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United States v. Minjarez

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

March 22, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
MANUEL MINJAREZ

         SECTION “B” (3)

          ORDER AND REASONS

         Before 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 DENIED.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         In June 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 deliveries. Id.

         Based 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.

         In July 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).

         Petitioner 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.

         In 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.

         The 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.

         Following 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.[1] 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 2-7.

         Petitioner 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.

         Second, 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.

         Petitioner's 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.

         Petitioner then appealed to the Fifth Circuit, [2] 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 ...


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