United States District Court, D. Rhode Island
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
M. Lisi Senior United States District Judge
before the Court are several motions filed by Petitioner Juan
Espejo Sanchez (“Petitioner” or “Espejo
Sanchez”), proceeding pro se: a Motion to Set
Aside and Vacate Sentence Pursuant to 2255 or in the
Alternative Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure 60(b)(1)-(6)
(Doc. #8) (“Motion”); a Supplemental Motion to
Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence Pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 2255 (Doc. #13) (“Supplemental
Motion”) and Affidavit in support thereof (Doc.
#14) (“Affidavit”), and a request, which the
Court treats as a motion, for a ruling on the Motion to
Vacate (Doc. #15) (“Motion for Ruling”). The
Government has filed a response in opposition to the Motion
(Doc. #12) (“Response to Motion”). No hearing is
BACKGROUND AND TRAVEL
9, 2014, Espejo Sanchez pled guilty to one count of
conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute fifty
grams or more of methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C.
§§ 841(a)(1), 841(b)(1)(B), and 846. He was sentenced
to 72 months incarceration, followed by supervised release
for ten years. Judgment entered on June 16, 2014. Pursuant to
the Plea Agreement, Espejo Sanchez did not file a direct
Sanchez filed the instant Motion on June 2, 2015,
and, subsequently, the Supplemental Motion and Motion for
Section 2255 and AEDPA
the grounds justifying relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 are
limited. A court may grant such relief only if it finds a
lack of jurisdiction, a constitutional error, or a
fundamental error of law. See United States v.
Addonizio, 442 U.S. 178, 185 (1979)(“[A]n error of
law does not provide a basis for collateral attack unless the
claimed error constituted a fundamental defect which
inherently results in a complete miscarriage of
justice.”)(internal quotation marks omitted).
2255 states that:
(a) 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).
1996, Congress enacted the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death
Penalty Act (“AEDPA”), which “imposed
significant new constraints on proceedings under section
2255.” Trenkler v. United States, 536 F.3d 85,
96 (1st Cir. 2008)(footnote omitted). “Some of these
constraints were temporal; for example, AEDPA established a
one-year statute of limitations for filing a section 2255
petition.” Id. (citing 28 U.S.C. §
2255(f)). Others were numerical, requiring a petitioner to
obtain preclearance from the circuit court before filing a
second or successive petition. Id. (citing 28 U.S.
defendant who claims that he was deprived of his Sixth
Amendment right to the effective assistance of counsel must
(1) that his counsel's performance fell below an
objective standard of reasonableness; and
(2) 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
(1984); United States v. Manon, 608 F.3d 126, 131
(1st Cir. 2010)(same). In assessing the adequacy of
counsel's performance, a 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.'” Manon, 608 F.3d at 131
(quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 690); see also
Strickland, 466 U.S. at 689 (noting that the court
“must indulge a strong presumption that counsel's
conduct falls within the wide range of reasonable
professional assistance ...”). To show prejudice under
Strickland, the defendant must demonstrate 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. A reasonable
probability is one “sufficient to undermine confidence
in the outcome.” Id. In making the prejudice
assessment, the court focuses on the “fundamental
fairness of the proceeding.” Manon, 608 F.3d
at 131; see also Strickland, 466 U.S. at 696.
“Unless a defendant makes both showings, it cannot be
said that the conviction ... resulted from a breakdown in the
adversary process that renders the result unreliable.”
Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687; see also
Reyes-Vejerano v. United States, 117 F.Supp.2d 103, 106
(D.P.R. 2000) (“The petitioner has the burden of
proving both prongs of this test, and the burden is a heavy
one.”). “The benchmark for judging any claim of
ineffectiveness must be whether counsel's conduct so
undermined the proper functioning of the adversarial process
that the trial cannot be relied on as having produced a just
result.” Strickland, 466 U.S. at 686.
same principles apply in the context of guilty pleas. See
Hill v. Lockhart, 474 U.S. 52, 57 (1985). The
Hill Court held that “the two-part
Strickland v. Washington test applies to challenges
to guilty pleas based on ineffective assistance of
counsel.” Id. at 58; see also Padilla v.
Kentucky, 559 U.S. 356, 371 n.12 (2010)(“In
Hill, the Court recognized-for the first time-that
Strickland applies to advice respecting a guilty
plea.”). The first prong of the Strickland
test is nothing more than a restatement of the standard of
attorney competence described above. Hill, 474 U.S.
The second, or “prejudice” requirement, on the
other hand, focuses on whether counsel's constitutionally
ineffective performance affected the outcome of the plea
process. In other words, in order to satisfy the
“prejudice” requirement, the defendant must show
that there is a reasonable probability that, but for
counsel's errors, he would not have pleaded guilty and
would have insisted on going to trial.
Id. at 59. The Hill Court reiterated that,
as stated in Strickland, “these predictions of
the outcome at a possible trial, where necessary, should be
made objectively ....” Id. at 59-60; see
also Padilla, 559 U.S. at 372 (noting that “to
obtain relief on this type of claim, a petitioner must
convince the court that a decision to reject the plea bargain
would have been rational under the circumstances”).
Motion and Supplemental Motion
Sanchez raises arguments under both the Fifth and Sixth
Amendments to the United States Constitution. First, he
argues that the Court should set aside his guilty plea in the
interest of justice for failing to allow him to represent
himself. Motion at 3. Second, he contends that he received
ineffective assistance of counsel . Id. at 4;
Supplemental Motion at 14.
Failure to allow Espejo Sanchez to represent himself
Sanchez first argues that he was denied his Sixth Amendment
right to “Self-Representation.” Motion at 3. He
states that he made numerous requests to represent himself,
explaining why he chose to do so, which were all denied by
the Court. Id.
Sanchez bases his argument on Faretta v. California,
422 U.S. 806 (1975), in which the Supreme Court held that a
state could not force counsel on a defendant who voluntarily
and intelligently chooses to represent himself. Id.
at 807. “It is well-settled that the Sixth Amendment
encompasses a right to self-representation by criminal
defendants.” United States v. Gomez-Rosario,
418 F.3d 90, 95 (1st Cir. 2005)(citing Faretta, 422
U.S. at 814-17). The right to self-representation is not
absolute, however. “[I]n order to represent himself,
the accused must ‘knowingly and intelligently'
forgo those relinquished benefits [associated with the right
to counsel].” Faretta, 422 U.S. at 835
(quoting Johnson v. Zerbst, 304 U.S. 458, 464-65
(1938)). A self-represented defendant must be able and
willing to abide by rules of trial procedure and courtroom
protocol. McKaskle v. Wiggins, 465 US. 168, 173
(1984); Faretta, 422 U.S. at 836. Moreover, a court
may appoint “standby counsel” to assist the
defendant, McKaskle, 465 US. at 170;
Faretta, 422 U.S. at 834 n.46, even if the defendant
objects, Gomez-Rosario, 418 F.3d at 99.
defendant's invocation of the right to
self-representation must be contained in ‘unequivocal
language.'” United States v. Robinson, 753
F.3d 31, 42 (1st Cir. 2014)(quoting United States v.
Woodward, 291 F.3d 95, 109 (1st Cir. 2002)). The Court
of Appeals for the First Circuit has further stated that:
[W]hen a defendant seeks to proceed pro se the trial judge
must determine whether the defendant's waiver is
intelligent and competent. In discharging this
responsibility, the trial judge must keep in mind the strong
presumption against waiver and investigate as long and as
thoroughly as the circumstances of the case before him
demand. As part of the inquiry into whether the
defendant's waiver is intelligent, the trial judge must
warn the defendant of the dangers and disadvantages of
self-representation, so that the record will establish that
[the defendant] knows what he is doing and his choice is made
with eyes open.
United States v. Francois, 715 F.3d 21, 30 (1st Cir.
2013)(second alteration in original)(internal citations and
quotation marks omitted); see also Robinson, 753
F.3d at 42 (“Before allowing pro se representation ...
a trial judge must make sure that certain prerequisites have
been satisfied because an individual who undertakes
self-representation is at a significant disadvantage compared
to someone defended by counsel.”).
are several problems with Espejo Sanchez's argument.
First, it appears that he sought to represent himself in CR
No. 13-32-ML, not in the case currently before the court. On
May 20, 2013, Espejo Sanchez filed a Motion to Appoint New
Counsel (Doc. #21 in CR No. 13-32-ML). Subsequently, on
September 3, 2013, he filed a Motion for a Change of Counsel
(Doc. #35 in CR No. 13-32-ML). Both motions were denied after
hearing. See Docket in CR No. 13-32-ML. Espejo
Sanchez filed no motions with respect to counsel in the
instant matter. See Docket in CR No. 14-78-ML.
addition, although he included a request in the alternative
to proceed pro se in the second motion, Espejo
Sanchez did not press that argument at the hearing on the
motion, Response to Motion, Ex. 1, September 23, 2013,
Hearing Transcript (Doc. #12-1) (“9/23/13 Hrng.
Tr.”). Therefore, it cannot be said that Espejo
Sanchez's “invocation of the right to
self-representation” was “contained in
unequivocal language.” Robinson, 753 F.3d at
42 (internal quotation marks omitted). Further, the Court was
denied the opportunity to make a determination as to whether
any potential waiver of the right to counsel would have been
knowingly, intelligently, and competently made. See
id. at 43; Francois, 715 F.3d at 30.
Espejo Sanchez's current claim appears to be a case of
“sour grapes.” In his Motion for a Change of
Counsel, Espejo Sanchez argued that:
In this case now before this Court, Counsel has not
entertained any pre-trial motions; nor hired an investigator
to look into the very serious issue of an illegal search and
seizure matter that the defendant has been trying to question
his Counsel about since day one in this case, and a host of
other matters as well ....
for Change in Counsel. At the hearing on the motion, Espejo
Sanchez brought up the search and seizure of the vehicle,
asserting that he had a valid basis to challenge it. 9/23/13
Hrng. Tr. at 2.
exchanges are particularly relevant to the issue of
self-representation. After asking Espejo Sanchez if he had
discussed the search and seizure issue with counsel and
receiving an affirmative response, the Court stated:
THE COURT: And has she told you that she does not believe you
have a valid basis for the filing of such a motion?
THE DEFENDANT: Yes, your Honor.
THE COURT: And what legal training do you have that makes you
a better judge of whether or not you have such a legal basis
for that motion?
THE DEFENDANT: Well, none, your Honor.
THE COURT: So what's the point?
9/23/13 Hrng. Tr. at 2-3. After admitting that the car
belonged to his co-defendant, Doneri Sandoval, the Court
advised Espejo Sanchez that he could not assert Mr.
Sandoval's rights. Id. at 6. Espejo Sanchez
continued to press the issue:
THE DEFENDANT: Well, there could be other ways we can -- I
THE COURT: That's the problem, Mr. Espejo. You don't
know. You're trying to play lawyer, and you're not
very good at it.
Id. The Court subsequently stated:
THE COURT: [I]f what you have is a disagreement about whether
or not you've got these Fourth Amendment issues, which
you've already admitted you're not a trained
attorney, she has ...