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United States v. Guerra-Guala

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

February 19, 2014

United States of America, Plaintiff-Respondent,
v.
Rony Eleazar Guerra-Guala, Defendant-Movant. No. 10-288(1) (RHK/JSM)

Rony Eleazar Guerra-Guala, Federal Correctional Institution - Elkton, Defendant-Movant, pro se.

Julie Allyn, Assistant United States Attorney, for Plaintiff-Respondent.

MEMORANDUM OPINION and ORDER

RICHARD J. KYLE, District Judge.

INTRODUCTION

This matter is presently before the Court pursuant to a Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (Doc. No. 645), which has been filed, pro se, by Defendant Rony Eleazar Guerra-Guala. The Motion has been fully briefed by the parties, and is now before the Court for final adjudication. For the reasons discussed below, Defendant's Motion will be DENIED.

BACKGROUND

In 2010, Defendant was indicted on a charge of conspiring to distribute, and possess with intent to distribute, 500 grams or more of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of methamphetamine and cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), 841(b)(1)(A), 841(b)(1)(c), and 846. In May 2011, Defendant pled guilty to the charged offense by entering a "straight-up plea, " meaning that there was no agreement between the Government and the Defendant with regard to the Defendant's sentence.

During the course of the plea hearing, Defendant was informed that the mandatory minimum sentence he could receive would be ten years in prison, and the maximum sentence would be life in prison. (Plea Transcript, [hereafter "PT"], [Doc. No. 457], pp. 8-9.) Defendant expressly acknowledged that he understood the statutory minimum and maximum sentences for the offense to which he was pleading guilty. (Id.) Defendant also was informed that the Government would later argue at sentencing that he was a "leader" of a drug distribution organization, and that his sentence should be affected by his role in the organization. ( Id., pp. 8, 10.) The Government's attorney specifically informed Defendant that the Government believed his sentence could be in the range of 262 to 327 months, and Defendant said he understood that to be the case. ( Id., p. 10.) The Court subsequently reiterated that Defendant's sentence would be determined based on several criteria, including advisory sentencing guidelines, which the Court described as "a set of guidelines which are to assist federal judges in determining what is an appropriate sentence." ( Id., p. 17.) The Court explicitly told Defendant that a ten-year sentence would be the mandatory minimum, and "it might be more than ten years that we're talking about." ( Id., p. 18.)

After Defendant pled guilty, a pre-sentence investigation report was filed, numerous briefs and exhibits were filed, and an evidentiary hearing was conducted - all for the purpose of informing the Court about the facts that would affect Defendant's sentencing. The Court ultimately determined that Defendant was a "leader" of the organization that distributed the drugs involved in his offense, and that the organization had distributed more than 15 kilograms of illegal substances. (Sentencing Transcript, [hereafter "ST"], [Doc. No. 607], pp. 29-30.) Based on those determinations, the Court found that the sentencing range, under the advisory guidelines, was 262 to 327 months. ( Id., p. 30.) However, the Court did not impose a sentence within the guidelines range, but instead the Court imposed a sentence of 192 months, (id., pp. 31-32), which was well below the guidelines range.

After Defendant was sentenced, he filed a direct appeal. On appeal, Defendant argued that there was insufficient evidence to support this Court's determinations that (a) Defendant was a leader of the drug distribution organization, and (b) that the amount of the drugs attributable to the organization's activities was at least 15 kilograms. The Court of Appeals rejected all of Defendants arguments on the merits, and his conviction and sentence were affirmed. United States v. Lopez, 497 Fed.App'x 687 (8th Cir. 2013) (unpublished opinion).

On August 16, 2013, Defendant filed his present Motion for post-conviction relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Giving Defendant's § 2255 Motion the benefit of liberal construction, the Court finds that he has presented three discernible claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. Defendant claims that he was deprived of his constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel, because -

(1) his attorney failed to inform him that he could be sentenced to more than the 10-year mandatory minimum based on sentencing enhancement factors found after the plea hearing;

(2) his attorney did not object to having the sentencing enhancement factors determined by the Court, rather than a jury; and

(3) his attorney failed to seek and obtain a reduced sentence based on "fast track downward departure" procedures.

For the reasons discussed below, the Court finds that none of Defendant's current claims ...


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