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Hernandez v. Tuna

United States District Court, W.D. Texas, El Paso Division

April 30, 2019

RAUL VALDEZ HERNANDEZ, Reg. No. 00901-408, Petitioner,
FCI LA TUNA, Respondent.



         On this day, the Court considered Petitioner Raul Valdez Hernandez's [“Petitioner”] pro se “Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus, Pursuant to the Second Chance Act of 2007, Reauthorized by the First Step Act of December 21, 2018” (ECF No. 1) [hereinafter “Petition”], filed on April 12, 2019, in the above-captioned cause. Therein, Petitioner asks the Court to grant him a sentence reduction. Pet. 1, Apr. 12, 2019, ECF No. 1. After due consideration, the Court is of the opinion that the Petition should be dismissed, for the reasons that follow.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Federal Bureau of Investigations (“FBI”) special agents identified Petitioner as the main source of methamphetamine in the Yavapai Apache Nation during a 2013 anti-drug initiative. United States v. Hernandez, 3:13-CR-8066-DGC-1 (D. Ariz.), United States' Sentencing Mem. 1, August 13, 2014, ECF No. 58.[1] The FBI special agents worked with a confidential source who purchased methamphetamine from Petitioner on February 5, 2013, for $290.00; on February 12, 2013, for $250.00; on February 18, 2013, for $320.00; and on March 26, 2013, for $480.00. Id.

         Petitioner pleaded guilty on May 23, 2014, pursuant to a Plea Agreement, to possession with the intent to distribute methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a) and 941(b)(1)(C). Id., J. Crim. Case, Jan. 9, 2015, ECF No. 69. In the Plea Agreement, the parties stipulated “that the Defendant shall receive a sentence of not less than 10 years, but no greater than 15 years, imprisonment.” Id., Plea Agreement 3, Jan. 5, 2015, ECF No. 71. The court accepted Petitioner's plea and sentenced him, apparently in accordance with the terms of the Plea Agreement, to 120 months' imprisonment. Id., J. Crim. Case.

         Petitioner is now a prisoner confined at the La Tuna Federal Correctional Institution in Anthony, Texas.[2] In his Petition, he asks the Court to reduce his sentence “under the First Step Act's sentencing reform provisions.” Pet. 2. Specifically, he “avers” that the Act reduced the “Mandatory Minimum penalties for some drug offenders like him.” Id. Additionally, Petitioner notes that the Act also “increase[d] the number of offenders eligible for relief” under “Safety Valve.” Id.

         It is not clear whether Petitioner seeks relief through a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241, a motion to modify a sentence pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3582, or a pleading pursuant to the First Step Act.


         A. 28 U.S.C. § 2241

          “A section 2241 petition for habeas corpus on behalf of a sentenced prisoner attacks the manner in which his sentence is carried out or the prison authorities' determination of its duration.” Pack v. Yusuff, 218 F.3d 448, 451 (5th Cir. 2000) (citations omitted). To prevail, a § 2241 petitioner must show that he is “in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 2241(c). A § 2241 petitioner may make this attack only in the district court with jurisdiction over his custodian. United States v. Cleto, 956 F.2d 83, 84 (5th Cir. 1992).

         During its initial screening of a habeas corpus petition, a reviewing court accepts a petitioner's allegations as true. 28 U.S.C. § 2243; Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007). Additionally, a reviewing court evaluates a petition presented by a pro se petitioner under a more lenient standard than it would apply to a petition submitted by counsel. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). A court must “award the writ or issue an order directing the respondent to show cause why the writ should not be granted, unless it plainly appears from the petition and any attached exhibits that the petitioner is not entitled to relief.” 28 U.S.C. foll. § 2254 R. 4; see id. R. 1(b) (explaining the Rules Governing § 2254 Cases in the United States District Courts are applicable to § 2241 petitions).

         B. 18 U.S.C. § 3582

         A district court generally may not modify a sentence because “a judgment of conviction that includes [a sentence of imprisonment] constitutes a final judgment.” Dillon v. United States, 560 U.S. 817, 824 (2010) (quoting § 3582(b)). Nevertheless, under an exception to the general rule in 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2), a court may modify a defendant's sentence “when it is for ‘a term of imprisonment based on a sentencing range that has subsequently been lowered by the Sentencing Commission.'” United States v. Doublin, 572 F.3d 235, 237 (2009) (quoting 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2)). However, a court may reduce an otherwise final sentence under a Guidelines amendment only if the reduction is consistent with the Sentencing Commission's relevant policy statement-contained in Sentencing Guideline § 1B1.10-and after considering the sentencing factors in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a). Dillon, 560 U.S. at 821.

         The § 3553(a) factors include “the nature and circumstances of the offense and the history and characteristics of the defendant” and “the need for the sentence imposed . . . to protect the public from further crimes of the defendant.” 18 U.S.C. §§ 3553(a)(1), (a)(2)(C). “The court may also consider the defendant's post-sentencing conduct in determining whether a reduction is warranted.” United States v. Rios, 657 Fed.Appx. 255, 258 (5th Cir. 2016) (quoting U.S. Sentencing Guidelines Manual § 1B1.10, cmt. n.1(B)(iii) (U.S. Sentencing Comm'n 2010)).

         “These ameliorative amendments to the Guidelines do not create a right to a sentence reduction.” United States v. Osborn, 679 F.3d 1193, 1196 (10th Cir. 2012). Rather, even if a defendant is eligible, “the decision whether to reduce a sentence is left to the sound discretion of the trial court” and is reviewed “for abuse of discretion only.” United States v. Gonzalez-Balderas, 105 F.3d 981, 982 (5th Cir. 1997).

         III. ...

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