United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana
ORDER AND REASONS
the Court is Petitioner Manuel Minjarez's motion under 28
U.S.C. § 2255 to vacate, set aside, or correct his
sentence (Rec. Doc. 97) and the Government's response
(Rec. Doc. 99). For the reasons discussed below, IT
IS ORDERED that the motion (Rec. Doc. 97) is
BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
2014, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents began
investigating methamphetamine distribution in Fresno,
California. Rec. Doc. 69. Pursuant to a court-authorized
Title III wiretap, DEA agents intercepted the Fresno
distributer's phone calls, some of which were made to
Petitioner. Id. During these phone calls, Petitioner
asked the distributor for packages, directed the distributer
where to send packages, and apprised the distributer of
on these conversations, DEA agents determined that the Fresno
distributer had sent two packages to Petitioner, one on July
10, 2014, and another on July 18, 2014. Id. U.S.
Postal Service (USPS) inspectors did not intercept the first
package, but records indicate that it weighed one pound,
eleven ounces. Id. USPS inspectors intercepted the
second package. Id. The DEA crime lab verified the
package's contents as methamphetamine, which weighed
444.7 grams and was 98.3% pure. Id.
2014, a Texas Trooper pulled Petitioner over on Interstate 10
for speeding. Id. During the stop, the Trooper found
a glass pipe and methamphetamine, resulting in
Petitioner's arrest. Id. In August 2014,
Petitioner was charged in a three count indictment.
See Rec. Doc. 5. The first count was for conspiracy
to distribute and possess with intent to distribute 500 grams
or more of methamphetamine in violation of 21 U.S.C. §
841(a)(1), (b)(1)(A); all in violation of 21 U.S.C. §
846. See Id. at 1. Defendant faced a statutory
minimum sentence of ten years of incarceration for Count One.
See 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(A). Moreover, at
least when Defendant was indicted, he had “a prior
conviction for a felony drug offense” and therefore
would have faced a statutory minimum sentence of twenty years
of incarceration if the Government charged him as a second
offender. See Id. The other two counts were for use
of a communications facility in furtherance of a drug
trafficking conspiracy in violation of 21 U.S.C. §
843(b). Rec. Doc. 5 at 2. Defendant faced a statutory minimum
sentence of four years of incarceration for each of the
second and third counts. See Id. § 843(d)(1).
was arraigned on September 5, 2014, and entered a plea of not
guilty. See Rec. Doc. 11. Petitioner was represented
by Federal Public Defender Valerie Jusselin until Petitioner
filed his notice of appeal after sentencing, when Michael
Admirand (another Federal Public Defender) appears to have
taken over the case. See Id. Trial was set for
November 11, 2014. See Id. On October 22, 2014,
Petitioner filed an unopposed motion to continue trial
because of the volume of discovery in the case, including
various recordings and transcripts of phone calls in Spanish.
See Rec. Doc. 15. Trial was continued to January 20,
2015. See Rec. Doc. 16. In December 2014, Petitioner
filed a second unopposed motion to continue trial because of
the volume of discovery and ongoing plea negotiations.
See Rec. Doc. 18. Trial was continued to April 6,
2015. See Rec. Doc. 20.
March 2015, the Government filed a motion to continue trial
because of the complexity of the case and the fact that
Petitioner wanted to hire a private attorney, which had
created uncertainty that interfered with resolution of the
case via a plea agreement. See Rec. Doc. 21. A few
days later, the Government filed a motion to hold a
Frye hearing because the Government had extended a
plea offer to Petitioner. See Rec. Doc. 22. At the
pretrial conference on March 26, 2015, both motions were
granted. See Rec. Doc. 23. Trial was reset for April
27, 2015, and the Frye hearing was set for April 1,
2015. See id.
Government detailed the plea offer at the Frye
hearing. Under the Government's offer, Petitioner would
have pled guilty to Counts 1 and 3 of the indictment, the
Government would have dismissed Count 2, and the Government
would not “file a bill of information charging
[Petitioner] with one prior drug felony as to Count 1 . . .
.” Rec. Doc. 27; see also Rec. Doc. 83 at
6:8-10, 7:22-25. The plea offer established a sentencing
range of ten years to life in prison instead of the twenty
years to life that Petitioner would have faced if the case
went to trial and the Government “establish[ed] that
[Petitioner] [wa]s a second offender pursuant to 21 U.S.C.
§ 851.” Rec. Doc. 27; see also Rec. Doc.
83 at 6:14-25, 7:1-5. Petitioner, after confirming he
understood the offer, rejected the plea offer. Id.
at 9:8-9, 10:22-25, 11:16-18. Just prior to the conclusion of
the hearing, Defendant expressed some confusion over the plea
negotiation process. See Id. at 10:8-14. After
consultation with his attorney and discussion with the
undersigned, Petitioner stated that his confusion was
resolved. See Id. at 10:15-12:20.
the Frye hearing, the parties engaged in further
discovery and motions practice in preparation for trial,
which was again continued until June 22, 2015. See
Rec. Doc. 54. Two pretrial motions merit special
attention. First, on April 13, 2015, the Government
filed notice of its intent to use evidence from its
investigation of the larger Fresno-based conspiracy to
distribute methamphetamine; that conspiracy was itself the
subject of an indictment in the United States District Court
for the Eastern District of California. See Rec.
Doc. 36. The Government argued that the evidence was
admissible either as intrinsic evidence of Petitioner's
crime or, pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b), as
extrinsic evidence of the conspiracy. See Id. at
opposed the Government's attempt to introduce evidence of
the Fresno conspiracy at his trial. See Rec. Doc.
45. Petitioner argued that evidence of the Fresno was not
intrinsic to Petitioner's case because the evidence was
not necessary to complete the Government's narrative of
Petitioner's criminal activity. See Id. at 1-4.
Petitioner also argued that the evidence was inadmissible
under Rule 404(b) because it did not tend to show
Petitioner's knowledge of the conspiracy and was unfairly
prejudicial. See Id. at 4-5. The Court concluded
that evidence of the Fresno conspiracy was admissible because
it was intrinsic to Petitioner's crime. See Rec.
Doc. 66 at 1-3. However, the Court ordered that the
government seek leave to introduce the evidence during trial,
at which point the Court would conduct any necessary hearings
outside the presence of the jury, and would give a limiting
instruction if evidence of the Fresno conspiracy was
ultimately admitted. See Id. at 3-4.
on April 14, 2015, Petitioner filed a motion to transfer the
case to the Eastern District of California, arguing that the
bulk of the evidence was located there and that the Federal
Public Defenders Office in New Orleans did not have the
resources to effectively litigate Petitioner's case given
the Government's use of evidence from the Fresno
conspiracy. See Rec. Doc. 38. The Government opposed
the motion, arguing that Petitioner's case was based on
his actions in Louisiana and most of the Government's
evidence was drawn from areas outside of California.
See Rec. Doc. 41. On April 23, 2015, the Court
denied Petitioner's motion to transfer after concluding
that the Eastern District of Louisiana was the most
convenient location for trial and that Petitioner had long
had access to the Government's evidence. See
Rec. Doc. 57. Petitioner moved for reconsideration on the
basis that there was additional wiretap evidence in the
Government's possession that Petitioner did not have
access to. See Rec. Doc. 59. The motion was denied
on May 13, 2015, for failure to raise new arguments
warranting reconsideration. See Rec. Doc. 62.
rearraignment was scheduled for June 10, 2015. See
Rec. Doc. 67. At his rearraignment, Petitioner pled guilty to
all three counts of the indictment without a plea agreement.
See Rec. Doc. 68. The Government did not file a bill
of information to establish Petitioner as a second offender.
See Rec. Doc. 85. At his sentencing hearing,
Petitioner was sentenced to 151 months of imprisonment as to
Count 1 and forty-eight months of imprisonment as to each
Counts 2 and 3. See Rec. Doc. 84 at 21:10-18.
Petitioner's sentences run concurrently with credit for
time served. Id.
then appealed to the Fifth Circuit,  arguing that he had
“entered a conditional plea of guilty, expressly
reserving his right to appeal his conviction and
sentence.” Appellant's Brief at 6, United
States v. Minjarez, 667 F. App'x 144 (5th Cir. 2016)
(No. 15-30845). Petitioner acknowledged that he did not
comply with the formal requirements of Federal Rule of
Criminal Procedure 11(a)(2), but claimed that the Rule 11
colloquy at his rearraignment hearing allowed him to retain
the right to “appeal the adverse pretrial rulings ...