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United States v. Meza-Lopez

United States District Court, D. Nebraska

April 11, 2018



          John M. Gerrard United States District Judge

         This matter is before the Court upon initial review of the pro se motion to vacate under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (filing 133) filed by the defendant, Jose Luis Meza-Lopez. The motion was timely filed less than 1 year after the defendant's conviction became final. See § 2255(f). The Court's initial review is governed by Rule 4(b) of the Rules Governing Section 2255 Proceedings for the United States District Courts, which provides:

The judge who receives the motion must promptly examine it. If it plainly appears from the motion, any attached exhibits, and the record of prior proceedings that the moving party is not entitled to relief, the judge must dismiss the motion and direct the clerk to notify the moving party. If the motion is not dismissed, the judge must order the United States attorney to file an answer, motion, or other response within a fixed time, or to take other action the judge may order.

         A § 2255 movant is entitled to an evidentiary hearing unless the motion and the files and records of the case conclusively show that the movant is entitled to no relief. § 2255(b); Sinisterra v. United States, 600 F.3d 900, 906 (8th Cir. 2010). Accordingly, a motion to vacate under § 2255 may be summarily dismissed without a hearing if (1) the movant's allegations, accepted as true, would not entitle the movant to relief, or (2) the allegations cannot be accepted as true because they are contradicted by the record, inherently incredible, or conclusions rather than statements of fact. Engelen v. United States, 68 F.3d 238, 240 (8th Cir. 1995); see also Sinisterra, 600 F.3d at 906.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The defendant was charged with conspiracy to distribute 500 grams or more of methamphetamine and conspiracy to launder money. Filing 1. Generally, the scheme involved the defendant loading methamphetamine into cars at his home in Phoenix, Arizona, so that couriers could deliver them to Ramon Garcia in Lincoln, Nebraska. See filing 84 at 20. The cars were then returned by Garcia to the defendant, containing cash. Seefiling 84 at 20.

         The defendant pled guilty to both counts, without a plea agreement. Filing 77. The presentence report (PSR) found that the defendant was responsible for 17.45 kg of methamphetamine, based on findings made in another case involving the same conspiracy. Filing 110 at 6; see United States v. Garcia, 774 F.3d 472, 474 (8th Cir. 2014). Based a total offense level of 37 and a criminal history category I, the PSR found a guideline imprisonment range of 210 to 262 months. Filing 110 at 11. On January 9, 2015, the Court adopted the presentence report, filing 115 at 1, and sentenced the defendant to 210 months imprisonment on each count, with the sentences to run concurrently, filing 114 at 2. The defendant appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, which affirmed his convictions and sentence. See United States v. Meza-Lopez, 808 F.3d 743 (8th Cir. 2015).


         The defendant's § 2255 motion (filing 133) raises three claims: (1) ineffective assistance of counsel, (2) eligibility for a minor role reduction pursuant to U.S.S.G. Amendment 794, and (3) violation of "Fed. R. Crim. P. 32(c)(3)(D)" (recodified as Fed. R. Crim. P. 32(i)(3)(B)).

         1. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

         To establish a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, the defendant must show that his attorney's performance was deficient and that this prejudiced his defense. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984). Deficient performance can be shown by demonstrating that counsel's performance fell below an objective standard of reasonableness. Id. at 688. However, the Court's scrutiny of counsel's performance is highly deferential, because the Court must indulge a strong presumption that counsel's conduct falls within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance. Id. at 689.

         To satisfy the prejudice prong of Strickland, the defendant must show that counsel's error actually had an adverse effect on the defense. Gregg v. United States, 683 F.3d 941, 944 (8th Cir. 2012). The defendant must do more than show that the errors had some conceivable effect on the outcome of the proceeding. Id. Rather, the defendant 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. A "reasonable probability" is less than "more likely than not, " but it is more than a possibility; it must be sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome of the case. Paul v. United States, 534 F.3d 832, 837 (8th Cir. 2008).

         (a) Drug Quantity Calculation

         The defendant's primary argument for ineffective assistance of counsel is based on counsel's failure to object to the drug quantity calculation in the PSR. He complains both of counsel's failure "to object [to] the reliability of the information used to calculate the drug quantity attributed to" him, and "to challenge the amount of methamphetamine attributed to" him. Filing 136 at 3, 5. He also contends that counsel was ineffective in "failing to challenge laboratory reports, " although his argument is really that counsel should have challenged the sufficiency of the evidence to support a finding that all the methamphetamine allegedly distributed by the conspiracy would have been of the same purity as the quantity that was actually seized and tested. Filing 136 at 6-7. And he couches the ...

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