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United States v. Mejia

United States District Court, D. Oregon

December 11, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
JOSE ANTONIO MEJIA, Defendant.

          ORDER

          MARCO A. HERNANDEZ, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Defendant Jose Antonio Mejia moves under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence, claiming that he received ineffective assistance of counsel from his trial attorney. I deny Defendant's motion.

         BACKGROUND

         In July 2016, Defendant was charged with one count of aggravated sexual abuse, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2241(c), and one count of knowingly transporting a minor across state lines with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2423(c). Thomas J. Hester, an attorney with the Federal Public Defender, was appointed to represent Defendant.

         I. The Plea Agreement

         In April 2017, Defendant accepted the government's plea offer. Plea Agreement, ECF No. 56-3. Defendant agreed to plead guilty to the charge of transportation with intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct, which carries a mandatory minimum sentence of ten years' imprisonment, a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, a maximum fine of $250, 000, and a minimum term of supervised release of five years with a maximum of lifetime supervised release. Plea Agreement ¶ 3. Defendant would be required to register as a sex offender. The government agreed that at sentencing, it would move to dismiss the charge of aggravated sexual abuse, which carried a mandatory minimum sentence of thirty years' imprisonment. Plea Agreement ¶ 5. Defendant agreed that his relevant conduct under the Sentencing Guidelines resulted in an adjusted offense level of 40. Plea Agreement ¶ 7. The government agreed that it would recommend a three-level reduction at sentencing if Defendant demonstrated full acceptance of responsibility. Plea Agreement ¶ 8. The government also agreed that if Defendant showed acceptance of responsibility, it would move for a two-level downward variance for early disposition, and recommend a sentence of 240 months' imprisonment. Plea Agreement ¶ 9 A. The Plea Agreement allowed Defendant to seek additional departures or variances from the guideline range, which the government could oppose. Plea Agreement ¶ 9 B.

         Defendant agreed to waive his right to appeal unless the sentence imposed exceeded the statutory maximum; the court applied an upward departure in calculating the sentencing guideline range; or the court imposed a sentence that exceeded the sentencing guideline range. Plea Agreement ¶ 10. Defendant also waived the right to challenge the sentence collaterally, including through a motion under § 2255, unless Defendant's challenge was based on ineffective assistance of counsel.

         The Plea Agreement noted that the court was not bound to accept the sentencing recommendations of the parties or the presentence report writer. Plea Agreement ¶ 11. Defendant would not be allowed to withdraw his plea or rescind the Plea Agreement if the court did not follow the Plea Agreement.

         II. The Change of Plea Hearing

         On April 19, 2017, Judge Anna J. Brown presided over Defendant's change of plea proceeding. See ECF No. 56-2 (Plea Tr.). Judge Brown carefully reviewed the terms of the Plea Agreement with Defendant in open court. Judge Brown told Defendant that before she accepted the Plea Agreement, she needed to determine whether Defendant was thinking clearly, acting voluntarily, and understood the rights he was waiving and the consequences of the Plea Agreement. Plea Tr. 6. Judge Brown stated, “I need to be sure you know what could happen to you, ” “that this is your decision to go forward, ” and that Defendant had “actually committed the crime.” Plea Tr. 6. Judge Brown also told Defendant, “I need to be sure, from your perspective, you feel you've had enough time with Mr. Hester to consider the seriousness of what all you've been facing, the options available to you under law [, ] [the] rights you have, including your right to have a trial if you wanted to investigation [sic] that you might want him to pursue[, ] [l]egal arguments that you might want him to consider.” Plea Tr. 8. Judge Brown asked, “do you think you've had enough time with Mr. Hester to talk about those kinds of issues?” Plea Tr. 8. Defendant, who was under oath, responded, “Yes, I have.” Plea Tr. 8.

         Defendant stated that he had met “many times” with Hester, and that Hester had answered all of Defendant's questions about the case. Plea Tr. 9. Defendant stated that he was satisfied with Hester's advice and services. Defendant stated that he personally believed that pleading guilty under the Plea Agreement was in his best interest. Defendant denied that he had been pressured to plead guilty against his wishes, or that anyone had promised him anything in exchange for pleading guilty that was not included in the Plea Agreement or the plea petition. Defendant stated that it was his personal and voluntary decision to plead guilty, and he was thinking clearly and not suffering from any physical, mental, or emotional condition that might interfere with his ability to make a good decision. Plea Tr. 10.

         Judge Brown explained the consequences of the guilty plea. She stated that a guilty plea was “a permanent decision. It has the same force as if a jury found you guilty. It's not something you can go back and think about and say, ‘You know, I want to change my mind. I want to withdraw my guilty plea.' That's just not how it works.” Plea Tr. 15. Defendant stated that he understood and wanted to proceed with the change of plea.

         Judge Brown stated that under the Plea Agreement, Defendant would be subject to a ten-year mandatory minimum sentence. She noted that the government had agreed to recommend a sentence of 240 months. Judge Brown stated that she had a duty to impose a reasonable sentence, one that would deter Defendant and others from committing similar crimes, but also accounted for Defendant's personal background. “[T]he whole sentencing process is trying to come up with what's enough but not too much.” Plea Tr. 17. Defendant stated that he understood.

         Judge Brown explained that at sentencing, she would resolve any disputes between the government and Defendant. Defendant stated that he understood that the court was not bound by the Plea Agreement. Judge Brown told Defendant, “I can't make you any promise today about what's going to happen, so there is some risk in the sense that you're making a permanent decision without knowing what the outcome is going to be. Do you understand that?” Plea Tr. 19. Defendant responded, “Uhm.” Defendant then conferred with Hester. After conferring with Defendant, Hester stated, “The judge -- she's informing you she's not bound by anything. That's not a contract with her. So what's open to her is anything from the ten-year to a life sentence.” Plea Tr. 19. Judge Brown told Defendant, “I can't tell you it's going to be 120 months. I can't tell you it's going to be 240 months. I can't tell you it's going to be 30 years. I can't because . . . I won't know until all of this other ...


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