Salinas v. UNITED SATES OF AMERICA;
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER. Salinas' 1 Motion to Vacate, Set Aside or Correct Sentence (2255) as to Criminal Case No. 2:15cr1079 (Defendant No. 4) is Denied and she is Denied a Certificate of Appealability. Salinas' construed motion under 18 USC 3582 is also Denied. (Signed by Judge John D Rainey.) Parties notified. (yhausmann, 6)
United States District Court
Southern District of Texas
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF TEXAS
CORPUS CHRISTI DIVISION
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
LAURA ISABEL SALINAS.
January 25, 2017
David J. Bradley, Clerk
Cr. No. 2:15-1079-1
(Ca. No. 2:16-462)
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Laura Isabel Salinas filed a motion to vacate, set aside, or correct sentence pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 2255. D.E. 27. Salinas’ § 2255 motion makes two claims: (1) Amendment 794 should
be applied to her, and (2) her counsel was ineffective at sentencing. Salinas’ request for
application of Amendment 794 may not properly be considered pursuant to § 2255. The Court
construes that portion of her motion pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2). Salinas’ claim of
ineffective assistance of counsel is properly brought pursuant to § 2255.
Salinas pled guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute 12.50 kilograms of
ice (a substance containing a detectable amount of methamphetamine). She was sentenced to 132
months’ imprisonment on April 25, 2016.
MOTION UNDER AMENDMENT 794
Salinas argues that Amendment 794 to the Sentencing Guidelines allows her to be
considered for a minor role. The Sentencing Guidelines have long allowed for role adjustments
for minor or mitigating roles. See U.S.S.G. § 3B1.2(b), amended November 1, 2015. Amendment
794 modified the Application Notes to clarify the factors a district court should consider in
making a determination of minor or mitigating role. The amendment was effective before Salinas
was sentenced, and the Court applied the 2015 Guidelines, including all amendments, in
computing her guideline range. See D.E. 18, ¶ 15.
The evidence before the Court was that Salinas transported 12.50 kilograms of
methamphetamine with a purity of 99.6% in the fuel tank of her nephew’s car. Her border
crossing history revealed two other trips in that vehicle and other trips in multiple vehicles.
Salinas did not debrief truthfully and thus did not qualify for safety valve. No written objection
to the PSR was made based upon lack of minor role. Accordingly, her construed motion under
18 U.S.C. § 3582 is denied.
§ 2255 MOTION
Salinas claims that her sentence is higher than it should have been on the grounds that
counsel provided ineffective assistance at sentencing. She claims he failed to provide evidence
from which the Court could properly analyze the factors in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a).
28 U.S.C. § 2255
There are four cognizable grounds upon which a federal prisoner may move to vacate, set
aside or correct his sentence: 1) constitutional issues, 2) challenges to the district court’s
jurisdiction to impose the sentence, 3) challenges to the length of a sentence in excess of the
statutory maximum, and 4) claims that the sentence is otherwise subject to collateral attack. 28
U.S.C. § 2255; United States v. Placente, 81 F.3d 555, 558 (5th Cir. 1996). “Relief under 28
U.S.C. § 2255 is reserved for transgressions of constitutional rights and for a narrow range of
injuries that could not have been raised on direct appeal and would, if condoned, result in a
complete miscarriage of justice.” United States v. Vaughn, 955 F.2d 367, 368 (5th Cir. 1992)
B. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel
1. Standard for ineffectiveness of counsel
An ineffective assistance claim presented in a § 2255 motion is properly analyzed under
the two-prong analysis set forth in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984). United States
v. Willis, 273 F.3d 592, 598 (5th Cir. 2001). To prevail on a claim of ineffective assistance of
counsel, a movant must demonstrate that his counsel’s performance was both deficient and
prejudicial. Id. This means that a movant must show that counsel’s performance was outside the
broad range of what is considered reasonable assistance and that this deficient performance led
to an unfair and unreliable conviction and sentence. United States v. Dovalina, 262 F.3d 472,
474-75 (5th Cir. 2001). To show that his attorney’s performance at sentencing in a noncapital
case was prejudicial under Strickland, the movant must demonstrate that counsel’s error led to
some increase in the length of his imprisonment. Glover v. United States, 531 U.S. 198, 203
(2001); United States v. Herrera, 412 F.3d 577, 581 (2005). If the movant fails to prove one
prong, it is not necessary to analyze the other. Armstead v. Scott, 37 F.3d 202, 210 (5th Cir.
1994) (“A court need not address both components of the inquiry if the defendant makes an
insufficient showing on one”); Carter v. Johnson, 131 F.3d 452, 463 (5th Cir. 1997) (“Failure to
prove either deficient performance or actual prejudice is fatal to an ineffective assistance
2. Ineffective assistance at sentencing
The Probation Department prepared a Presentencing Investigation Report (PSR) before
sentencing. D.E. 18. Salinas’ offense level was calculated based upon drug quantity at level 38.
She had in her possession more than twice the quantity of ice that was required for an offense
level of 38. Two levels were added for importation of methamphetamine from Mexico. After
credit for acceptance of responsibility, Salinas’ total offense level was 37. With a criminal
history category of I, her guideline sentencing range was 210 to 262 months’ imprisonment.
Salinas is a 46-year-old permanent legal resident of the United States who is subject to
deportation after her conviction. She has an 11th grade education, is fluent in Spanish, and
speaks some English. At sentencing, counsel advocated for Salinas. The Court sentenced Salinas
to 132 months’ imprisonment, 78 months below the lowest end of the guideline.
Salinas has the burden to demonstrate prejudice from counsel’s alleged failure to
advocate for her at sentencing. Salinas has not explained what additional facts would have
persuaded the Court to vary downward any further. As it was, counsel persuaded the Court to
reduce her sentence by at least six and a half years. Because Salinas has not provided any
evidence of prejudice, her claim of ineffective assistance is denied.
CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY
An appeal may not be taken to the court of appeals from a final order in a habeas corpus
proceeding “unless a circuit justice or judge issues a certificate of appealability.” 28 U.S.C.
§ 2253(c)(1)(A). Although Salinas has not yet filed a notice of appeal, the § 2255 Rules instruct
this Court to “issue or deny a certificate of appealability when it enters a final order adverse to
the applicant.” Rule 11, § 2255 Rules.
A certificate of appealability (COA) “may issue. . . only if the applicant has made a
substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right.” 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c)(2). “The COA
determination under § 2253(c) requires an overview of the claims in the habeas petition and a
general assessment of their merits.” Miller-El v. Cockrell, 537 U.S. 322, 336 (2003). To warrant
a grant of the certificate as to claims denied on their merits, “[t]he petitioner must demonstrate
that reasonable jurists would find the district court’s assessment of the constitutional claims
debatable or wrong.” Slack v. McDaniel, 529 U.S. 473, 484 (2000). This standard requires a §
2255 movant to demonstrate that reasonable jurists could debate whether the motion should have
been resolved differently, or that the issues presented deserved encouragement to proceed
further. United States v. Jones, 287 F.3d 325, 329 (5th Cir. 2002) (relying upon Slack, 529 U.S.
at 483-84). As to claims that the district court rejects solely on procedural grounds, the movant
must show both that “jurists of reason would find it debatable whether the petition states a valid
claim of the denial of a constitutional right and that jurists of reason would find it debatable
whether the district court was correct in its procedural ruling.” Slack, 529 U.S. at 484 (emphasis
Based on the above standards, the Court concludes that Salinas is not entitled to a COA
on any of her claims. That is, reasonable jurists could not debate the Court’s resolution of her
claims, nor do these issues deserve encouragement to proceed. See Jones, 287 F.3d at 329.
For the foregoing reasons, Salinas’ motion to vacate, set aside or correct sentence
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (D.E. 27) is DENIED and she is DENIED a Certificate of
Appealability. Salinas’ construed motion under 18 U.S.C. § 3582 is also DENIED.
It is so ORDERED this 25th day of January, 2017.
JOHN D. RAINEY
SENIOR U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE
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