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United States v. Iglesias

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

April 23, 2018




         Before the Court is the Motion to Vacate under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (Doc. 135) filed by Petitioner, Jose Rigoberto Iglesias. The United States filed an Opposition. (Doc. 141). An evidentiary hearing is not warranted. For the following reasons, the Motion to Vacate (Doc. 135) is DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On November 20, 2013, Petitioner and his brother, Jose Luis Argueta Iglesias ("Argueta"), were charged with conspiracy to distribute, and possession with the intent to distribute, 500 grams or more of methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846 and 18 U.S.C. § 2 (Count One); distribution of methamphetamine (in varying amounts up to 500 grams), in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) (Counts Two-Seven, and Nine); and possession, with intent to distribute, 50 or more grams of methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) (Count Eight). (Doc. 55). Petitioner entered a plea of not guilty and his case proceeded to trial. Before trial, the Court granted Petitioners motion to dismiss Count Two (distribution of a detectable amount of methamphetamine), after finding that procedurally, the United States' decision to add the additional count after the discovery deadline prejudiced Petitioner.[1] (Doc. 117 at pp. 13-14; see also Doc. 57). However, his brother, Argueta, executed a plea agreement in which he pleaded guilty to the lesser included offenses in Counts One, Four, Six, and Seven. (Doc. 97).

         On February 26, 2014, the jury returned guilty verdicts on Counts One (conspiracy), Three through Seven (distribution) and Eight (possession with intent to distribute), but could not reach a verdict on Count Nine (distribution of 50 grams or more of methamphetamine). At trial, the United States presented, inter alia, testimony from confidential informants, Angela Muniz ("Muniz") and Tonya Honeycutt ("Honeycutt"), which later became an issue on appeal. See United States v. Iglesias, 634 Fed.Appx. 971, 972 (5th Cir. 2015). Both Muniz and Honeycutt testified that they were former drug users who worked with Argueta and Petitioner to buy and sell methamphetamine. Id. After being approached separately by the FBI, both agreed to participate in undercover, controlled drug transactions. Id.

         On March 12, 2014, Petitioner filed a Motion for New Trial and an Amended Motion for New Trial, alleging in both motions that Muniz, one of the United States' key witnesses, lied during her testimony about her drug use and criminal history. (Docs. 65, 83). Petitioner also alleged that the United States failed to produce all evidence required under its discovery obligations, particularly information about Muniz's misdemeanor summons for marijuana use issued to her during the period of time that she was acting as an informant in the investigation against Petitioner. (Id.). On appeal, the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the Court's denial of the Motions holding that Muniz's misdemeanor marijuana summons was not "material" to Petitioner's guilt, and thus, was not subject to the United States' duty to disclose under Brady. See United States v. Iglesias, 2014 WL 4373213, at *1 (M.D. La. Sept. 3, 2014), aff'd, 634 Fed.Appx. 971 (5th Cir. 2015).

         On October 30, 2014, the Court sentenced Petitioner to a term of imprisonment of 192 months, five years of supervised release, and an assessment in the amount of $700. (Doc. 104). On January 21, 2016, the Fifth Circuit issued its mandate affirming Petitioner's conviction. (Doc. 129).

         Petitioner filed a Motion to Vacate under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 on November 7, 2016. (Doc. 135). In his motion, Petitioner asserts three grounds: (1) "Ineffective Assistance of Counsel, " (2) "Prosecutorial Misconduct, " and (3) "Cause and Prejudice To The Defendant." (Doc. 135 at pp. 4-6; see also Doc. 135-1 at p. 4). Petitioner claims that his attorney was ineffective by failing to: (1) investigate, and thus discover evidence needed to impeach Muniz and Honeycutt at trial; (2) interview his brother/co-defendant Argueta, and call him as a witness at trial; (3) object to the admissibility of recorded conversations (phone calls); (4) object to the dates alleged in Count One (conspiracy); and (5) object to the amounts alleged in Count One during sentencing. (Doc. 135-1 at pp. 7-11). Moreover, (6) he alleges ineffective assistance of appellate counsel for failing to challenge, on appeal, the sufficiency of the evidence supporting his conviction for Count One, both at trial and at sentencing. (Id. at p. 11).

         Petitioner further claims that the United States engaged in prosecutorial misconduct by; (1) knowingly presenting perjured testimony from Honeycutt and Muniz, who he contends were "very unreliable witnesses;" and (2) using inadmissible exhibits and testimony at trial for the purposes of misleading and confusing the jury. (Id. at pp. 12-17).


         Section 2255 provides that a federal prisoner serving a court-imposed sentence may move the court to vacate, set aside or correct his sentence. 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a). Only a narrow set of claims are cognizable on a § 2255 motion. The statute identifies four grounds on which a motion may be made: (1) the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States; (2) the court was without jurisdiction to impose the sentence; (3) the sentence exceeds the statutory maximum sentence; or (4) the sentence is "otherwise subject to collateral attack." Id.

         Once a petitioner files a § 2255 motion, the district court is required by statute to hold a hearing "[u]nless the motion and the files and records of the case conclusively show that the prisoner is entitled to no relief." § 2255(b). Applying this statutory command triggers a two-step inquiry. First, the court must determine whether the record "conclusively negate[s] the factual predicates asserted in support of the motion for post-conviction relief, " and second, whether "the petitioner [would] be entitled to post-conviction relief as a legal matter if those factual allegations which are not conclusively refuted" are true. Friedman v. United States, 588 F.2d 1010, 1015 (5th Cir. 1979).


         A. Cause and Prejudice

         While § 2255 appears broad, the scope of review is actually narrow. The Supreme Court and the Fifth Circuit have emphasized repeatedly that a collateral challenge may not substitute for an appeal. United States v. Shaid, 937 F.2d 228, 231 (5th Cir. 1991) (en banc) (citing United States u. Frady, 456 U.S. 152, 165 (1982)). As such, review under § 2255 is ordinarily limited to questions of constitutional or juris dictional magnitude. United States v. Cervantes, 132 F.3d 1106, 1109 (5th Cir. 1998); Shaid, 937 F.2d at 232. Nevertheless, those issues may not be raised for the first time on collateral review without a showing of both cause for the procedural default and actual prejudice resulting from the error. Cervantes, 132 F.3d at 1109; Shaid, 937 F.2d at 232 (citing Frady, 456 U.S. at 166).

         Attorney error may constitute "cause" for a procedural default; however, the petitioner must show that counsel's actions or inactions amounted to ineffective assistance of counsel. Cotton v. Cockrell,343 F.3d 746, 754-55 (5th Cir. 2003) (citing Murray v. Carrier, 477 U.S. 477, 478 (1986)); Ortez u. Dretke, 108 F. App'x. 188, 190 (5th Cir. 2004). Thus, "attorney error short of ineffective assistance of counsel" in the constitutional sense "does not constitute cause for a procedural default." Murray, 477 U.S. at 492. Accordingly, ineffective assistance adequate to establish "cause" for the procedural default of a constitutional claim must be proven in accordance with the principles set forth by the United States Supreme Court in Strickland v. Washington,466 U.S. 668 (1984). Here, Petitioner has alleged that any procedurally defaulted claims ...

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