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United States v. Navarrette-Aguilar

United States District Court, D. Oregon

February 8, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
SAMUEL NAVARRETTE-AGUILAR Defendant.

          Billy J. Williams UNITED STATES ATTORNEY District of Oregon Kathleen L. Bickers ASSISTANT UNITED STATES ATTORNEY Attorneys for the United States of America.

          Samuel Navarrette-Aguilar Defendant Pro Se.

          OPINION & ORDER

          Marco A. Hernandez United States District Judge.

         On June 7, 2013, a jury found Defendant Samuel Navarrette-Aguilar, along with his co-defendant Saul Guzman-Arias, guilty of three crimes: (1) heroin trafficking conspiracy, (2) distribution of heroin, and (3) possession with intent to distribute heroin. As part of the verdict, the jury answered separate questions relating to the quantity of heroin and whether the distribution of heroin resulted in the death of another person. The jury found, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the total quantity of heroin agreed to be distributed by each Defendant and any other member of the conspiracy weighed at least one kilogram and that the heroin possessed by each Defendant with the intent to distribute weighed at least one hundred grams. But, the jury also determined that the use of the heroin distributed by the conspiracy, or by each Defendant, did not result in the death of another person.

         In March 2013, Defendant was sentenced to twenty years (240 months) in prison, which was the mandatory minimum sentence resulting from the jury's finding of a conspiracy involving one kilogram or more of heroin. ECF 177 (Mar. 19, 2014 Judgment). On appeal, the Ninth Circuit held that even considering the evidence in a light most favorable to the jury's verdict, the Government failed to prove a conspiracy involving one kilogram or more of heroin. United States v. Navarrette-Aguilar, 813 F.3d 785, 794-97 (9th Cir. 2015). Upon remand for re-sentencing, Defendant was sentenced to 168 months of imprisonment. ECF 196 (Apr. 5, 2016 Judgment). An appeal from that Judgment was unsuccessful. United States v. Navarrette-Aguilar, 693 Fed.Appx. 703 (9th Cir. 2017) (rejecting Defendant's argument that his sentence was substantively unreasonable).

         Defendant now moves under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to vacate his sentence. He also moves for appointment of counsel and requests an evidentiary hearing. He contends that he received ineffective assistance of counsel during plea negotiations, resulting in his proceeding to trial without sufficient information to make an intelligible decision regarding the Government's plea offer. I deny the § 2255 motion and further deny the motion for evidentiary hearing and appointment of counsel.[1]

         STANDARDS

         I. Section 2255 Motion Standards

         Under § 2255, a federal prisoner in custody may move the sentencing court to vacate, set aside, or correct a sentence on the basis that the sentence violates the Constitution or the laws of the United States. 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a); United States v. Withers, 638 F.3d 1055, 1062 (9th Cir. 2011) (citing Davis v. United States, 417 U.S. 333 (1974)). The petitioner must demonstrate that an error of constitutional magnitude had a substantial and injurious effect or influence on the guilty plea or the jury's verdict. Brecht v. Abrahamson, 507 U.S. 619, 637 (1993); see also United States v. Montalvo, 331 F.3d 1052, 1058 (9th Cir. 2003) ("We hold now that Brecht's harmless error standard applies to habeas cases under section 2255, just as it does to those under section 2254.").

         A district court must grant a hearing "[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). In determining whether a § 2255 motion requires a hearing, "the standard essentially is whether the movant has made specific factual allegations that, if true, state a claim on which relief could be granted." Withers, 638 F.3d at 1062 (brackets and internal quotation marks omitted). A district court may dismiss a § 2255 motion based on a facial review of the record "only if the allegations in the motion, when viewed against the record, do not give rise to a claim for relief or are 'palpably incredible or patently frivolous.'" Id. at 1062-63 (quoting United States v. Schaflander, 743 F.2d 714, 717 (9th Cir. 1984)); see also Baumann v. United States, 692 F.2d 565, 571 (9th Cir.1982) ("a hearing is mandatory whenever the record does not affirmatively manifest the factual or legal invalidity of the petitioner's claims"). However, conclusory statements in a § 2255 motion are insufficient to require a hearing. United States v. Hearst, 638 F.2d 1190, 1194 (9th Cir. 1980).

         Counsel must be appointed to represent indigent defendants in § 2255 proceedings when "the complexities of the case are such that denial of counsel would amount to a denial of due process." Brown v. United States, 623 F.2d 54, 61 (9th Cir. 1980) (citing Dillon v. United States, 307 F.2d 445, 446-47 (9th Cir. 1962)). Otherwise, the request for counsel is addressed to the "sound discretion of the trial court." Brown, 623 F.2d at 61 (internal quotation marks omitted). Factors guiding the court's discretion as to whether to appoint counsel in habeas corpus proceedings include the petitioner's ability to articulate his claim, complexity of legal issues, and likelihood of success on merits. Weygandt v. Look, 718 F.2d 952, 954 (9th Cir. 1983) (per curiam).

         II. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel Standards

         Courts use a two-part test to determine whether a defendant has received constitutionally deficient assistance of counsel. Premo v. Moore, 562 U.S. 115, 121 (2011). Under this test, a defendant must prove that counsel's assistance was deficient and that the deficient performance prejudiced the defense. Id.; see also Schurz v. Ryan, 730 F.3d 812, 815 (9th Cir. 2013) (defendant must show not only that counsel's performance was deficient but that the deficient performance prejudiced the defendant).

         To prove the deficiency of counsel's performance, the defendant must show counsel made errors so serious that her or his "representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness" under prevailing professional norms. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 688 (1984)). The court must inquire "whether counsel's assistance was reasonable considering all the circumstances" at the time of the assistance. Id.

         In assessing whether counsel's performance was deficient, courts must "'indulge a strong presumption that counsel's conduct falls within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance' and make every effort 'to reconstruct the circumstances of counsel's challenged conduct, and to evaluate the conduct from counsel's perspective at the time.'" Hibbler v. Benedetti, 693 F.3d 1140, 1149 (9th Cir. 2012) (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 689). Ultimately the defendant's "burden is to show 'that counsel made errors so serious that counsel was not functioning as the 'counsel' guaranteed the defendant by the Sixth Amendment.'" Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 104 (2011) (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687).

         "To satisfy the prejudice prong under Strickland, a defendant must show 'a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different.'" Saesee v. McDonald, 725 F.3d 1045, 1048 (9th Cir. 2013) (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 694). "'A reasonable probability is a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome.'" Id. at 1048 (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 695).

         The court "need not determine whether counsel's performance was deficient before examining the prejudice suffered by the defendant[.]" Strickland, 466 U.S. at 697. "If it is easier to dispose of an ineffectiveness claim on the ground of lack of sufficient ...


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