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United States v. Feliz

United States District Court, D. Rhode Island

March 17, 2015

UNITED STATES
v.
ANGEL FELIZ.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

MARY M. LISI, District Judge.

Petitioner Angel Feliz ("Feliz") has filed a motion to vacate, set aside, or correct sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §2255 (Dkt. No. 35). For the reasons stated below, Feliz's motion is denied.

I. Background and Travel

On December 18, 2012, Feliz was charged by criminal information with knowingly and intentionally attempting to possess with intent to distribute one kilogram or more of a mixture and substance containing a detectable amount of heroin, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1)(A) and 846 (Dkt. No. 14). On the same day, Feliz entered into a plea agreement with the government, pursuant to which he pled guilty to the information; the government, in turn, promised to make certain favorable sentence recommendations (Dkt. No. 15). The parties further stipulated that the offense with which Feliz was charged "involved at least one kilogram, but less than three kilograms of heroin." Plea Agreement at 4.a. Under the terms of the agreement, Feliz also waived his right to appeal his conviction and the sentence imposed by the Court, provided the sentence was within or below the sentencing guideline range determined by the Court. Id. at 12.

On January 29, 2013, Feliz pled guilty to the charge set forth in the information. Feliz agreed to the recitation of facts as they were presented by the government and he admitted that, on October 24, 2012, he attempted to take possession of what he knew to be at least one kilogram of heroin, with the intention to give it to someone else. Change of Plea Hearing Transcript 01/29/13 at 23:21-24:10 (Dkt. No. 39).

On May 9, 2013, Feliz was sentenced to 70 months incarceration, to be followed by supervised release of 3 years. Feliz's motion for a sentence variation was denied (Dkt. No. 22, Docket Entry 05/10/13). Although Feliz had waived his right to appeal his conviction and/or sentence, he filed a notice of appeal on or about August 26, 2013 (Dkt. No. 28). On February 4, 2014, the appeal was dismissed as untimely by the First Circuit Court of Appeals (Dkt. No. 32).

Subsequently, Feliz filed the instant motion to vacate under 28 U.S.C. §2255 (Dkt. No. 35). Feliz's motion was based entirely on his claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. Specifically, Feliz asserted that his counsel advised him to plead guilty although Feliz "was not involved knowingly in narcotics activity, " §2255 Motion at Page 5, and he maintained that he was "entitled to a role in the offense reduction." Id . The government filed an objection (Dkt. No. 40), to which Feliz filed a reply (Dkt. No. 41).

On October 21, 2014, while Feliz's §2255 motion was pending, Feliz filed a motion pursuant to 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(2) to reduce his sentence, based on the 2014 amendments to the United States Sentencing Guidelines (U.S.S.G.) (Dkt. No. 42). The government agreed that Feliz was eligible for a sentence reduction and filed a corresponding stipulation on December 11, 2014 (Dkt. No. 47). By order of this Court, Feliz's motion for reduction of sentence was granted and his sentence was reduced from 70 months to 57 months (Dkt. No. 48). Feliz's §2255 motion remained unaffected thereby.

II. Standard of Review

Pursuant to Section 2255, "[a] prisoner in custody under sentence of a court established by Act of Congress claiming 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, may move the court which imposed the sentence to vacate, set aside or correct the sentence." 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a).

Relief under Section 2255 is available only if the Court finds a lack of jurisdiction, constitutional error, or a fundamental error of law. See United States v. Addonizio, 442 U.S. 178, 184-84, 99 S.Ct. 2235, 60 L.Ed.2d 805 (1979) (holding that "an error of law does not provide a basis for a collateral attack unless the claimed error constituted a fundamental defect which inherently results in a complete miscarriage of justice.'")(quoting Hill v. United States, 368 U.S. 424, 428, 82 S.Ct. 468, 471, 7 L.Ed.2d 417 (1962)). A fundamental error of law is a defect "which inherently results in a complete miscarriage of justice' or an omission inconsistent with the rudimentary demands of fair procedure.'" Knight v. United States, 37 F.3d 769, 772 (1st Cir.1994) (quoting Hill v. United States, 368 U.S. at 428, 82 S.Ct. at 471).

Under the Sixth Amendment, each defendant is guaranteed the right to effective assistance of counsel. To prevail on a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, a petitioner must show: that (1) counsel's performance was deficient, i.e. "counsel's performance fell below an objective standard of reasonableness;" and (2) the deficient performance prejudiced the defense, i.e. "a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different." Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687-88, 694, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed.2d 674 (1984).

To satisfy the first prong under Strickland, "the defendant must identify the acts or omissions of counsel that are alleged not to have been the result of reasonable professional judgment, ' and the court then determines whether, in the particular context, the identified conduct or inaction was outside the wide range of professionally competent assistance.'" United States v. Manon, 608 F.3d 126, 131 (1st Cir.2010) (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 690)). "Judicial scrutiny of the defense counsel's performance is highly deferential, ' and the defendant must overcome a strong presumption... that, under the circumstances, the challenged action might be considered sound trial strategy.'" Bucci v. United States, 662 F.3d 18, 30 (1st Cir. 2011)(quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 689, 104 S.Ct. 2052)).

With regard to the second prong, "[t]o demonstrate prejudice, ' the defendant must show a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different.'" United States v. Rodriguez, 675 F.3d 48, 57 (1st Cir. 2012)(quoting Porter v. McCollum, 558 U.S. 30, 38-39, 130 S.Ct. 447, 453, 175 L.Ed.2d 398 (2009)). Although the defendant is not required to show "that counsel's deficient conduct more likely than not altered the outcome'" of his trial, [] it does require "a probability sufficient to ...


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