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United States v. Guillen-Moreno

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

November 7, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff/Respondent,
v.
MAYRA GUILLEN-MORENO, Defendant/Movant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

          NELVA GONZALES RAMOS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Defendant/Movant Mayra Guillen-Moreno filed a motion to vacate, set aside, or correct sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. D.E. 287. Now pending is the United States of America's (the "Government") Motion to Dismiss (D.E. 295), to which Movant has responded (D.E. 296). For the reasons stated herein, the Government's motion is GRANTED, and Movant's § 2255 motion is DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Movant and six others were charged in a 13-count indictment with conspiracy to transport unlawful aliens and transporting specific aliens. The charges against Movant included conspiracy to transport unlawful aliens between January 1 and July 24, 2017, (Count 1) and transporting Antonio Mejia-Santos, an unlawful alien, on July 24, 2017, (Count 13). The Superseding Indictment also included a Notice of Forfeiture against all seven defendants.

         Movant pled guilty to Count 1 of the Superseding Indictment (conspiracy) pursuant to a written plea agreement. In exchange for her guilty plea, the Government agreed to dismiss Count 13 (transporting Mejia-Santos) and recommend that Movant receive maximum credit for acceptance of responsibility and a sentence within the applicable guideline range. As part of the plea agreement, Movant waived her right to appeal or file a motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, except to raise a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel.

         At rearraignment, Movant stipulated to her involvement in the alien smuggling operation. 9/28/2017 Rearraign. Tr., D.E. 267, pp. 29-34. The attorney for the Government stated that Movant's role in the conspiracy was to run a stash house where undocumented aliens were held before transport through checkpoints and onward into the United States. Prior to Movant's arrest, an undocumented alien/material witness told investigators that Movant was the caretaker and coordinator of the stash house where he was held and that while he was there, other undocumented aliens came and frequently conversed with Movant about her smuggling activities. According to the material witness, Movant kept a ledger at her residence with names of undocumented aliens she had housed. Four other undocumented aliens who were apprehended in an 18-wheeler at the Falfurrias Border Patrol Checkpoint identified Movant in a lineup as the caretaker of the stash house where they stayed after they had crossed into the United States.

         At the time agents executed a warrant for Movant's arrest, she had five undocumented aliens at her house. A search of the residence uncovered a handgun and a ledger used to track names of aliens and specific dollar amounts. Movant made a statement at the time of her arrest admitting that she had harbored around 240 aliens in her residence over the past 6 months and had been paid a total of $12, 000. Movant admitted under oath during rearraignment that what the prosecutor said about her involvement in the conspiracy was true and that she knew the people she was housing were in the United States illegally. The Court accepted Movant's guilty plea after finding that her plea was knowing and voluntary, and that it was supported by an adequate basis in fact.

         The Court sentenced Movant to 63 months' imprisonment. Judgment was entered January 12, 2018. Movant did not appeal. She filed her current motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 on July 10, 2019.

         II. MOVANT'S ALLEGATIONS

         Movant raises a single ground for relief: Counsel was ineffective for failing to investigate the facts of her case before she pled guilty to conspiracy to transport unlawful aliens. Unlike Movant, her codefendant Gerald Leon Graves went to trial. However, the Fifth Circuit later reversed Graves' conviction on two transporting counts after the Government conceded that there was no evidence at trial linking Graves to those two specific aliens. Movant argues that her conviction incorporates the same aliens, and there was no evidence that she knew they were undocumented. Thus, her conspiracy conviction must be vacated because she is "actually innocent" of this crime.

         III. ANALYSIS

         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) (per curiam). In addition, "a collateral challenge may not do service for an appeal." United States v. Frady, 456 U.S. 152, 165 (1982).

         B. Statute ...


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