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United States v. Echevarria-Antuna

March 24, 2010

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF
v.
JASON ECHEVARRIA-ANTUNA, DEFENDANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: James Knoll Gardner, United States District Judge

OPINION

This matter is before the court on the pro se Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence filed May 9, 2007 pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 by defendant Jason Echevarria-Antuna. On September 15, 2008, the Government's Response to Defendant's Pro Se Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence was filed.

For the following reasons, I deny defendant's Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence, and I deny a certificate of appealability.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On August 30, 2005, a federal grand jury in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania returned a four-count Indictment charging defendant with two counts of distribution of cocaine in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(C) (Counts One and Two); one count of possession with intent to distribute marijuana in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) (Count Three); and one count of felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) (Count Four).

On February 6, 2006, pursuant to a written guilty plea agreement, defendant entered pleas of guilty to all four counts. On May 16, 2006, I sentenced defendant to 151 months incarceration, 3 years of supervised release, a $5,000 fine and a $400 special assessment. At all relevant times, defendant was represented by court-appointed counsel, Peter David Maynard, Esquire. Defendant did not appeal his conviction or sentence.

On May 9, 2007, defendant filed the within habeas corpus motion, together with Petitioner's Memorandum of Law and Facts in Support of § 2255 Motion to Vacate/ Correct/ Set Aside Sentence and numerous appendices. The government responded in opposition to the motion on September 15, 2008. Hence this Opinion.

CONTENTIONS OF THE PARTIES

Defendant's Contentions

Defendant advances two grounds in support of his motion. First, the motion refers to attached exhibits, which include his memorandum of law. The memorandum contends that this court lacks jurisdiction over this matter. Specifically, he argues that the criminal jurisdiction statute, 18 U.S.C. § 3231, never passed both houses of Congress in 1948 and is therefore void because it was not enacted constitutionally.

Defendant's motion also asserts ineffectiveness of counsel as its second ground. In support of this contention, defendant avers that Attorney Maynard "didn't file motion or assist me in anything". (Defendant's motion, page 6.) The motion offers no specific facts in support of this contention, and defendant's memorandum does not address this claim.

Government's Contentions

The government contends that defendant's motion should be denied for three reasons. First, the government argues that the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has specifically held that the jurisdiction argument is frivolous, and that § 3231 was properly enacted and is applicable. Thus, the government contends that this court properly has jurisdiction over defendant's criminal case.

Second, the government contends that defendant's ineffectiveness assistance of counsel claim should be denied because, by the terms of his guilty plea agreement, defendant waived the right to appeal or collaterally challenge his conviction or sentence in this matter except in certain, limited circumstances which do not apply here. The government avers that defendant knowingly entered a valid guilty plea, which included appellate waiver provisions, and that there is no circumstance amounting to a miscarriage of justice which would invalidate the waiver. Thus, the government contends that defendant's ineffective assistance claim is waived and should be dismissed.

Third, the government asserts that even if I were to consider the ineffective assistance claim on the merits, it should be denied because defendant has not presented a legitimate argument. Specifically, the government avers that defendant's motion fails to offer any factual or legal support for his claim, and did not address it in his brief. Thus, the government contends, defendant has not shown that Attorney Maynard's performance was objectively deficient or that, but for counsel's deficiency, the results of defendant's case would have been different.

Additionally, the government avers that in his guilty plea agreement, defendant represented that he was satisfied with Attorney Maynard's representation, that he had discussed the plea agreement with his attorney fully, and that he was pleading guilty because he was, in fact, guilty. Therefore, the government argues that the ineffective assistance claim could also be denied on the merits.

Finally, the government contends that a certificate of appealability should not issue because defendant has not made a substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right. For the following reasons, I agree with the government.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Section 2255 of Title 28 of the United States Code provides federal prisoners with a vehicle for challenging an unlawfully imposed sentence. Section 2255 provides:

A prisoner in custody under sentence of a court established by Act of Congress claiming the right to be released upon the ground that the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States, or that the court was without jurisdiction to impose such a sentence, or that the sentence was in excess of the maximum authorized by law, or is otherwise subject to collateral attack, may move the court which imposed the sentence to vacate, set aside or correct the sentence.

28 U.S.C. § 2255.

A motion to vacate sentence under § 2255 "is addressed to the sound discretion of the court." United States v. Williams, 615 F.2d 585, 591 (3d Cir. 1980). A petitioner may prevail on a § 2255 habeas claim only by demonstrating that an error of law was constitutional, jurisdictional, "a fundamental defect which inherently results in a complete miscarriage of justice", or an "omission inconsistent with the rudimentary demands of fair procedure". Hill v. United States, 368 U.S. 424, 428, 82 S.Ct. 468, 471, 7 L.Ed.2d 417, 421 (1962).

DISCUSSION

Jurisdiction Defendant first argues that 18 U.S.C. § 3231, which confers on the federal courts subject matter jurisdiction over federal criminal matters, was not properly enacted and therefore is unenforceable. Thus, defendant contends that this court never had jurisdiction over his criminal case. The government avers that this argument is frivolous. I agree.

Section 3231 provides that "The district courts of the United States shall have original jurisdiction, exclusive of the courts of the States, of all offenses against the laws of the United States." 18 U.S.C. § 3231. Therefore, "where an indictment charges a defendant with violating the laws of the United States, section 3231 provides the district court with subject matter jurisdiction and empowers it to enter judgment on the indictment." United States v. Potts, 251 Fed.Appx. 109, 111 (3d Cir. 2007).

According to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, "The 1948 amendment to [section 3231], Public Law 80-772, passed both houses of Congress and was signed into law by President Truman on June 25, 1948" and, therefore, was constitutionally enacted and is enforceable. Potts, 251 Fed.Appx. at 111. See also United States v. Risquet, 426 F.Supp.2d 310, 311 (E.D.Pa. 2006)(Katz, S.J.). Thus, the statute relied upon for jurisdiction in this case was properly enacted and is binding. See United States v. Abdullah, 289 Fed.Appx. 541, 543 n.1 (3d Cir. 2008).

Moreover, even if the 1948 amendment to § 3231 were somehow defective, this court would retain jurisdiction over this case because "the predecessor to § 3231...provides for such jurisdiction as well." Id.

Accordingly, I deny defendant's motion to the extent it challenges this court's subject matter jurisdiction over his criminal case.

Assistance of Counsel

Second, defendant alleges ineffective assistance of counsel because his trial attorney "didn't file motion or assist me in anything." He offers no specific averments in support of this contention, and his memorandum of law does not address this issue in any fashion. In response, the government contends that defendant entered a valid, enforceable waiver of his right to ...


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