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Mendiola v. United States

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

March 7, 2018



          TANYA WALTON PRATT, United States District Court Judge

         For the reasons explained in this Entry, the motion of Jesus Mendiola (“Mr. Mendiola”) for relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, dkt. [1], must be denied and the action dismissed with prejudice. In addition, the Court finds that a certificate of appealability should not issue.

         I. Scope of a § 2255 Motion

         A motion pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 is the presumptive means by which a federal prisoner can challenge his conviction or sentence. See Davis v. United States, 417 U.S. 333, 343 (1974). A court may grant relief from a federal conviction or sentence pursuant to § 2255 “upon the ground that the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States, or that the court was without jurisdiction to impose such sentence, or that the sentence was in excess of the maximum authorized by law, or is otherwise subject to collateral attack.” 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a). The scope of relief available under § 2255 is narrow, limited to “an error of law that is jurisdictional, constitutional, or constitutes a fundamental defect which inherently results in a complete miscarriage of justice.” Borre v. United States, 940 F.2d 215, 217 (7th Cir. 1991) (internal citations omitted).

         II. Factual Background

         On October 30, 2003, Jesus Mendiola pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), 841(b)(1)(A)(ii), and 846.[1] United States v. Mendiola, No.1:03-cr-0056-LJM-KPF-1, Crim. Dkt. 27.[2] In exchange for Mr. his guilty plea, the government agreed to not file a second information under 21 U.S.C. § 851 alleging Mr. Mendiola's two prior drug felonies. Id. If convicted under the second information, Mr. Mendiola would have received a sentence of mandatory life imprisonment.

         After pleading guilty to the original charges, Mr. Mendiola was sentenced to 270 months' imprisonment, with ten years of supervised release. Crim. Dkt. 33. Mr. Mendiola appealed his sentence based on United States v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220 (2005). United States v. Mendiola, 163 Fed.Appx. 408, 409 (7th Cir. 2006). The Seventh Circuit affirmed because the district court would have imposed the same sentence in light of Booker. Id.

         In support of his motion for relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, Mr. Mendiola raises three arguments. First, he argues that he received ineffective assistance of counsel when his attorney encouraged him to plead guilty, abandoned potential defenses and did not object to errors in his pre-sentence report. Second, he argues that he should have received a reduction in his sentence due to his “minor role” in the offenses based on Amendment 794 to § 3B1.2 of the Sentencing Guidelines. Finally, he asserts that he should have received a two-level reduction in his Base Offense Level based on Amendment 782 to the Guidelines.

         III. Discussion

         A. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

         Mr. Mendiola first asserts that his defense attorney performed deficiently in various respects. Mr. Mendiola alleges that his plea was “coerced by the wrongful urging of counsel, the involvement of agents of the Government's lies and promises, which they very apparently had no intention of performing, and complete abandonment of legitimate defenses and objections to the PSI.” Dkt. 2. He further alleges that he would not have agreed to the plea had he “known what was taking place behind the scenes.” Id. He adds in his reply that he would not have pleaded guilty had he known that the sentencing guidelines would take his prior criminal history into account.

         A petitioner claiming ineffective assistance of counsel bears the burden of showing (1) that trial counsel's performance fell below objective standards for reasonably effective representation and (2) that this deficiency prejudiced the defense. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 688- 94 (1984); United States v. Jones, 635 F .3d 909, 915 (7th Cir. 2011). To satisfy the first prong of the Strickland test, the petitioner must direct the Court to specific acts or omissions of his counsel. Wyatt v. United States, 574 F.3d 455, 458 (7th Cir. 2009). The Court must then consider whether in light of all of the circumstances counsel's performance was outside the wide range of professionally competent assistance. Id. In order to satisfy the prejudice component, Mr. Mendiola must establish that “there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different.” Strickland, 466 U.S. at 694.

         Mr. Mendiola's scant and conclusory allegations are insufficient to establish that his counsel performed deficiently. Mr. Mendiola does not state what legitimate defenses or what objections to the PSI his counsel failed to raise. To prevail on such claims, Mr. Mendiola would need to identify particular objections his counsel failed to raise and particular defenses he abandoned, demonstrate that such failures constituted deficient performance, and prejudiced Mr. Mendiola. Strickland, 466 U.S. at 688-94. Because Mr. Mendiola did not detail what objections should have been made or what defenses should have been developed, let alone demonstrate either prong of the Strickland standard, he cannot prevail on these claims.

         Similarly, Mr. Mendiola argues that his attorney failed to properly investigate his case. When counsel's “purported deficiency is based on a failure to investigate, we require the petitioner to allege what the investigation would have produced.” Long v. United States, 847 F.3d 916, 920 (7th Cir. 2017) (internal quotation omitted). Mr. Mendiola has not alleged what further investigation would have ...

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