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Mejia v. United States

United States District Court, Third Circuit

September 19, 2013

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA Criminal Action No. 05-32-1


Juan R. Sánchez, J.

Defendant Angel Mejia has filed a motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, asserting (1) his guilty plea was coerced and involuntary because this Court allegedly participated in plea negotiations; (2) his plea was unknowing, unintelligent, and involuntary because this Court misstated the applicable statutory mandatory minimum penalty on one of the counts of conviction; (3) the Government breached its promise in the guilty plea agreement that his sentence would be no higher than 17 years; and (4) this Court violated his due process rights when it declined to follow the Government’s sentencing recommendation at the resentencing hearing. The Government asks this Court to dismiss Mejia’s motion based on the collateral review waiver provision in his guilty plea agreement. Because Mejia knowingly and voluntarily waived his right to collaterally attack his conviction and sentence in his guilty plea agreement, and because enforcement of Mejia’s waiver would not work a miscarriage of justice in this case, the Government’s motion will be granted, and Mejia’s § 2255 motion will be dismissed.


On January 20, 2005, Mejia was indicted on charges of conspiracy to commit hostage taking, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1203(a) (Count 1); hostage taking, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1203(a) (Count 2); assaulting, resisting, and impeding federal agents, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 111 (Counts 3 and 4); attempted murder of a federal employee, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1114 (Counts 5 and 6); using a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) (Counts 7 and 8); and possession of a firearm by an alien illegally or unlawfully in the United States, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(5)(A) (Count 9). A superseding indictment was filed on April 28, 2005, charging Mejia with the same offenses. The charges against Mejia arose out of his involvement in a hostage taking scheme, in which he and a coconspirator kidnapped the victim at gunpoint and held him at the home of a third coconspirator while they demanded a $1 million ransom from the victim’s parents, threatening the victim would be killed unless the ransom was paid. A few days later, after arranging a meeting with the victim’s parents, Mejia drove the victim to the designated location and released him from the car prior to the ransom being delivered. As the victim walked away from the car, FBI agents saw Mejia fire a weapon and responded to the scene, at which point Mejia fled in his car, exchanging shots with the agents. After fleeing, Mejia crashed his car, and agents apprehended him a short distance from the scene.

On June 20, 2005, Mejia pleaded guilty to all of the counts against him pursuant to a written guilty plea agreement. The plea agreement specified the statutory maximum and mandatory minimum penalties Mejia was facing, stating the Court could impose on Mejia a total maximum sentence of life imprisonment and a total mandatory minimum sentence of 17 years (consisting of 7 years on Count 7, the first § 924(c) count, and 10 years on Count 8, the second § 924(c) count).[1] Guilty Plea Agreement ¶ 4. The plea agreement also included the following broad appellate and collateral review waiver provision:

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.
a. Notwithstanding the waiver provision above, if the government appeals from the sentence, then the defendant may file a direct appeal of his sentence.
b. If the government does not appeal, then notwithstanding the waiver provision set forth in this paragraph, the defendant may file a direct appeal but may raise only claims that:
(1) the defendant’s sentence on any count of conviction exceeds the statutory maximum for that count as set forth in paragraph 4 above or
(2) the sentencing judge unreasonably departed upward from the otherwise applicable sentencing guideline range.
If the defendant does appeal pursuant to this paragraph, no issue may be presented by the defendant on appeal other than those described in this paragraph.

Id. ¶ 7.

At the change of plea hearing, this Court reviewed the terms of the guilty plea agreement, including the applicable penalties and the appellate waiver provision, with Mejia.[2] The Court explained the maximum and minimum penalties Mejia was facing on each count and in the aggregate, consistent with the information in the guilty plea agreement. Change of Plea Hr’g Tr. 11-14, June 20, 2005. The Court also advised Mejia “that no one—and I mean no one—can guarantee you what sentence you will get from me, ” id. at 21, and repeatedly emphasized the possibility that the Court could impose the statutory maximum on each Count. See Id . at 14 (explaining “[i]n other words, you basically could be warehoused in a United States prison for the rest of your natural life”); id. at 21 (“Do you understand that you could receive basically the maximum permitted by law as to each count . . . ?”); id. at 22 (noting the Court was not bound by the Sentencing Guidelines, but could “give [Mejia] up to the statutory maximum” and could “put [him] in a prison for the rest of [his] natural life”). Mejia confirmed he understood the maximum penalties he was facing, and stated he still wanted to plead guilty, notwithstanding the possibility he might receive a life sentence. Id. at 14; see also Id . at 21-22.

The Court returned to the issue of sentencing later in the plea colloquy, explaining Mejia’s sentence would be determined by the Court at a later date and Mejia would not be permitted to withdraw his guilty plea if the Court declined to follow the parties’ recommendations. See Id . at 30-33. In response to the Court’s questions, Mejia confirmed he had decided to plead guilty of his own ...

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