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United States v. Espinal-Rodriguez

United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Corpus Christi Division

September 25, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff/Respondent,
v.
BENJAMIN ESPINAL-RODRIGUEZ, Defendant/Movant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

          JOHN D. RAINEY, SENIOR U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE

         Defendant/Movant Benjamin Espinal-Rodriguez filed a motion to vacate, set aside, or correct sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (D.E. 25), to which the United States of America (the “Government”) responded (D.E. 28-1).[1]

         I. BACKGROUND

         On August 16, 2018, United States Border Patrol agents encountered Movant walking through the brush along Highway 77 near Sarita, Texas. Agents determined that Movant was a citizen of Honduras who was illegally present in the United States. He had previously been deported on May 21, 2010, after being convicted of first degree aggravated assault and first degree conspiracy to commit aggravated assault in Connecticut.

         On September 12, 2018, Movant was indicted for illegal reentry in violation of 8 U.S.C. § 1326. He pled guilty and was sentenced on January 23, 2019, to 20 months' imprisonment. Judgment was entered the following day. Movant did not appeal. His conviction therefore became final on February 7, 2019, the last day on which he could have filed a notice of appeal. See Fed. R. App. P. 4(b)(1)(A)(i); United States v. Plascencia, 537 F.3d 385, 388 (5th Cir. 2008). He filed the present motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 on April 15, 2019. It is timely.

         II. MOVANT'S ALLEGATION

         Movant claims that defense counsel was constitutionally ineffective because she allowed him to plead guilty to illegal reentry without moving to dismiss the Indictment on the basis that the charge was barred by the five-year statute of limitations under 18 U.S.C. § 3282(a).

         III. LEGAL STANDARDS

         A. 28 U.S.C. § 2255

         There are four cognizable grounds upon which a federal prisoner may move to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence: (1) constitutional issues, (2) challenges to the district court's jurisdiction to impose the sentence, (3) challenges to the length of a sentence in excess of the statutory maximum, and (4) claims that the sentence is otherwise subject to collateral attack. 28 U.S.C. § 2255; United States v. Placente, 81 F.3d 555, 558 (5th Cir. 1996). “Relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 is reserved for transgressions of constitutional rights and for a narrow range of injuries that could not have been raised on direct appeal and would, if condoned, result in a complete miscarriage of justice.” United States v. Vaughn, 955 F.2d 367, 368 (5th Cir. 1992).

         B. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

         An ineffective assistance of counsel allegation presented in a § 2255 motion is properly analyzed under the two-prong test set forth in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 689 (1984). United States v. Willis, 273 F.3d 592, 598 (5th Cir. 2001). To prevail on a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, a movant must demonstrate that his or her counsel's performance was both deficient and prejudicial. Id. This means that a movant must show that counsel's performance was outside the broad range of what is considered reasonable assistance and that this deficient performance led to an unfair and unreliable conviction and sentence. United States v. Dovalina, 262 F.3d 472, 474-75 (5th Cir. 2001).

         In reviewing ineffectiveness claims, “judicial scrutiny of counsel's performance must be highly deferential, ” and every effort must be made to eliminate “the distorting effects of hindsight.” Strickland, 466 U.S. at 689. An ineffective assistance claim focuses on “counsel's challenged conduct on the facts of the particular case, viewed as of the time of counsel's conduct[, ]” because “[i]t is all too tempting for a defendant to second-guess counsel's assistance after conviction or adverse sentence.” Id. at 689-90. With regard to the prejudice requirement, a movant must show that “there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different.” Id. at 694. “Failure to prove either deficient performance or actual prejudice is fatal to an ineffective assistance claim.” Carter v. Johnson, 131 F.3d 452, 463 (5th Cir. 1997). “A court need not address both components of the inquiry if the defendant makes an insufficient showing on one.” Armstead v. Scott, 37 F.3d 202, 210 (5th Cir. 1994).

         IV. ...


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