United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Statesville Division
D. Whitney Chief United States District Judge
MATTER is before the Court on Petitioner's
Motion to Vacate, Set Aside or Correct Sentence under 28
U.S.C. § 2255, (Doc. No. 1).
Petitioner participates in selling crystal
2007 and 2012, Petitioner Martin Martinez Saldana sold large
quantities of crystal methamphetamine to customers in Ashe
County, North Carolina and Western Virginia. By 2012, law
enforcement officers were investigating Petitioner as part of
a larger investigation into methamphetamine trafficking in
the region. United States v. Saldana, 664 Fed.Appx.
326, 328 (4th Cir. 2016), cert. denied, 137 S.Ct.
1353 (2017). After employing confidential informants to make
purchases of crystal methamphetamine from two of
Petitioner's customers, Danny Eller and Bobby Shore,
investigators obtained a search warrant for the men's
residences, where the investigators found methamphetamine and
firearms. Id. Eller and Shore agreed to cooperate in
the investigation. Id. Eller informed investigators
that Petitioner was his source for methamphetamine and that
Jose Pina, who rented a trailer from Petitioner and lived on
Petitioner's property, worked for Petitioner as a courier
and conducted methamphetamine transactions on
Petitioner's behalf when Petitioner was in Mexico. (Crim.
No. 5:12-cr-49-FDW-DCK-1, Trial Tr. at 98, 288-90, 405-06,
he began cooperating with investigators, Eller twice bought
crystal methamphetamine from Pina. Saldana, 664
Fed.Appx. at 328. Following the second controlled buy, Pina
stopped responding to Eller's attempts to reach him,
prompting investigators to send Eller to Petitioner's
property on December 11, 2012, to try to buy methamphetamine
from either Petitioner or Pina. Id. Eller was unable
to buy methamphetamine from Petitioner, but he was able to
record a conversation with him, in which Petitioner told him
that it was “too hot” and that Eller should
“lay low.” Id.
next day, Shore recorded a conversation with Petitioner.
Id. During this conversation, Petitioner, who
traveled frequently to Mexico, told Shore that he would be
returning to Mexico the following day because it was
“too hot” as a result of law enforcement seizures
and arrests and directed Shore not to tell anyone he was
leaving. Id. Concerned that Petitioner would not
return from Mexico, investigators immediately obtained a
search warrant for Petitioner's home and an adjacent
property that Petitioner also owned. Id.; see
also United States v. 148 Ervin Houck Dr., No. 3:12MJ327
(W.D. N.C. Dec. 20, 2012), Doc. Nos. 1 (148 Ervin Houck Dr.)
and 2 (178 Ervin Houck Dr.). During their search,
investigators found four firearms, including an unregistered,
short-barreled shotgun; ammunition; electrical tape,
cellophane, and dryer sheets used in packaging
methamphetamine; latex gloves; and cell phones, two of which
were on Petitioner's person. Saldana, 664
Fed.Appx. at 328-29.
February 2013, Harmon interviewed Pina, who told the agents
where Petitioner had hidden money and methamphetamine on his
property. (Id. at 329; Crim. No.
5:12-cr-49-FDW-DCK-1, Trial Tr. at 76-77). Based on this new
information, agents obtained state search warrants to search
Petitioner's property. (Crim. No. 5:12-cr-49-FDW-DCK-1,
Trial Tr. at 76-77; see also Civ. Doc. No. 3-1, 3-2:
Gov. Civ. Exs. 1 & 2, Search Warrants, In re 148 and
178 Ervin Houck Road ( N.C. Sup. Ct. Feb. 12, 2013)
(Yearick, Etoyle, M.J.)). During this search, investigators
found nearly $50, 000 in cash contained in PVC pipes buried
in the ground, several ounces of methamphetamine wrapped in
electrical tape and cellophane with a dryer sheet, PVC tubes
used for stashing controlled substances or currency,
magazines for a sub-machine gun, and ammunition.
Saldana, 664 Fed.Appx. at 329; see also
(Crim. No. 5:12-cr-49-FDW-DCK-1, Trial Tr. at 78, 240-48).
A jury convicts Petitioner of participating in a
methamphetamine-trafficking conspiracy and a firearm offense,
and this Court imposes a within-Guidelines term of life in
December 13, 2012, a federal grand jury indicted Petitioner
and charged him with conspiracy to distribute and to possess
with intent to distribute methamphetamine, in violation of 21
U.S.C. § 846 (Count One); possession of a firearm in
furtherance of a drug-trafficking offense, in violation of 18
U.S.C. § 924(c) (Count Two); possession of a firearm by
a convicted felon, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1)
(Count Three); possession of a firearm as a person convicted
of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence, in violation of
18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(9) (Count Four); and possession of a
short-barreled shotgun that was not registered to him, in
violation of 26 U.S.C. §§ 5841, 5861(c) and (d),
and 5871 (Count Five). (Crim. No. 5:12-cr-49-FDW-DCK-1, Doc.
No. 50: First Superseding Bill of Indictment). The Government
later dismissed without prejudice the charges under 18 U.S.C.
§ 922(g) (Counts Three and Four). (Id., Doc.
December 26, 2012, and on January 29, 2013, this Court sua
sponte issued orders to continue the matter because it had
been joined for trial with a co-defendant who had not been
severed and as to whom the time for trial had not run.
(Id., Doc. Nos. 12, 19). On March 19, 2013, June 4,
2013, and July 31, 2013, Petitioner's counsel moved for
continuances, citing the voluminous discovery in the case and
the additional time needed to prepare for trial.
(Id., Doc. Nos. 39, 45, 47). This Court granted each
motion, specifically stating in each order that the ends of
justice outweighed the best interest of the public and the
defendant to a speedy trial. (Id., Doc. Nos. 12, 19,
40, 46, 48).
August 20, 2013, a grand jury returned a first superseding
indictment, which charged Petitioner with the same offenses,
but did not name Pina in the charges. (Id., Doc. No.
50). On September 23, 2013, Petitioner's counsel moved
for another continuance. (Id., Doc. No. 53). This
Court denied the motion. (Id., Doc. No. 56). On
October 8, 2013, counsel filed a sealed motion for a
continuance, which this Court granted. (Id., Doc.
Nos. 58, 59). On November 22, 2013, Petitioner's counsel
filed another sealed motion for a continuance, which this
Court also granted. (Id., Doc. Nos. 60, 61). Again,
the Court stated in both orders granting these two
continuances that the ends of justice outweighed the best
interest of the public and the defendant to a speedy trial.
(Id., Doc. Nos. 59, 61).
before trial, this Court issued a sequestration order,
prohibiting witnesses from talking with anyone who was or
might become a witness “about any subject matter
related to this trial.” (Id., Doc. No. 77).
Trial began on March 4, 2014. (Id., Doc. No. 131).
During the trial, the Government presented testimony from law
enforcement officers and five cooperating witnesses about
methamphetamine transactions conducted with or on
Jean Caudell testified that she and Petitioner were friends
and that he had sold her at least half an ounce of
methamphetamine for about five years before her arrest.
(Id., Trial Tr. at 327, 330-34). Caudell testified
that Petitioner had several couriers who worked for him and
that she had picked up drugs from Petitioner's house on
one occasion. (Id. at 335-36). On cross-examination,
Caudell admitted that she cooperated by taking responsibility
for her part in the offense conduct and that whether she
received a reduction in her sentence was up to the judge.
(Id. at 344). On redirect, she identified her plea
agreement, and the Government moved it into evidence.
(Id. at 346-47; Gov. Trial Ex. 24).
testified that he had pleaded guilty to his involvement in
the methamphetamine-trafficking conspiracy and that
Petitioner had been a co-conspirator. (Id., Trial
Tr. at 394). Eller stated that he began buying half an ounce
of methamphetamine every two or three weeks from Petitioner,
but he eventually worked up to buying about an ounce every
three or four weeks. (Id. at 402-03, 445). Eller
would use some of the methamphetamine and sell some of it.
(Id. at 407). Eller also testified about his visit
to Petitioner while wearing a wire, when Petitioner told him
that it had been “hot” and that he should
“lay low.” (Id. at 411, 415-17). Eller
testified on cross-examination that he had a plea agreement,
but that he had not been promised anything for testifying.
(Id. at 431-32). He admitted that he was hoping that
he would receive “[s]ome kind of help.”
(Id. at 433). The Government moved to admit
Eller's plea agreement on redirect, id. at 447,
and Eller testified that the plea agreement required him to
tell the truth and that it would be up to the judge to decide
what sentence to impose, id. at 448-49; Gov. Tr. Ex.
Hawkins also testified that he sold methamphetamine for
Petitioner. (Id., Trial Tr. at 494). On
cross-examination, he stated that he was hoping to “get
a little time off” for cooperating, but he had not been
sentenced yet. (Id. at 503-04, 509). On re-direct,
Hawkins testified that he had not been promised anything for
his cooperation, that he was required to tell the truth, and
that the judge would decide his sentence. (Id. at
also identified Petitioner as a co-conspirator in his
methamphetamine-trafficking activities. (Id. at
456). Shore testified that he bought half an ounce of
methamphetamine from Petitioner once a month for about a year
before he increased his monthly purchases to one ounce.
(Id. at 458-59). He later bought four to six ounces
a month. (Id. at 459).
testified that he worked for Petitioner and that Petitioner
told him where to hide Petitioner's money, including
where to bury it. (Id. at 480-82, 488). Pina
identified April Blevins as his girlfriend. (Id. at
489). He admitted telling her where she could find some of
the money on Petitioner's property and that she took
money that she believed was Petitioner's and used it to
buy a truck. (Id. at 488-89).
did not present any evidence in his defense. (Id. at
529). The jury convicted Petitioner of conspiracy to
distribute methamphetamine and possession of a firearm made
in violation of the National Firearms Act, but acquitted him
of possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug-trafficking
offense (Count Two). (Id., Doc. No. 81: Jury
Verdict). This Court sentenced Petitioner to life
imprisonment for the conspiracy offense and to a concurrent
sentence of 120 months of imprisonment for the firearm
offense and ordered him to pay a $200 special assessment.
(Id., Doc. No. 113: Judgment).
appealed, challenging the denial of his motion for a judgment
of acquittal and his life sentence. Saldana, 664
Fed.Appx. at 328. The Fourth Circuit affirmed his conviction
and sentence. Id. The Fourth Circuit held that there
was “more than sufficient evidence to convict
Saldana” of the conspiracy offense, citing his
leadership of the drug-trafficking operation, the testimony
at trial, as well as the recorded conversations with
Petitioner and the evidence found during the searches of his
property. Id. at 331.
timely filed the present motion to vacate, correct, or set
aside his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, arguing
that this Court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction, that his
speedy trial, double jeopardy, and Fourth Amendment rights
were violated, that the Government engaged in prosecutorial
misconduct, and that he received ineffective assistance of
counsel. The Government filed its Response on March 12, 2018,
and Petitioner filed his Reply on April 2, 2018, in which he
asserts essentially the same arguments made in his original
motion to vacate and supporting memorandum. (Doc. Nos. 3, 6).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
4(b) of the Rules Governing Section 2255 Proceedings provides
that courts are to promptly examine motions to vacate, along
with “any attached exhibits and the record of prior
proceedings . . .” in order to determine whether the
petitioner is entitled to any relief on the claims set forth
therein. After examining the record in this matter, the Court
finds that the arguments presented by Petitioner can be
resolved without an ...