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United States v. Rodriguez

United States District Court, Eighth Circuit

December 5, 2013


Jeffrey M. Bryan, [1] Assistant United States Attorney, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, for plaintiff.

Justin James Rodriguez, Reg. No. 15946-041, United States Penitentiary - Atwater, pro se.


JOHN R. TUNHEIM, District Judge.

Justin James Rodriguez pled guilty to the crime of being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) and is currently serving a 108 month sentence. Rodriguez brings a motion to vacate or set aside his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, raising a number of challenges. Rodriguez's alleges various grounds for relief relating to the evidence supporting his conviction, the circumstances of his guilty plea, and the performance of his attorneys. Because the grounds for relief Rodriguez raises were either waived by his guilty plea, procedurally barred because they were not raised on direct appeal, or fail on the merits, the Court will deny the motion. Rodriguez also brings a motion for discovery, which the Court will deny because Rodriguez has not shown that good cause warrants allowing the requested discovery.



Section 2255 allows a federal prisoner a limited opportunity to seek postconviction relief on the grounds that "the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States, or that the court was without jurisdiction to impose such sentence, or that the sentence was in excess of the maximum authorized by law, or is otherwise subject to collateral attack." 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a). "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, if uncorrected, would result in a complete miscarriage of justice." United States v. Apfel, 97 F.3d 1074, 1076 (8th Cir. 1996).

Claims of ineffective assistance of counsel brought under Section 2255 are evaluated under the framework established in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984). See Bass v. United States, 655 F.3d 758, 760 (8th Cir. 2011). To prevail Rodriguez must establish that counsel's performance was deficient and that he suffered prejudice as a result. Id. To establish deficient performance, Rodriguez must show that counsel's performance "fell below an objective standard of reasonableness." Strickland, 466 U.S. at 688. "Judicial scrutiny of counsel's performance must be highly deferential." Id. at 689. To establish prejudice, Rodriguez "must show that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different." Id. at 694. "[T]here is no reason for a court deciding an ineffective assistance claim to approach the inquiry in the same order or even to address both components of the inquiry if the defendant makes an insufficient showing on one." Id. at 697.


A. Ground One

Rodriguez's first ground for relief is entitled "Ownership of the Firearm" and asserts that Rodriguez was not present when police officers discovered the firearm and that none of Rodriguez's DNA or fingerprints were found on the firearm. (Mot. at 5.) While the basis of Rodriguez's ground for relief is not perfectly clear, the Court finds that it fails under any interpretation. To the extent that Rodriguez is challenging his conviction or sentence on the ground that he did not own the firearm, the claim fails because a conviction under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1), by its terms, requires possession, not ownership. To the extent that Rodriguez is challenging the sufficiency of the evidence that could have been used to convict him at trial, Rodriguez waived such challenges by pleading guilty. See United States v. Alvarado-Sanchez, 383 F.App'x 576 (8th Cir. 2010) (per curiam). To the extent that Rodriguez contends that his plea was invalid because it was based on an insufficient factual basis and therefore violated Rule 11(b)(3) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, Rodriguez could have raised the argument on direct appeal. See United States v. Frook, 616 F.3d 773, 775-76 (8th Cir. 2010). Therefore he cannot raise it in these proceedings absent a showing of cause and prejudice, see Apfel, 97 F.3d at 1076, which he cannot make because the factual basis for Rodriguez's guilty plea was unquestionably adequate, ( see Plea Tr. at 9-13, Oct. 11, 2012, Docket No. 74).

B. Grounds Two and Four

Rodriguez's second and fourth grounds for relief are entitled "Search and Seizure of Property" and "Suppression of Evidence, " respectively. (Mot. at 6, 9.) The second ground alleges that an agent illegally searched Rodriguez's phone to obtain photos of Rodriguez holding the firearm. The fourth ground contends that the photos should have been suppressed. These grounds for relief are essentially identical and both rest on Fourth Amendment issues. But Rodriguez waived these Fourth ...

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