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United States of America v. Luis Manuel Rodriguez

July 18, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rufe, J.


Pending before the Court are Luis Manuel Rodriguez's ("Petitioner" or "Defendant") Habeas Corpus Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255*fn1 and the Government's Motion to Dismiss Petitioner's § 2255 motion.*fn2


On September 27, 2006, along with two co-defendants, Petitioner was indicted by a federal grand jury charging Petitioner with conspiracy to distribute 50 grams or more of cocaine base ("crack") and heroin, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846 (Count I) and six substantive counts for separate sales of crack in furtherance of the conspiracy, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841 (a)(1), (b)(1)(B), and (b)(1)(C).*fn3 The indictment also set forth a notice of forfeiture arising from the conspiracy charge, charging criminal forfeiture under 21 U.S.C. § 853.

Within the two years prior to the federal indictment, Petitioner was convicted in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas of four offenses for manufacture, delivery and/or possession with intent to manufacture or deliver a controlled substance.*fn4 For three of those offenses, Petitioner was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of 6 to 12 months, and for one such offense, Petitioner was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of 6 to 23 months.*fn5 Because of these prior convictions, Petitioner faced a federal statutory mandatory minimum sentence of life imprisonment on Count I of the federal indictment.*fn6

On July 18, 2008, Petitioner entered into a written plea agreement with the Government.*fn7 At the time, Petitioner was represented by Court-appointed counsel, Edward F. Borden, Jr.*fn8 Under the terms of the Guilty Plea Agreement, Petitioner agreed to plead guilty to all Counts of the indictment, not to contest forfeiture, and to pay a special assessment of $100 for each of the 7 Counts, for a total of $700.*fn9 The Plea Agreement also provided that prior to Defendant's entry of plea, the Government would file an Information under 21 U.S.C. § 851, which would list only one prior state felony drug conviction rather than all of Petitioner's prior felony convictions.*fn10

Had the Information listed two or more prior felony convictions, Petitioner would have been subject to a mandatory minimum sentence of life imprisonment on Count I of the indictment.*fn11

The Plea Agreement clearly stated that inclusion of a prior felony in the Information subjected Petitioner to a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years imprisonment.*fn12

On July 17, 2008, a day before Petitioner signed the Plea Agreement and this Court held a Change of Plea Hearing, the Government filed an Information Charging Prior Offenses asserting that, on June 29, 2005, Petitioner was sentenced to 6 to 23 months imprisonment following his conviction on a felony controlled substance charge-manufacturing, delivering, or possession with intent to manufacture or deliver a controlled substance.*fn13 The Information was served on Petitioner's attorney that same day.*fn14

Thus, under the Plea Agreement and Information, Petitioner faced a statutory mandatory minimum of 20 years imprisonment and 10 years supervised release on Count I.*fn15 On Count II, Petitioner faced a minimum of six years supervised release if Petitioner was also sentenced to a term of imprisonment under that Count, with no statutory minimum term of imprisonment.*fn16

And on each of Counts III through VII, he faced a statutory mandatory minimum of 10 years imprisonment and eight years supervised release.*fn17 Petitioner faced a statutory maximum of life imprisonment, up to lifetime supervised release, and a fine of up to $8 million on Count I; a statutory maximum of 30 years imprisonment and a fine of up to $2 million on Count II; and a maximum of life imprisonment and a fine of up to $4 million or twice the amount of loss or gain caused by the offense, whichever is greater, on each of Counts III through VII.*fn18 The Plea Agreement laid out these statutory maximum and minimum sentences in detail, and provided that "defendant understands, agrees and has had explained to him by counsel that the Court may impose those statutory maximum and mandatory minimum sentences . . . ."*fn19

The Plea Agreement did not restrict the Government from making sentencing recommendations that diverged from the statutory minimum sentences or from otherwise commenting on facts relevant to sentencing.*fn20 The Agreement stipulated that either party was free to argue the applicability of any other provision of the Sentencing Guidelines, including criminal history, and adjustments and departures from the Guidelines.*fn21 Further, the Parties stipulated in the Agreement that more than 50 grams of crack were distributed in furtherance of the conspiracy, that the Sentencing Guidelines' range to be applied would be based on distribution of that amount, and that Petitioner was eligible for a 3-level downward adjustment under Section 3E1.1(a) and (b) of the Guidelines because he accepted responsibility and assisted in the investigation and prosecution of his misconduct by timely notifying the Government of his intent to plead guilty and by providing information about his involvement in the offense.*fn22

Under the Plea Agreement, Petitioner also waived his rights to appeal or collaterally challenge his sentence and conviction. Specifically, the appellate waiver provision of the Plea Agreement stated that:

In exchange for the undertakings made by the government in entering this plea agreement, the defendant voluntarily and expressly waives all rights to appeal or collaterally attack the defendant's conviction, sentence, or any other matter relating to this prosecution, whether such a right to appeal or collateral attack arises under 18 U.S.C. § 3742, 28 U.S.C. § 1291, 28 U.S.C. § 2255, or any other provision of law. This waiver is not intended to bar the assertion of constitutional claims that the relevant case law holds cannot be waived.*fn23

The waiver provisions specified only limited and specific exceptions. First, if the Government appealed from the sentence, Petitioner would be permitted to file a direct appeal of the sentence.*fn24 Second, in the event the Government did not appeal the sentence, Petitioner could file a direct appeal, but raising only claims that:

(1) the defendant's sentence on any count of conviction exceeds the statutory maximum for that count . . . ; (2) the sentencing judge erroneously departed upward pursuant to the Sentencing Guidelines; (3) the sentencing judge, exercising the Court's discretion pursuant to United States v. Booker, 125 S. Ct. 738 (2005), imposed an unreasonable sentence above the final Sentencing Guideline range determined by the Court.*fn25

Additionally, the Plea Agreement included an attached Acknowledgment of Rights signed by Petitioner, in which Petitioner averred: "I understand that I do not have to plead guilty;" and "I understand that if I plead guilty, I have waived my right to appeal, except as set forth in appellate waiver provisions of my plea agreement."*fn26 Finally, Petitioner averred in the Plea Agreement that he was satisfied by his attorney's representation and that he fully discussed the Agreement with his lawyer.*fn27

This Court held a Change of Plea Hearing on July 18, 2008 at which Petitioner was represented by Mr. Borden.*fn28 Before entering into a colloquy with Petitioner, Petitioner's interpreter informed the Court that Petitioner told him that he was conversant in English and "is comfortable proceeding," but that the interpreter would stay through the duration of the hearing.*fn29

The Court asked Petitioner about his degree of English comprehension, and Petitioner explained he had completed ninth grade, could read and write English, and was able to understand everything he heard in English.*fn30 The Court also directed Petitioner to talk with his attorney or interpreter if there was anything he did not understand or that was confusing to him.*fn31

The Court asked whether he had taken any drugs or alcohol in the last 24 hours and whether he was being prescribed medication at the Federal Detention Center where he was being held, and Petitioner confirmed that he had not received such a prescription and had taken no drugs or alcohol prior to the hearing.*fn32 Petitioner also confirmed that he did not suffer from any untreated illnesses and felt very good on the day of the hearing.*fn33

The Court then engaged in a colloquy with Petitioner to ensure that he was fully aware of his rights, the charges against him and the provisions of the plea agreement; was competent and capable of entering an informed plea; and knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily gave up his rights to a trial by pleading guilty and entering into the Guilty Plea Agreement. The Court informed Petitioner of his right to counsel at all stages of the proceedings and asked Petitioner whether he had discussed the case with his counsel, read and reviewed the indictment with counsel and signed, read and reviewed the Guilty Plea Agreement and Acknowledgment of Rights with his counsel, and Petitioner responded that he had done so.*fn34 In open court, Petitioner averred that he was satisfied with the representation his attorney had provided.*fn35 The Court also asked Petitioner whether his agreement to plead guilty was due to promises or assurances not contained in the written plea agreement or intimidation by any threats or use of force, and Petitioner asserted it was not and that he had signed the Plea Agreement of his own free will.*fn36

The Court reviewed each charge with Petitioner to ensure that Petitioner understood the charges against him.*fn37 The Court then explored whether Petitioner fully understood the trial rights he was giving up by pleading guilty by reviewing each of those rights with Petitioner and ensuring he understood what they meant.*fn38

Additionally, the Court entered into a colloquy with Petitioner to ascertain his understanding of the appellate waiver provisions of the plea agreement:

The Court: [I]f you proceeded to trial instead of pleading guilty and if you then were found guilty, do you understand you would be able to appeal that guilty verdict to an Appellate Court, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals?

The Defendant: Yes.

The Court: Do you understand that you would have an attorney represent you in that matter free of ...

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