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Rodriguez-Salomon v. United States

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Charlotte Division

July 27, 2018




         THIS 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).

         I. BACKGROUND

         Petitioner Erick Yahir Rodriguez-Salomon pleaded guilty, pursuant to a written plea agreement, to conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of a mixture or substance containing methamphetamine, 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(b)(1)(A), 846. (Crim. Case No. 3:16cr100, Doc. No. 14 at 1: Indictment; Doc. No. 63 at 4: Presentence Report (“PSR”)). Petitioner agreed, among other things, that the “amount of methamphetamine that was known to or reasonably foreseeable by the Defendant was at least five hundred (500) grams.” (Id., Doc. No. 34 at 2: Plea Agreement). In exchange for this guilty plea, the Government agreed to move to dismiss three additional counts with which Petitioner had been charged, one of which carried a statutory mandatory minimum prison term of five years, consecutive to any other punishment, 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A)(i). (Id., Doc. No. 14 at 2; Doc. No. 34 at 1). As part of his plea agreement, Petitioner waived his right to appeal his sentence on grounds other than ineffective assistance of counsel or prosecutorial misconduct. (Id., Doc. No. 34 at 5).

         Magistrate Judge Cayer accepted Petitioner's guilty plea after conducting the colloquy called for by Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(b). (Id., Doc. No. 90: Tr. of June 2, 2016, Plea and Rule 11 Hearing). Petitioner was represented by counsel and placed under oath. (Id. at 2). He told the Court that he fully understood the charges against him and, after consulting with his attorney, he wanted the Court to accept his guilty plea. (Id. at 2-4). Petitioner told the Court that he understood he had a right “to plead not guilty, to have a speedy trial before a judge and jury, to summon witnesses to testify in [his] behalf, . . . to confront the witnesses against [him], ” and to have the assistance of counsel at his trial. (Id. at 6). He told the Court that he understood that, by pleading guilty, he was “waiving or giving up those rights” and there would “be no trial.” (Id.). He also told the Court that he was “in fact guilty” of the count to which he was pleading guilty. (Id.).

         Petitioner affirmed, among other things, that he understood that the right to appeal his sentence was expressly waived in his plea agreement. (Id. at 11). He told the Court that nobody had “threatened, intimidated, or forced” him to “enter a guilty plea today.” (Id. at 11-12). He told the Court he was “satisfied with the services of [his] attorney.” (Id. at 12). He also told the Court that he “heard and understood all parts of [the] proceeding” and still “wish[ed] to plead guilty.” (Id.). Based on the statements of Petitioner and his attorney during the plea colloquy, Judge Cayer found Petitioner's plea of guilty to have been “knowingly and voluntarily made” and accepted it. (Id. at 13).

         Before sentencing Petitioner, this Court reviewed the plea colloquy proceeding. (Id., Doc. No. 91 at 2-4: Oct. 11, 2016 Sentencing Tr.). The Court addressed Petitioner directly, and Petitioner told this Court that he “absolutely” told the truth during his plea colloquy. (Id. at 3). He further told this Court that if it asked him the plea colloquy questions the day of his sentencing, his answers would be the same. (Id.). Without objection, this Court affirmed Judge Cayer's finding “that the defendant's plea was knowingly and voluntarily made” and his acceptance of Petitioner's guilty plea. (Id. at 4).

         The Court sentenced Petitioner to 210 months' imprisonment, at the low end of the 210-262 sentencing guidelines range and below the statutory maximum of life imprisonment, 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(b)(1)(A), 846. (Id. at 49, 51, 57-58). Among other things, this Court found that Petitioner had earned a three-offense level reduction under the guidelines for acceptance of responsibility. (Id. at 7).

         The Fourth Circuit dismissed Petitioner's appeal after finding the waiver in his plea agreement valid and enforceable. United States v. Rodriguez-Salomon, No. 17-4033 (4th Cir. June 5, 2017). The United States Supreme Court denied Petitioner's petition for a writ of certiorari on October 2, 2017. Rodriguez-Salomon v. United States, 138 S.Ct. 155 (Oct. 2, 2017). Petitioner filed his timely Section 2255 motion on April 2, 2018. (Doc. No. 1). The Government filed its Response on June 6, 2018, and Petitioner filed a Reply on July 26, 2018. (Doc. Nos. 6, 9).

         Petitioner has alleged three categories of claims. First, although he pleaded guilty, he has alleged as grounds “I, ” “II, ” and “III” that his attorney was constitutionally deficient for failing to require the Government to bear burdens of the kind that it would at trial. (Doc. No. 1 at 14-18). Second, Petitioner alleges that his attorney's performance was deficient at sentencing because his attorney did not attack the methamphetamine sentencing guidelines as flawed. (Id. at 18-19). Finally, he alleges that this Court erred when it assigned him two criminal-history points for his prior escape conviction because this Court should have properly applied the “modified categorical approach.” (Id. at 20).


         Rule 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 evidentiary hearing based on the record and governing case law. See Raines v. United States, 423 F.2d 526, 529 (4th Cir. 1970).


         To prevail on a theory of ineffective assistance of counsel, Petitioner must establish that his attorney's performance fell below an objective standard of reasonableness, judged “from counsel's perspective at the time.” Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 689 (1984). He must also establish prejudice in the form of “a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different.” Id. at 694. Because Petitioner pleaded guilty, to establish prejudice affecting his conviction, he must demonstrate a ‚Äúreasonable probability ...

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