) (where all methamphetamine tested was below 80% purity, district court 13 erred in sentencing defendant according to Guidelines for pure methamphetamine). 14 Even if defense counsel’s failure to argue that Movant should have been sentenced 15 under the Guidelines for mixture did somehow constitute deficient performance, Movant 16 has not shown that, but for this error, the result of the proceeding would have been 17 different. The net weight of the methamphetamine recovered from Movant’s vehicle was 18 47.4 kilograms. Under the applicable Sentencing Guidelines, a base offense level of 38 19 applies to “45 KG or more of Methamphetamine” and “4.5 KG or more of 20 Methamphetamine (actual)” or “Ice.” U.S.S.G. § 2D1.1(c)(1). Because Movant possessed 21 47.4 kilograms of methamphetamine, a base offense level of 38 applied regardless of 22 whether the drug was identified as mixture or pure for purposes of sentencing. 23 Furthermore, the Court ultimately granted Movant a significant downward variance from 24 the guideline range due to the particular facts and circumstances of her case. 25 The record conclusively demonstrates that Movant is entitled to no relief. 26 Therefore, a hearing on the § 2255 Motion is unnecessary. 27 .... 28 .... -5- 1 IV. Motion for Status 2 On August 20, 2019, Movant filed a third Motion for Status. (Doc. 10.) The Court 3 will grant the Motion for Status to the extent this Order informs Movant of the status of 4 her case. In all other respects, the Motion for status will be denied. 5 IT IS ORDERED: 6 1. 7 8 9 10 The Motion for Status (Doc. 10) is granted to the extent this Order informs Movant of the status of her case, but denied in all other respects. 2. The Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (Doc. 1) is denied. The Clerk of Court is directed to close this case. 3. Pursuant to Rule 11(a) of the Rules Governing Section 2255 Cases, in the 11 event Movant files an appeal, the Court declines to issue a certificate of appealability, 12 because reasonable jurists would not find the Court’s ruling debatable. See Slack v. 13 McDaniel, 529 U.S. 473, 484 (2000). 14 Dated this 7th day of October, 2019. 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 -6-

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