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United States v. Guzman-Ontiveros

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Southern Division

January 16, 2020




         BEFORE THE COURT are the [77] Motion Under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence and related [78] Memorandum in Support filed by Saul Guzman-Ontinveros. He asks the Court to vacate his sentence pursuant to § 2255 because his trial counsel provided him ineffective assistance of counsel. After reviewing the Motion, supporting Memorandum, the record in this matter, and applicable law, the Court finds that his Motion should be denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Saul Guzman-Ontinveros pleaded guilty to one count of attempting to possess with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of a mixture containing cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 846 and 841(b)(1)(B). He had also been indicted for conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute 5 kilograms or more of a mixture containing cocaine. That charge was dismissed, however, pursuant to the terms of his plea agreement. On September 25, 2018, Guzman-Ontinveros was sentenced to a term of 70 months' imprisonment, a five-year term of supervised release following release, and a $5000 fine. He did not appeal his conviction or sentence.

         On August 29, 2019, Guzman-Ontinveros filed the instant § 2255 Motion, claiming ineffective assistance of counsel by his retained attorney, Rufus G. Alldredge, Jr. His Motion asserts four[1] ineffective assistance of counsel claims: (1) counsel was ineffective “in Pretrial, Plea Agreement, [and] Post-Plea;”[2] (2) counsel was ineffective for failing to seek application of the “Safety valve” provision in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(e) at sentencing and for filing an untimely and “anemic” motion to suppress; (3) counsel was ineffective for failing to request an evidentiary hearing, for failing to secure a conditional guilty plea, and for failing to explain that he would likely be deported if he pleaded guilty; and (4) counsel was ineffective for failing to enforce the terms of the plea agreement, specifically the Government's recommendation that he be sentenced in the lower 25% of the guideline range. (Mot. Vacate 4-8, ECF No. 77). He also filed, the same day, a Memorandum in Support, which, despite its label, instead appears to be a declaration made under penalty of perjury.[3] (See Mem. Supp. 2-6, ECF No. 78.)


         A movant in a § 2255 proceeding may not bring a broad-based attack challenging the legality of the conviction. Indeed, a collateral attack is limited to alleging errors of “constitutional or jurisdictional magnitude.” United States v. Shaid, 937 F.2d 228, 232 (5th Cir. 1991). 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a) provides four grounds for relief: (1) “that the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States;” (2) “that the court was without jurisdiction to impose such sentence;” (3) “that the sentence was in excess of the maximum authorized by law;” and (4) that the sentence is otherwise “subject to collateral attack.”

         A district court may deny a § 2255 motion without conducting a hearing “only if the motion, files, and records of the case conclusively show that the prisoner is entitled to no relief.” United States v. Bartholomew, 974 F.2d 39, 41 (5th Cir. 1992). However, the § 2255 movant bears the burden of “produc[ing] independent indicia of the likely merit of [his] allegations.” United States v. Edwards, 442 F.3d 258, 264 (5th Cir. 2006) (internal quotation marks omitted). Contested factual issues may not be decided on the basis of affidavits alone unless the affidavits are supported by other evidence in the record. United States v. Hughes, 635 F.2d 449, 451 (5th Cir. 1981).

         a. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel Standard

         A habeas petitioner must establish two elements to demonstrate that he suffered constitutionally deficient assistance of counsel:

First, the defendant must show that counsel's performance was deficient. This requires showing that counsel made errors so serious that counsel was not functioning as the “counsel” guaranteed the defendant by the Sixth Amendment. Second, the defendant must show that the deficient performance prejudiced the defense. This requires showing that counsel's errors were so serious as to deprive the defendant of a fair trial, a trial whose result is reliable.

Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984). Under Strickland, this court can look at either prong first; “if either one is found dispositive, it is not necessary to address the other.” United States v. Webster, 392 F.3d 787, 794 n.12 (5th Cir. 2004) (quoting Buxton v. Lynaugh, 879 F.2d 140, 142 (5th Cir. 1989)).

         “[T]o establish deficient performance, a [defendant] must demonstrate that counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness.” Woodward v. Epps, 580 F.3d 318, 325 (5th Cir. 2009) (citation, quotation marks, and brackets omitted). The deficiency prong

“requires that [counsel] research relevant facts and law, or make an informed decision that certain avenues will not be fruitful.” United States v. Fields, 565 F.3d 290, 294 (5th Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). “[S]olid, meritorious arguments based on directly controlling precedent should be discovered and brought to the court's attention.” See Id. (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). However, the fact that an attorney reached the wrong conclusion does not necessarily make his performance deficient as the right to counsel does ...

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