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United States v. Joseph

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

June 13, 2019

UNITED STATES
v.
MIGUEL L. JOSEPH

         SECTION “R”

          ORDER AND REASONS

          SARAH S. VANCE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Defendant Miguel L. Joseph moves to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255.[1] Upon review of the entire record, the Court has determined that this matter can be disposed of without an evidentiary hearing. For the following reasons, Joseph's motion is denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On January 4, 2017, Joseph pleaded guilty to distribution of heroin and conspiracy to distribute heroin, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841, and use of a communication facility for the commission of drug crime, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 843.[2] On the day he pleaded guilty, Joseph and the government's attorneys signed a factual basis, in which Joseph stipulated that the amount of heroin “involved in the conspiracy attributable to him” was “at least one hundred (100 grams) but less than four hundred (400) grams.”[3] Pursuant to his plea agreement, the government agreed to recommend at the time of sentencing that Section 2D1.1(c)(8) of the United States Sentencing Guidelines should apply to the calculation of Joseph's base offense level.[4]That provision applies to offenses involving at least 100 but not more than 400 grams of a substance containing a detectable quantity of heroin. In his plea agreement Joseph also waived his right to appeal and collaterally challenge his conviction and sentence, but he retained the right to raise a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel in an appropriate proceeding.[5]

         Judge Kurt Englehardt accepted the plea agreement, and on April 12, 2017, sentenced Joseph to 125 months imprisonment.[6] Within one year of this sentence, Joseph filed the instant motion to vacate under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, on the ground that he received ineffective assistance of counsel.[7]

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Section 2255 of Title 28 of the United States Code provides that a federal prisoner serving a court-imposed sentence “may move the court which imposed the sentence to vacate, set aside or correct the sentence.” 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a). Only a narrow set of claims are cognizable on a Section 2255 motion. The statute identifies four bases 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. A claim of error that is neither constitutional nor jurisdictional is not cognizable in a Section 2255 proceeding unless the error constitutes “a fundamental defect which inherently results in a complete miscarriage of justice.” United States v. Addonizio, 442 U.S. 178, 185 (1979) (quoting Hill v. United States, 368 U.S. 424, 428 (1962)).

         When a Section 2255 motion is filed, the district court must first conduct a preliminary review. “If it plainly appears from the motion, any attached exhibits, and the record of prior proceedings that the moving party is not entitled to relief, the judge must dismiss the motion . . . .” Rules Governing Section 2255 Proceedings, Rule 4(b). If the motion raises a non- frivolous claim to relief, the court must order the Government to file a response or to take other appropriate action. Id. The judge may then order the parties to expand the record as necessary and, if good cause is shown, authorize limited discovery. Id., Rules 6-7.

         After reviewing the Government's answer, any transcripts and records of prior proceedings, and any supplementary materials submitted by the parties, the court must determine whether an evidentiary hearing is warranted. Id., Rule 8. An evidentiary hearing must be held “[u]nless the motion and the files and records of the case conclusively show that the prisoner is entitled to no relief.” 28 U.S.C. § 2255(b). No. evidentiary hearing is required if the prisoner fails to produce any “independent indicia of the likely merit of [his] allegations.” United States v. Edwards, 442 F.3d 258, 264 (5th Cir. 2006) (quoting United States v. Cervantes, 132 F.3d 1106, 1110 (5th Cir. 1998)).

         Ultimately, the petitioner bears the burden of establishing his claims of error by a preponderance of the evidence. Wright v. United States, 624 F.2d 557, 558 (5th Cir. 1980). For certain “structural” errors, relief follows automatically once the error is proved. Brecht v. Abrahamson, 507 U.S. 619, 629-30 (1993). For other “trial” errors, the court may grant relief only if the error “had substantial and injurious effect or influence” in determining the outcome of the case. Id. at 637-38 (citation omitted); see also United States v. Chavez, 193 F.3d 375, 379 (5th Cir. 1999) (applying Brecht in a Section 2255 proceeding). If the court finds that the prisoner is entitled to relief, it “shall vacate and set the judgment aside and shall discharge the prisoner or resentence him or grant a new trial or correct the sentence as may appear appropriate.” 28 U.S.C. § 2255(b).

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

          To establish a claim of constitutionally ineffective assistance of counsel, a petitioner must show both (1) that counsel's performance fell below an objective standard of reasonableness, and (2) that but for counsel's deficient performance, the likely outcome of the proceeding would have been different. See Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687-96 (1984). The petitioner must meet both prongs of the Strickland test and, if the Court finds that the petitioner has ...


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