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United States v. Castillo

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

December 13, 2016

RAUL VILLAFAN CASTILLO, Defendant. Criminal No. 14-205(1) (RHK/JSM)



         This matter is before the Court on Defendant's June 10, 2016, Motion to Vacate, Set Aside or Correct Sentence, brought under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. (Doc. No. 174). Defendant's Motion will be denied for the reasons discussed below.


         On June 19, 2014, Defendant Raul Villafan Castillo was charged in an Indictment with conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(b)(1)(A) and 846 (Count 1). Doc. No. 1. Paul Applebaum, Esq. represented Defendant, and after undertaking representation he filed a number of pretrial motions on behalf of Defendant. See, e.g. Doc. Nos. 32-42. After the parties addressed each other's initial pre-trial motions, by August 4, 2014, Defendant agreed to plea terms and filed through his counsel a letter withdrawing his motions. Doc. No. 43. The matter was set for plea proceedings, to occur on September 5, 2014. Doc. No. 48.

         While scheduled for plea proceedings, Defendant on September 5, 2014, asked for more time to consider the terms offered by the Government, and the matter was rescheduled for September 12, 2014. Doc. No. 58. Defendant balked at the proposed plea terms on this latter date, and the matter was scheduled for trial. Doc. Nos. 59-60. On October 7, 2014, the grand jury superseded the indictment, to add multiple counts of methamphetamine distribution against Defendant and his co-defendants, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1)(A) (Count 1), 841(b)(1)(B) (Counts 3, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10 and 11) and 841(b)(1)(C) (Counts 2, 4, 8 and 12). Doc. No. 63. The parties again engaged in pre-trial motions, including multiple motions filed by Mr. Applebaum on Defendant's behalf. See, e.g., Doc. Nos. 73, 75-83.

         After litigating a second wave of pretrial motions, the matter was set for trial, to begin on Monday, February 23, 2015. Doc. No. 126. As part of the trial preparation process, the Government filed eleven in limine motions, Doc. No. 125, and the grand jury filed a second superseding indictment. Doc. No. 127. The second superseding indictment clarified by statutory reference at each count the quantum of drugs attributable to Defendant and his co-defendant Oscar Villafan. Id. During the week before the scheduled trial date, the Government filed proposed jury instructions (Doc. No. 129), proposed voir dire (Doc. No. 130), a trial brief (Doc. No. 131), and a proposed special verdict form (Doc. No. 132). By Thursday, February 19, 2015, counsel Applebaum filed: responses to the Government's in limine requests (Doc. No. 133), proposed jury instructions (Doc. No. 134), and a response to the Government's proposed special verdict form (Doc. No. 135).

         Following the extensive pre-trial preparation briefly noted above, on Friday, February 20, 2015, the parties were scheduled for a final conference with the Court. Doc. No. 126. After a break in those proceedings, and pursuant to the terms of a written plea agreement, Defendant pleaded guilty to Count 1 of the second superseding indictment. Doc. Nos. 138-139.

         During the plea hearing, Defendant responded affirmatively to the Court's questions about the plea agreement he had just signed, including whether Defendant: signed it before he read it; read it carefully; read it more than once; talked with Mr. Applebaum about the agreement; asked Mr. Applebaum questions about the agreement and got adequate answers from his counsel; that no one made any threats to get him to plead guilty; and that no one had made any promises to him “other than what might be set forth in the plea agreement itself[.]” Plea Transcript (“PT”), 4-5.[1]

         Defendant similarly acknowledged that he could ask questions of the Court and counsel if he had any concerns or questions during the plea proceeding (PT, 6-7); that he understood each of the provisions within the plea agreement (PT, 7-18); that he would qualify for “safety valve” treatment, but only if he satisfied the criteria established by statute and guideline provision (PT, 11-13); that he was facing guideline ranges of 63-78 months or 97-121 months (PT, 13-14); that he had enough time to talk to his defense counsel (PT, 25-26); that his defense counsel had done a good job of representing him (id.); and that if he pleaded guilty he could not change his mind later (PT, 23-24).

         Defendant admitted that he was guilty of Count 1. PT, 27-28. Finally, Defendant specifically waived the right to appeal his sentence unless the Court imposed a term of imprisonment greater than 121 months. See Doc. No. 139, ¶ 11; PT, 16-17, 24. The Court formally accepted Defendant's guilty plea and made a special finding that the Defendant was guilty and that he knowingly and voluntarily entered into his guilty plea. PT, 8, 26-27.

         On June 30, 2014, Defendant appeared for sentencing. The Court determined that the guidelines range was 78 to 97 months. See Doc. No. 161; Sentencing Transcript (“ST”) at 6-9. Before the hearing, the Government argued that Defendant's failure to acknowledge his role in Hermanos Pistoleros Latinos (“HPL”), as described in the Presentence Investigation Report (“PSR”), would factor into the Government's position regarding Defendant's own acceptance of responsibility. PSR, p. A.1-A.2. During the hearing, Defendant's counsel confirmed that Defendant withdrew his objection to the PSR's mention of HPL membership, in accordance with Defendant's own prior admissions. ST, 3-4.

         After the Government urged an 88-month disposition, Defendant's counsel argued on Defendant's behalf. ST, 9-11. When given the opportunity to address the Court, Defendant stated that he “learned [his] lesson and, you know, there's a lot of people that were affected by my consequences and I take full responsibility.” ST, 11.

         The Court imposed a term of 60 months imprisonment, three years of supervised release, and other conditions. ST, 12-13. At no time did Defendant state or otherwise indicate he was dissatisfied with his counsel. At no time did Defendant state or otherwise indicate that he was not being afforded any benefit, either as contemplated within his plea bargain or otherwise. Defendant asked no questions and made no statements at the June 10, 2015, hearing after the Court's sentence was imposed. Defendant did not file an appeal.


         Defendant timely filed the instant Motion on June 10, 2016. See Doc. No. 174. In an accompanying memorandum, see Doc. No. 175, Defendant now generally asserts that Mr. Applebaum provided ineffective assistance during almost all aspects of representing Mr. Castillo. Defendant's § 2255 memorandum includes a summary paragraph indicative of his more specific complaints, claiming that defense counsel Applebaum:

[D]id not discharge his duty in accordance with the requirements of the Sixth Amendment and in doing so was deficient and in performance is oxymoronic en extremis. There was no ‘performance' by Mr. Applebaum in the instant offense; rather, it should be termed a ‘performance, ' that is, an orchestrated attempt to obfuscate and conceal his own deficiencies; deficiencies concerning lines of inquiry never explored, and issues of great importance to his client swept aside.

Doc. No. 175 at 8.

         As described by the Government, Defendant insists that former trial counsel Paul Applebaum was ineffective throughout the majority of his representation, including deficient performance and Constitutional failures such as: during plea negotiations and in regards to the plea agreement itself (id. at 9-11); regarding legal research and factual investigation of Defendant's case (id. at 10-11, 16-18); that his counsel encouraged an involuntary plea and promised Defendant a particular sentence and other assurances (id. at 13-14, 18); and failed to make certain arguments at sentencing (id. at 14-15). Defendant goes on to demand an evidentiary hearing regarding these claims. Id. at 19.

         On August 8, 2016, the Government responded to each of these claims. Doc. No. 186. Defendant in turn submitted a supplemental pleading on November 4, 2016. Doc. No. 189. That pleading largely reiterates Defendant's original claims but makes specific allegations against his former counsel and his former counsel's affidavit, to include attaching as a seemingly demonstrative exhibit an order in an unrelated matter from 2011. Doc. No. 189-1.


         A. General Principles

         To prevail on a motion filed under § 2255, a petitioner must show that his challenge raises a “fundamental defect which results in a complete miscarriage of justice.” Davis v. United States, 417 U.S. 333, 346 (1974). Section 2255 relief is extraordinary; consequently, it “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). Thus, § 2255 “does not encompass all claimed errors in conviction and sentencing.” Sun Bear v. United States, 644 F.3d 700, 704 (8th Cir. 2011) (en banc) (quoting United States v. Addonizio, 442 U.S. 178, 185 (1979)). Rather, it encompasses jurisdictional and constitutional errors. Id. Beyond that, its scope is “severely limited.” Id. “[A] miscarriage of justice cognizable under § 2255 occurs when the sentence is in excess of that authorized by law.” Id. at 706.

         An evidentiary hearing on a § 2255 motion must be granted unless the motion, files and records of the case establish conclusively that the petitioner is not entitled to relief. Kingsberry v. United States, 202 F.3d 1030, 1032 (8th Cir. 2000). But “[n]o hearing is required where the claim ‘is inadequate on its face or if the record affirmatively refutes the factual assertions upon which it is based.'” Watson v. United States, 493 F.3d 960, 963 (8th Cir. 2007) (quoting Shaw v. United States, 24 F.3d 1040, 1043 (8th Cir. 1994).

         B. Defendant Has Failed to Show that His Defense Counsel Was Ineffective

         Defendant claims ineffective assistance because “Mr. Applebaum failed to properly investigate and research his case.” Doc. No. 175, 10.[2] Continuing, Defendant suggests that instead of conducting proper investigation, his former counsel “seemed like” he “simply wanted him to accept the government's agreement to plead guilty and rushed him into pleading guilty, without knowing the exact consequences for accepting the proposed government's plea agreement.” Id. As part of this argument, Defendant also claims that by “not properly investigating [his] case, he [Applebaum] simply agreed to everything the government stipulated in the plea agreement, which at the end it [sic] harmed him because he had to debrief twice in order to qualify for the ‘safety valve.'” Id., 11. Defendant also argues that his former ...

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