United States District Court, D. Rhode Island
J. McConnell, Jr., United States District Judge.
Garcia Montero files her petition for post-conviction relief
after having plead guilty to a drug charge. She claims
ineffective assistance of counsel. Finding no basis for
granting the extraordinary relief, the Court DENIES her
Motion to Vacate. ECF No. 15.
Government indicted Ms. Garcia-Montero along with eight
others allegedly involved in the so-called Valdez drug
trafficking organization. C.A. No. 17" cr-37-JJM-LDA.
Count I, the only count to apply to Ms. Garcia-Montero,
alleged that she knowingly conspired with others to
distribute, and possessed with intent to distribute, heroin,
fentanyl, cocaine base, and cocaine.
months later after extensive discovery and plea negotiations,
the Government filed a one-count Information against Ms,
Garcia-Montero alleging that she conspired to distribute and
to possess with intent to distribute heroin in violation of
21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(B) and § 846. It
carried a maximum period of imprisonment of 40 years and a
minimum mandatory of 5 years. The parties filed a Plea
Agreement to this single count Information at the same time.
ECF No. 2.
Plea Agreement called for Ms. Garcia"Montero to plead
guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute or possess
with intent to deliver 100 grams or more of heroin. ECF No. 2
at 1. In exchange, the Government would dismiss similar
violations involving fentanyl, cocaine base, and cocaine.
Furthermore, the Government would agree not to charge Ms.
Garcia-Montero with an "enhanced sentence under 21
U.S.C. § 851 which would require the court to impose a
10-jrear minimum mandatory term of
imprisonment." Id. at 4.
Court conducted a change of plea hearing. ECF No. 19. At that
hearing, Ms. Garcia-Montero testified under oath that she
voluntarily signed the Plea Agreement,  that she was
fully satisfied with her attorney's representation, that
she understood there was a 5-year mandatory minimum,
that she waived her right to appeal. She acknowledged that
the plea was not coerced, that she was fully informed about
the consequences of her plea, and that she had determined
that pleading guilty was in her personal best interest.
THE COURT: Has anyone in any way, Ms. Montero, attempted to
force you to plead guilty or threatened you in any way to get
you to plead guilty?
THE DEFENDANT: No. THE COURT: Has anyone made any promises or
assurances to you other than what's contained in the plea
agreement in order to get you to plead guilty?
THE DEFENDANT: No. THE COURT: So are you knowingly and
voluntarily changing your plea to guilty now because you
believe it's in your best interest to do so at this time?
THE DEFENDANT: Yes.
Id. at 12-13.
Garcia-Montero also admitted as true the facts that the
Government stated, including that she intentionally was
involved in a conspiracy to distribute 100 grams or more of
[THE GOVERNMENT] The United States would have demonstrated
the following facts beyond a reasonable doubt-' That from
at least September 1st, 2016, up to and including April 17th,
2017, the Defendant knowingly and intentionally participated
in a conspiracy in the states and districts of Rhode Island,
Connecticut and Massachusetts with Juan Valdez, Claudio
Valdez, Hector Valdez, with whom-I'm sorry, and Tanya
Croteau to supply the Defendants' customers, who were
themselves lower-level drug dealers, with heroin. She used a
drug courier, Croteau, to deliver the heroin. The Defendant
assisted her co-conspirators by, among other things,
monitoring customer satisfaction with the heroin and
reporting back to Juan Valdez which allowed him to adjust the
strength of the product. The conspiracy of which the
Defendant was part of involved 100 grams or more of heroin
which was reasonably foreseeable to her.
THE COURT: You also heard the facts that the Government would
prove if this case were to go to trial. Do you admit the
facts as stated by the Government as true?
THE DEFENDANT: Yes.
Garcia-Moreno then plead guilty and the Court found her plea to
be a fully informed, knowing, and voluntary plea supported by
THE COURT: The Court has heard from the Government the
evidence it would present if this matter were to go to trial.
The Court has questioned the Defendant regarding her
understanding of the nature of these proceedings and the
consequences of entering a plea of guilty to the charge. It
is, therefore, the finding of this Court in the case of the
United States v. Alexandra Garcia Montero that the
Defendant is fully competent and capable of entering an
informed plea, that the Defendant is aware of the nature of
the charges and the consequences of the plea and that the
plea of guilty is a knowing and voluntary plea supported by
an independent basis in fact containing each of the essential
elements of the charge; and, therefore, the plea is accepted,
and the Defendant is now adjudged guilty of that offense.
ECF No. 19 at 21-22.
sentencing, Ms. Garcia-Montero's attorney filed a
Sentencing Memorandum. ECF No. 5.
sentencing, Ms. Garcia-Moreno's attorney made a
presentation to the Court highlighting mitigating factors
from Ms. Garcia-Moreno's background and highlighting
relevant 18 U.S.C. § 3553 factors.
Court then sentenced Ms. Garcia-Moreno to 60 months of
imprisonment. ECF No. 23.
Ms. Garcia-Montero seeks to vacate her judgment of conviction
because she alleges that her counsel was constitutionally
ineffective. She alleges that her attorney did not: (1) show
her the Pre-Sentence Report (PSR) (ECF No. 15 at 13); (2)
file an appeal (Id., at 4); (3) object to the
incorrect drug weight triggering a mandatory minimum sentence
(Id., at 5); (4) request the "Fast-Track
Program" (Id. at 6, 14); and (5) raise
mitigating factors at sentencing. Id. at 8. The
Government objected to Ms. Garcia-Montero's Motion. ECF
2255 provides for post-conviction relief if a court sentenced
a petitioner in violation of the Constitution or if the
sentence is otherwise subject to collateral attack.
United States v. Addonizio, 442 U.S. 178, 185
(1979); David v. United States, 134 F.3d 470, 474
(1st Cir. 1998). In seeking to attack collaterally his
sentence, the petitioner bears the burden of proving
"exceptional circumstances" that call for redress
under § 2255. See Hill v. United States, 368
U.S. 424, 428 (1962); Mack v. United States, 635
F.2d 20, 26-27 (1st Cir. 1980). For example, an error of law
must be a "fundamental defect which inherently results
in a complete miscarriage of justice." Hill,
368 U.S. at 428; accord David, 134 F.3d at 474.
Sixth Amendment guarantees defendants the right to effective
assistance of counsel. Lema v. United States, 987
F.2d 48, 51 (1st Cir. 1993) (citing Strickland v.
Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984)). Even so,
"[t]he Constitution does not guarantee a defendant a
letter-perfect defense or a successful defense! rather, the
performance standard is that of reasonably effective
assistance under the circumstances then obtaining."
United States v. Natanel, 938 F.2d 302, 309-10 (1st
defendant who claims that he was deprived of his Sixth
Amendment right to 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, 466 U.S. at 687-88, 694; see also
United States v. Manon, 608 F.3d 126, 131 (1st Cir.
same principle applies in the context of guilty pleas.
See Hill v. Lockhart, 474 U.S. 52, 57 (1985). The
Lockhart 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
[Lockhart, the Court recognized—'for the
first time—that Strickland applies to advice
respecting a guilty plea."). In the context of guilty
pleas, the first prong of the Strickland test is
just a restatement of the standard of attorney competence
described above. Lockhart, 474 U.S. at 58.
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 ...