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United States v. Martinez-Lopez

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division

May 2, 2018




         The indictment in this case charged Defendant Victor Martinez-Lopez (“Martinez-Lopez”) with two counts of distributing a mixture or substance containing methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1), and one count of conspiracy to possess and distribute methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846. [DE 9] Martinez-Lopez pled guilty with the benefit of a plea agreement to the two distribution counts. [DE 17-1] This Court accepted Martinez-Lopez's plea of guilty, accepted his plea agreement, and found him guilty on November 6, 2015. [DE 24] On August 31, 2016, the Court sentenced him to 294 months of imprisonment on each of the counts concurrently, to be followed by six years of supervised release. [DE 58]

         Now proceeding pro se, Martinez-Lopez has filed a motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, attacking his sentence as well as the sufficiency of the indictment underlying his conviction. After instructing the government to respond and after reviewing the instant motion, the government's response, and Martinez-Lopez's reply, the Court will dismiss his claims and deny the issuance of a certificate of appealability.


         Martinez-Lopez was a member of an interstate methamphetamine distribution conspiracy. As part of his involvement, he would shuttle drugs from a supplier in Texas to Elkhart, Indiana. There, he would accept either cash or methamphetamine for his efforts. He did this approximately eight times between 2014 and 2015. Martinez-Lopez also organized other large shipments of drugs from Texas to Indiana, sold methamphetamine to numerous individuals throughout Indiana and Michigan, and directed others to do so, all as part of the larger conspiracy.

         The government charged Martinez-Lopez with two counts of distributing methamphetamine and one count of conspiracy to possess and distribute methamphetamine. He plead guilty with the benefit of a plea agreement to the two distribution charges. At the change of plea hearing, the magistrate judge elicited sworn testimony from Martinez-Lopez confirming that he had consulted with his attorney regarding the plea agreement, its contents, and its consequences, that Martinez-Lopez understood those consequences, and that he entered into the plea agreement knowingly and voluntarily.

         The case proceeded to sentencing, where the Court imposed a 294-month sentence on each of the distribution counts, to run concurrently. As part of its Guidelines calculation, the Court imposed a two-level enhancement for Martinez-Lopez's role as a leader or organizer in the conspiracy under U.S.S.G. § 3B1.1(c). Martinez-Lopez did not object to this enhancement, but he did successfully oppose a separate two-level enhancement for knowingly distributing unlawfully imported methamphetamine under § 2D1.1(b)(5). Just under a year after his sentencing, Martinez-Lopez filed the instant § 2255 motion.


         Section 2255(a) of Title 28 provides that a federal prisoner may claim “the right to be released 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, [and] may move the court which imposed the sentence to vacate, set aside or correct the sentence.” 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a). The Seventh Circuit has recognized that § 2255 relief is appropriate only for “an error of law that is jurisdictional, constitutional, or constitutes a fundamental defect which inherently results in a complete miscarriage of justice.” Harris v. United States, 366 F.3d 593, 594 (7th Cir. 2004) (citation omitted). Further, “a Section 2255 motion is neither a recapitulation of nor a substitute for a direct appeal.” Olmstead v. United States, 55 F.3d 316, 319 (7th Cir. 1995) (citation omitted). Relief under § 2255 is extraordinary because it seeks to reopen the criminal process to a person who has already had an opportunity of full process. Almonacid v. United States, 476 F.3d 518, 521 (7th Cir. 2007) (citing Kafo v. United States, 467 F.3d 1063, 1068 (7th Cir. 2006)). A court may also deny a § 2255 motion without an evidentiary hearing if “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).


         Martinez-Lopez's claims can be divided into two broad categories. His first set of substantive claims includes arguments that the indictment was deficient because it did not include either the mens rea associated with his offenses or the drug quantity amount, and that he should not have received an enhancement under Guidelines § 3B1.1(c) for his aggravating role in the offense. Martinez-Lopez's second set of claims all relate to the ineffective assistance of counsel. The Court will first address Martinez-Lopez's substantive claims before moving on to his claims for ineffective assistance.

         A. Substantive Claims

         Independent from his ineffective assistance claims, Martinez-Lopez argues that the indictment should have, but did not contain allegations of mens rea and drug quantity [DE 64 at 5-6], and that the aggravating role enhancement he received at sentencing should not apply to him. [DE 64-1 at 5] But Martinez-Lopez has already waived these claims. His plea agreement contained the following language:

I expressly waive my right to appeal or to contest my conviction and all components of my sentence or the manner in which my conviction or my sentence was determined or imposed, to any Court on any ground other than a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, including any appeal under Title 18, United States Code, Section 3742 or any post-conviction proceedings, including but not limited to, a proceeding under Title 28, United States Code, Section 2555.

[DE 17-1 ¶ 9(d)] In the Seventh Circuit, plea agreements that contain waivers of collateral review are generally enforceable. Jones v. United States, 167 F.3d 1142, 1145 (7th Cir. 1999) (“[W]aivers are enforceable as a general rule; the right to mount a collateral attack pursuant to § 2255 survives only with respect to those discrete claims which relate directly to the negotiation of the waiver.”); see also United States v. Worthen, 842 F.3d 552, 554 (7th Cir. 2016) (“Generally speaking, appeal waivers are enforceable and preclude appellate review.”).

         Martinez-Lopez stated under oath at his sentencing hearing that he understood that waiver [Sent. Tr. at 37:23-38:5], and the Court found his plea to be knowing and voluntary. Moreover, his substantive claims do not fall within any exceptions to the enforceability of waivers recognized by the Seventh Circuit. See United States v. Smith, 759 F.3d 702, 706 (7th Cir. 2014).[1] Thus, the waiver here is enforceable, and Martinez-Lopez's substantive claims fall short.

         1. Contents ...

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