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United States v. Valencia

United States District Court, D. Nebraska

May 16, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
SERGIO VALENCIA, SR., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          John M. Gerrard, Chief United States District Judge

         This matter is before the Court upon initial review of the motion to vacate under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 filed by the defendant, Sergio Valencia, Sr. Filing 237. 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 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.

         BACKGROUND

         The defendant was indicted on one count of conspiracy to structure transactions in violation of 31 U.S.C. § 5313, one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1956, and one count of conspiring to distribute or possess with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of a mixture or substance containing methamphetamine in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 841. Filing 1. The defendant was offered at least one plea agreement, but refused it. See filing 208 at 22. The matter proceeded to trial, where the defendant was convicted of conspiring to commit money laundering and conspiring to distribute or possess with intent to distribute less than 50 grams of a mixture or substance containing methamphetamine. Filing 136.

         The defendant was sentenced to concurrent terms of 160 months' imprisonment. Filing 191 at 2. He appealed through trial counsel. Filing 199; see filing 205. But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed the judgment. United States v. Valencia, 733 Fed.Appx. 852, 854 (8th Cir. 2018). This timely § 2255 motion followed. Filing 237.

         DISCUSSION

         The defendant's motion presents two claims-one broad, one narrow-of ineffective assistance of counsel.[1] 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.

         1. "Counsel Was Ineffective for Continuous Attempts to Coerce a Guilty Plea Instead of Preparing an Adequate Defense and Strategy for Trial"

         The defendant's first claim of ineffective assistance of counsel is that trial counsel allegedly pressured him to plead guilty, instead of formulating a strategy to prevail at trial. See filing 237-1 at 6-13. But what the defendant's allegations demonstrate is not ineffective assistance of counsel-rather, they describe counsel giving the defendant good advice that he chose to disregard.[2]

         To begin with, the defendant starts his argument by asserting that "[s]o intent was counsel on persuading Valencia to take a plea that he communicated not one, two, or three offers, but as many as five. ..." Filing 237-1 at 6. But "defense counsel has the duty to communicate formal offers from the prosecution to accept a plea on terms and conditions that may be favorable to the accused." Missouri v. Frye, 566 U.S. 134, 145 (2012) (emphasis supplied). The defendant follows that up by contending that "[t]o coerce his client, after viewing available discovery, [trial counsel] told [the defendant] he 'was fu**ed' and would be looking at a minimum thirty (30) years to Life if he did not take a plea." Filing 237-1 at 7. But having presided over trial-and so, having seen the government's evidence in full-the Court finds it hard to disagree with that assessment. As the Eighth Circuit aptly summarized the case against the defendant:

The charges against Valencia arose after police executed a search warrant at Valencia's house in California. Police discovered methamphetamine, drug records, and approximately $4, 000 in cash. Valencia was present and admitted that he knowingly possessed the methamphetamine. At trial, a witness for the prosecution testified that he transported methamphetamine from California to Nebraska for Valencia at least six times, and that he deposited drug proceeds collected in Nebraska into banks accounts controlled by Valencia and his family. Another witness also participated in the cross-country deliveries and collections, and provided a substantially similar account. The government presented bank records ...

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