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Muniz-Saavedra v. United States

United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Brownsville Division

November 21, 2019

VALENTIN MUNIZ-SAAVEDRA, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent.

          ORDER

          ROLANDO OLVERA UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court is the "Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation" ("R&R") (Docket No. 22) in the above-referenced civil action. Valentin Muniz-Saavedra ("Petitioner") filed his pro se "Response to the U.S. Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation Over a § 2255 Motion to Vacate Sentence" ("Petitioner's Objections") (Docket No. 29).[1] After a de novo review of the record, the R&R is hereby ADOPTED. Thus, Petitioner's "Motion Under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence by a Person in Federal Custody" ("§ 2255 Motion") (Docket No. 1) is DISMISSED with prejudice. A certificate of appealability shall not issue.

         I. BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On February 28, 2014, a jury found Petitioner guilty of the following counts:

• Count 2: Possession with intent to distribute a quantity more than five (5) kilograms that is, approximately 18 kilograms (39.6 pounds) of cocaine, a Schedule II controlled substance, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1), 841(b)(1)(A), and 18 U.S.C. § 2.
• Count 3: Possession with intent to distribute a quantity more than fifty (5) grams, that is, approximately 5.5 kilograms of methamphetamine, a Schedule II controlled substance, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1), 841(b)(1)(A), and 18 U.S.C. § 2.
• Count 5: Importation from a place outside the United States, that is, from the country of Mexico, a quantity more than five (5) kilograms, that is, approximately 18 kilograms (39.6 pounds) of cocaine, a Schedule II controlled substance, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 952(a), 960(b)(1) and 18 U.S.C. §2.
• Count 6: Importation from a place outside the United States, that is, from the country of Mexico, a quantity more than fifty (50) grams, that is, approximately 5.5 kilograms of methamphetamine, a Schedule II controlled substance, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 952(a), 960(b)(1) and 18 U.S.C. §2. CR Docket No. 63 at 4.[2] On December 1, 2015, Petitioner was sentenced to 210 months imprisonment on each of Counts 2, 3, 5, and 6 to be served concurrently, and 5 years of supervised release. CR Docket No. 97 at 2-4. Attorney Edward A. Stapleton ("Mr. Stapleton") represented Petitioner throughout trial and direct appeal. Id.

         On June 20, 2018, Petitioner filed his instant § 2255 Motion asserting five claims of ineffective assistance of counsel.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A prisoner in federal custody can move to vacate, set aside or correct their sentence when "the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a). Here, Petitioner asserts his Sixth Amendment right to counsel was violated because Mr. Stapleton: (1) failed to call Petitioner's wife to testify, (2) failed to present evidence to the jury to rebut the Government's allegation that Petitioner was a cocaine user, (3) failed to obtain Petitioner's financial documentation to counter the Government's allegation that Petitioner had economic motive, (4) failed to present medical records of severe respiratory ailment to the jury, and (5) failed to argue Petitioner's post-arrest offer to help law enforcement officers with information. See Docket Nos. 1, 22.

         Courts may consider ineffective-assistance claims brought forth in a § 2255 motion. Massaro v. United States, 538 U.S. 500, 508-09 (2003). To prevail on an ineffective assistance of counsel claim, a petitioner must show (1) counsel's representation fell below the objective standard of reasonableness, and (2) as a result, the petitioner was prejudiced. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687-88 (1984). Judicial scrutiny of counsel's performance "must be highly deferential," and the Court must make every effort "to eliminate the distorting effects of hindsight, to reconstruct the circumstances of counsel's challenged conduct, and to evaluate the conduct from counsel's perspective at the time." Id. at 689. To show prejudice, Petitioner must demonstrate "that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different. A reasonable probability is a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome." Id. at 694. In approaching the inquiry, "a court need not determine whether counsel's performance was deficient before examining the prejudice suffered by the defendant as a result of the alleged deficiencies." Id. at 697.

         A. Petitioner's Wife's Testimony

         In his first ground for relief, Petitioner alleges Mr. Stapleton's failure to call Petitioner's wife, Consuelo Muniz Sibaja ("Ms. Sibaja"), was constitutionally deficient.[3] Docket No. 29 at 3-4. Complaints of uncalled witnesses are not favored because the preservation of testimonial evidence is a matter of trial strategy and because allegations of what a witness would have testified are largely speculative. Coble v. Quarterman496 F.3d 430, 436 (5th Cir. 2007); see United States v. Cockrell,720 F.2d 1423, 1428 (5th Cir. 1985) (counselor's failure to call fact and character witnesses did not rise to the level of constitutionally ineffective assistance of counsel). Petitioner's claim that Mr. Stapleton was ineffective merely for failing to call a witness has no merit. Such trial strategy falls within counsel's domain and does not amount to ...


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