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United States v. Estudillo

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

June 5, 2018

United States of America, Plaintiff,
v.
Jesus Pacheco Estudillo, Defendant.

          Bradley M. Endicott, DOJ-USAO counsel for plaintiff.

          Jesus Pacheco Estudillo defendant pro se.

          ORDER

          David S. Doty, Judge

         This matter is before the court upon the pro se motion by defendant Jesus Pacheco Estudillo to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Based upon a review of the file, record, and proceedings herein, and for the following reasons, the court denies the motion and denies a certificate of appealability.

         BACKGROUND

         On March 3, 2016, Estudillo pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), 841(b)(1)(A), and 846. During the plea hearing, defendant acknowledged that he understood that he faced a statutory minimum sentence of ten years' imprisonment and that he might qualify for application of the safety valve, 18 U.S.C. § 3553(f)(1)-(5), which would allow the court to sentence him below the mandatory minimum.[1] Plea H'rg Tr. at 5:10-17, 6:6-7:24. At sentencing, the court determined that Estudillo was not eligible for the safety valve - despite his counsel's argument to the contrary - because the record did not support a finding that he had provided the government with truthful information concerning the offense.[2] Sentencing H'rg Tr. at 5:5-8, 11:24-12:8; ECF No. 267. Accordingly, the court determined that Estudillo's guideline range was 120-135 months and sentenced him to the mandatory minimum of 120 months' imprisonment. ECF Nos. 270, 271. Estudillo did not appeal his sentence.

         In January 2018, Estudillo filed the instant motion, arguing that his counsel was constitutionally ineffective for three reasons: (1) his counsel at sentencing failed to file a notice of appeal; (2) his counsel at the time of the guilty plea inaccurately advised him that he would receive a three-point reduction for acceptance of responsibility; and (3) his counsel at sentencing failed to argue for application of the safety valve. He argues that an evidentiary hearing is necessary to resolve the issues. The government opposes the motion and request for an evidentiary hearing.

         DISCUSSION

         Section 2255 provides a federal inmate with a limited opportunity to challenge the constitutionality, legality, or jurisdictional basis of a sentence imposed by the court. This collateral relief is an extraordinary remedy, reserved for violations of constitutional rights that could not have been raised on direct appeal. United States v. Apfel, 97 F.3d 1074, 1076 (8th Cir. 1996). When considering a § 2255 motion, a court may hold an evidentiary hearing. See 28 U.S.C. § 2255(b). A hearing is not required, however, when “(1) the petitioner's allegations, accepted as true, would not entitle the petitioner to relief, or (2) the allegations cannot be accepted as true because they are contradicted by the record, inherently incredible, or conclusions rather than statements of fact.” Sanders v. United States, 341 F.3d 720, 722 (8th Cir. 2003) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Here, no hearing is required because all of Estudillo's claims are patently meritless.

         I. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

         To show that he received ineffective assistance of counsel, Estudillo must meet both prongs of the test set forth in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 694 (1984). See United States v. Williams, 562 F.3d 938, 941 (8th Cir. 2009). First, Estudillo must show that his counsel's performance was so deficient that it was objectively unreasonable. Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687-88. Because “[t]here are countless ways to provide effective assistance in any given case” and different attorneys “would not defend a particular client in the same way, ” the court reviews the performance of defense counsel with significant deference. Id. at 689. There is a “strong presumption that counsel's conduct falls within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance.” Id. Second, Estudillo must demonstrate prejudice by showing “a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceedings would have been different.” Id. at 694. Neither prong is met here.

         A. Notice of Appeal

         Estudillo first argues that his counsel at the time of sentencing, Shannon Elkins, was ineffective in failing to file a notice of appeal. The record establishes, however, that he declined to appeal his sentence. Ms. Elkins's contemporaneous notes establish that she met with Estudillo immediately following sentencing and explained that there was no basis for appeal given that the court sentenced him to the mandatory minimum. Elkins Aff. ¶ 7; id. Ex. A. Estudillo agreed and chose not to appeal. Elkins Aff. ¶ 7; id. Ex. A. Estudillo's recent statements to the contrary are not credible in light of this compelling evidence.

         B. Acceptance ...


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