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Melendez v. United States

United States District Court, Third Circuit

September 5, 2013

ALEX MELENDEZ, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant. Criminal Action No. 05-44-7

MEMORANDUM

GENE E.K. PRATTER, United States District Judge

A jury found Alex Melendez guilty of conspiracy to participate in the affairs of a racketeering enterprise, a conspiracy to distribute 1, 000 grams or more of heroin within 1, 000 feet of a school, a conspiracy to kidnap in aid of racketeering, a conspiracy to commit murder in aid of racketeering, and using a firearm during and in relation to violent crimes. Having been sentenced, Mr. Melendez has now filed a pro se habeas corpus motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 2255. The Government opposes the motion, arguing that Mr. Melendez has failed to raise any meritorious grounds for relief. Mr. Melendez replied to the Government’s response.

After careful consideration of Mr. Melendez’s § 2255 motion (Doc. No. 939), the Government’s Response in Opposition (Doc. No. 961), and Mr. Melendez’s Reply (Doc. No. 966), for the reasons discussed below, Mr. Melendez’s motion will be denied.

Factual and Procedural Background

On January 26, 2005, a grand jury charged Mr. Melendez, along with 16 co-defendants, via a 26-count indictment, with committing violent crimes relating to their alleged membership in the nationwide criminal enterprise the Almighty Latin King and Queen Nation (“ALKQN”), also known as the “Latin Kings.” Mr. Melendez was named in eight of the counts. Count 1 charged Mr. Melendez with conspiring to participate in the affairs of a racketeering enterprise, that is, a RICO conspiracy. Count 7 charged Mr. Melendez with conspiracy to distribute 1, 000 grams or more of heroin within 1, 000 feet of a school, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(A), 846, and 860. Counts 9 and 11 charged Mr. Melendez with kidnapping fellow Latin King Nicholas Vasquez and Latin Queen Nilsa Rivera, in aid of racketeering, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1959(a)(1). Count 10 charged Mr. Melendez with conspiracy to commit kidnapping New Jersey Latin King Billy Guzman, in aid of racketeering, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1959(a)(5). Count 12 charged Mr. Melendez with conspiracy to maim Mr. Guzman in aid of racketeering, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1959(a)(6). Count 13 charged Mr. Melendez with conspiring to murder Mr. Guzman in aid of racketeering, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1959(a)(5). Finally, Count 14 charged Mr. Melendez with using and carrying a firearm during and in relation to the conspiracy to murder Mr. Guzman, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 924(c)(1)(A)(ii) and (2).

On March 15, 2006, a jury found Mr. Melendez guilty of the RICO conspiracy (Count 1), conspiracy to distribute 1, 000 grams or more of heroin within 1, 000 feet of a school (Count 7), conspiracy to kidnap in aid of racketeering (Count 11), conspiracy to murder in aid of racketeering (Count 13), and using a firearm during and in relation to violent crimes (Count 14). Mr. Melendez was acquitted of conspiracy to maim (Count 12). The jury did not enter a verdict as to Counts 9 and 10, resulting in a mistrial on those charges, which the Government declined to retry. See Docket No. 552.

On July 20, 2006, the Court imposed concurrent sentences of 360 months imprisonment on Counts 1 and 11, 300 months on Count 7, and 120 months on Count 13. The Court also imposed a mandatory consecutive sentence of 84 months on Count 14. In the aggregate, Mr. Melendez was sentenced to 444 months imprisonment. Mr. Melendez was also sentenced to a ten-year period of supervised release, a $2, 500 fine, and a $400 special assessment. Docket Nos. 674, 678.

Mr. Melendez appealed his conviction and sentence, arguing that the district court erred in: (1) denying his motion claiming that the Government had engaged in discrimination during jury selection in violation of Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986); (2) denying his motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29 for insufficient evidence as to the RICO conspiracy (Count 1); (3) denying his Rule 29 motion as to the charged heroin conspiracy (Count 7); (4) denying his Rule 29 motion as to the charged murder conspiracy (Count 13); (5) denying his motion for severance; (6) denying his motion for a bill of particulars; (7) denying his motion to suppress the photo identification; (8) denying his motion for mistrial based on alleged juror misconduct; and (9) sentencing him to an allegedly unreasonable sentence. On August 3, 2010, the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit upheld Mr. Melendez’s conviction and sentence. United States v. Melendez, 388 Fed.Appx. 178, 181-82 (3d Cir. 2010).

Mr. Melendez then filed a pro se petition for a writ of habeas corpus. In this petition, Mr. Melendez alleges that he merits relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 on seven grounds. Mr. Melendez claims that his attorney was ineffective for, inter alia, (1) not moving to dismiss the indictment against him based on an alleged violation of the Speedy Trial Act; (2) not sharing certain sentencing documents with Mr. Melendez prior to his sentencing; (3) failing to petition the Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari; and (4) failing to challenge Mr. Melendez’s “career offender” designation in connection with his sentencing. Mr. Melendez also claims that the Court erred in not providing him new counsel and imposing a sentence when Mr. Melendez claims to have been unprepared for sentencing. Finally, Mr. Melendez claims that the combined alleged errors of counsel and of the Court resulted in denying Mr. Melendez due process of law and a fair trial and sentencing.

Legal Standards

Section 2255 allows a prisoner in custody to attack his sentence if it was “imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States, or that the court was without jurisdiction to impose such sentence, or that the sentence was in excess of the maximum authorized by law, or is otherwise subject to collateral attack.” 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Thus, a petitioner may only prevail on a Section 2255 habeas claim 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 (1962).

Mr. Melendez has filed his § 2255 petition pro se. Pro se pleadings are held to a less stringent standard than pleadings drafted by attorneys. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976). Accordingly, Mr. Melendez’s pro se habeas petition is construed liberally. See Royce v. Hahn, 151 F.3d 116, 118 (3d Cir. 1998). Nonetheless, the petition must meet certain standards, all as discussed below.

Discussion

A. Merits

Amid his seven challenges, Mr. Melendez asserts three principal arguments in his ยง 2255 petition: (1) ineffective assistance of counsel at trial and at sentencing; (2) errors of the Court with respect to appointment of counsel and sentencing; and (3) violation of his right to due process of law and to a fair trial and sentencing as a result of the combined ...


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