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United States v. Marandola

United States District Court, D. Rhode Island

March 29, 2019




         Louis Marandola has petitioned this Court under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to vacate, set aside, or correct his judgment of conviction, entered after he pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft. He now claims that the Court should vacate his conviction because his plea was not knowing, voluntary, and intelligent. The Co\irt has determined that no hearing is necessary. The Court finds that Mr. Marandola's Motion to Vacate (ECF No, 172) is procedurally barred and thus DISMISSES his petition.


         A federal grand jury sitting in the District of Rhode Island indicted Mr. Marandola on charges of conspiracy to commit bank fraud, (Count l), bank fraud (Counts 2-6), wire fraud (Counts 7-9), and aggravated identity theft (Counts 10, 12-13, 15-16, and 19).[1]

         Mr. Maranclola pleaded guilty to Counts 1 and 16, in exchange for the Government's agreement to dismiss the remaining co\mts. The Court sentenced him to two consecutive twenty-four-month terms of imprisonment and three years' supervised release on each count, to run concurrently. Mr. Marandola did not appeal. Mr. Marandola timely filed this Motion to Vacate.


         A. Section 2255

         Section 2255 provides for post-conviction relief only if the court sentenced a petitioner in violation of the Constitution or lacked jurisdiction to impose the sentence, if the sentence exceeded the statutory maximum, or if the sentence is otherwise subject to collateral attack. United States v. Addonizio, 422 U.S. 178, 185 (1979); David v. United States, 134 F.3d 470, 474 (1st Cir. 1998). In trying collaterally to attack 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.

         B. Procedural Default

         "Where a defendant has procedurally defaulted a claim by failing to raise it on direct review, the claim may be raised in habeas only if the defendant can first demonstrate either 'cause' and actual 'prejudice,' or that he is 'actually innocent' of the crimes for which he was convicted." Bousley v. United States, 523 U.S. 614, 622 (1998) (internal citations omitted); see also Colenwn v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 750 (1991); Murray v. Carrier, 477 U.S. 478, 496 (1986). "Cause" consists of "some objective factor external to the defensefj" Carrier, 477 U.S. at 488; see also Coleman, 501 U.S. at 753 (noting that, in Carrier, "[w]e explained clearly that 'cause' under the cause and prejudice test must be something externals the petitioner, something that cannot fairly be attributed to him"). To show prejudice, the "habeas petitioner must show 'not merely that the errors at ... trial created a possibility of prejudice, but that they worked to his actual and substantial disadvantage, infecting his entire trial with error of constitutional dimensions.'" Carrier, 477 U.S. at 494 (quoting United States v. Frady, 456 U.S. 152, 170 (l982))(alteration in original); see also Derman v. United States, 298 F.3cl 34, 45 (1st Cir. 2002)C'The showing of prejudice needed to cure a procedural default generally requires a habeas petitioner to demonstrate that there is a reasonable probability that the result of the trial would have been different absent the error. The question is not whether the petitioner, qua defendant, would more likely have received a different verdict had the error not occurred, but whether he received a fair trial, understood as a trial worthy of confidence, notwithstanding the bevue.") (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). The defendant must show both cause and prejudice. Carrier, 411 U.S. at 494; Derman, 298 F.3d at 45 (noting that petitioner bears burden of showing both cause and prejudice).

         The "actual innocence" standard established by the Supreme Court in Carrier "requires the habeas petitioner to show that a constitutional violation has probably resulted in the conviction of one who is actually innocent." Schlup v. Velo, 513 U.S. 298, 327 (1995). To show the requisite probability, "a petitioner must show that it is more likely than not that no reasonable juror would have found petitioner guilty beyond a reasonable doubt." Id. at 327. A credible claim of actual innocence "requires petitioner to support his allegations of constitutional error with new reliable evidence-whether it be exculpatory scientific evidence, trustworthy eyewitness accounts, or critical physical evidence-that was not presented at trial"). Id., at 324. The standard is "demanding and permits review only in the 'extraordinary' case." House v. Bell 547 U.S. 518, 538 (2006) (quoting Schlup, 513 U.S. at 327). '"[A]ctual innocence' means factual innocence, not mere legal insufficiency." Bousley, 523 U.S. at 623 (citing Sawyer v. Whitley, 505 U.S. 333, 339 (1992)). "In cases where the Government has forgone more serious charges in the course of plea bargaining, petitioner's showing of actual innocence must also extend to those charges." Id. at 624.


         As noted above, Mr. Marandola filed the Motion to Vacate (ECF No. 172), the Government then responded (ECF No. 184), and Mr. Marandola filed a reply ECF No. 189.

         Mr. Marandola alleges that he incorrectly understood the elements of the aggravated identity theft charge to which he pleaded guilty. ECF No. 172 at 3.[2] He also argues that he did not understand the statute's interpretation. Id. As a result, he contends, his plea was not knowing, voluntary, and intelligent. Id. Mr. Maranclola bases his argument on the fact that when he entered his plea "he relied ... on a statute that the First Circuit, subsequently, construed as ambiguous . . .." Id. at 4. The Government responds first that Mr. Marandola has procedurally defaulted his claim by not raising it on direct appeal, and, second, that the claim fails on the merits. ECF No. 184 at 1-2, 5-6. Before the Court may consider the merits of Mr. Marandola's claim, however, it must determine whether it is properly before the Court.

         Mr. Marandola argues that "a Petitioner in federal custody, may attack his conviction and sentence on the grounds that it is in violation of the United States Constitution, was imposed without jurisdiction, or exceeded the maximum penalty under U.S.C. §2255." ECF No. 189 at 1-2; see also 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a). That said, the Supreme Court

ha[s] strictly limited the circumstances under which a guilty plea may be attacked on collateral review. It is well settled that a voluntary and intelligent plea of guilty made by an accused person, who has been advised by competent counsel, may not be collaterally attacked. And even the voluntariness and intelligence of a guilty plea can be attacked on collateral review only if first challenged on direct ...

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