Lotierzo v. United States of America
OPINION; signed by District Judge Paul L. Maloney (Judge Paul L. Maloney, cmc)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN
STEVEN JOSEPH LOTIERZO,
Case No. 1:16-CV-732
HON. PAUL L. MALONEY
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
Before the Court is Movant Steven Joseph Lotierzo’s motion to vacate, set aside or correct
sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (ECF No. 1) and motion to appoint counsel (ECF No. 2). The
Government has filed a response (ECF No. 23). For the reasons that follow, the motions will be
In July 2014, Movant pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to
distribute methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 846, 841(a)(1), 841(b)(1)(C). (Plea
Agreement, United States v. Lotierzo, No. 1:13-cr-250 (W.D. Mich.), ECF No. 30.) When the Court
calculated his range of sentence under the Sentencing Guidelines (188 to 235 months), it enhanced
Movant’s criminal history score because he has at least two prior convictions in California for
possession of a controlled substance for sale (methamphetamine), each of which qualify as a
“controlled substance offense” under § 4B1.2 of the Guidelines. The Court granted Movant’s motion
for a downward variance and sentenced him to a term of 144 months in prison followed by 3 years
of supervised release. He did not appeal his sentence.
In his motion under § 2255, Movant asserts that the “convictions used as predicate offenses
to enhance [his] sentence with the career offender provision no longer qualify as predicates due
to” the Supreme Court’s decision in Johnson v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 2551 (2015), and California
State Proposition 47. (Mot. under § 2255, ECF No. 1, Page ID.5.) He also contends that his counsel
was ineffective for failing to object to the “career criminal enhancement based on predicates that
should not have qualified as such.” (Id. at PageID.6.)
Respondent asserts that Movant’s claims are meritless and, in the alternative, Movant waived
his right to seek relief under § 2255 when he entered into his plea agreement. The Court agrees.
1. Johnson claim
In Johnson, the Supreme Court held that a clause in the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA),
18 U.S.C. § 924(e), is unconstitutionally vague. This case is not helpful for Movant because he was
not sentenced under the ACCA. Moreover, the vagueness analysis in Johnson does not apply to the
advisory Sentencing Guidelines. Beckles v. United States, 137 S. Ct. 886, 894 (2017). Thus, this
claim is meritless.
2. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel
Movant argues that counsel was ineffective for failing to object to the “career-criminal
enhancement” to his sentence in light of California Proposition 47. To establish that his counsel was
constitutionally ineffective, Movant must prove: (1) that counsel’s performance fell below an
objective standard of reasonableness; and (2) that counsel’s deficient performance prejudiced
Movant, resulting in an unreliable or fundamentally unfair outcome. Strickland v. Washington, 466
U.S. 668, 687-88 (1984).
Passed in November 2014, Proposition 47 reduced some felony theft and drug-possession
offenses to misdemeanors. People v. Perkins, 197 Cal. Rptr. 3d 743, 747 (Cal. Ct. App. 2016).
Movant contends that Proposition 47 reduced his prior felony drug convictions to misdemeanors,
and thus, they do not count as “prior felony convictions” for purposes of the career-offender
provision in § 4B1.1(a) of the Guidelines. He is mistaken. His prior convictions for possession of
methamphetamine for sale were not affected by Proposition 47. People v. Edwards, No. B263931,
2016 WL 3975305, at *4 (Cal. Ct. App. July 25, 2016), review granted (Oct. 12, 2016); People v.
Hall, No. B260628, 2016 WL 1085650, at *3 (Cal. Ct. App. Mar. 21, 2016), review granted (June
8, 2016). “[W]hile Proposition 47 amended Health and Safety Code section 11377, possession of
a controlled substance, it did not amend Section 11378, possession for sale, the statute under which
[Movant] was convicted.” United States v. Vazcones, No. 13cr3309-MMA, 2017 WL 1321309, at
*3 (S.D. Cal. Apr. 7, 2017) (citing Cal. Pen. Code § 1170.18(a)). Movant’s counsel was not
ineffective for failing to raise a meritless argument. Ludwig v. United States, 162 F.3d 456, 459 (6th
Even if Movant’s claims had merit, he waived his right to raise them in these proceedings.
His plea agreement states:
Defendant knowingly waives the right to appeal any sentence that is at or below the
maximum guideline range as determined by the Court before any upward departure
or variance, and the manner in which the sentence was determined on the grounds set
forth in Title 18, United States Code, Section 3742. Defendant also retains the right
to appeal those objections preserved at sentencing that the Court incorrectly
determined the final Guideline range. In addition, Defendant retains the right to
appeal a sentence that exceeds the statutory maximum or is based upon an
unconstitutional factor, such as race, religion, national origin or gender. . . .
Defendant also waives the right to challenge such a sentence and the manner in
which it was determined in any collateral attack, including but not limited to, a
motion brought under Title 28, United States Code, Section 2255 (except a challenge
that goes to the validity of this waiver, such as a claim that the waiver was
involuntary or the product of ineffective assistance of counsel).
(Plea Agreement 7-8, United States v. Lotierzo, No. 1:13-cr-250 (W.D. Mich.), ECF No. 30.)
Movant signed a statement at the end of the agreement, acknowledging that he read the agreement,
he understood its terms, and he voluntarily agreed to them. (Id. at PageID.68.) In this action, Movant
does not contend that his sentence exceeds the maximum range determined by the Court, exceeds
the statutory maximum, or is based on an unconstitutional factor like race, religion, national origin,
or gender. Nor does he claim that his waiver was not knowing and voluntary or was the product of
ineffective assistance of counsel. “[A] defendant’s informed and voluntary waiver of the right to
collaterally attack a conviction and sentence is enforceable.” In re Acosta, 480 F.3d 421 (6th Cir.
2007). Thus, his claims are waived.
For the reasons stated above, Movant’s motion to vacate, set aside, or correct the sentence
imposed upon him by this Court (ECF No.1) will be denied because it is meritless and, in any event,
he waived the right to bring his claims. In addition, his motion to appoint counsel will be denied
because his claims are plainly meritless. Finally, a certificate of appealability will be denied because
reasonable jurists would not conclude that this Court’s decision to deny relief under § 2255 is
“debatable or incorrect.” Slack v. McDaniel, 529 U.S. 473, 485 (2000).
An order and judgment will enter consistent with this Opinion.
July 28, 2017
/s/ Paul L. Maloney
Paul L. Maloney
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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