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United States v. Medina

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

March 25, 2015

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
STEVE MEDINA Civil Action No. 14-5175

MEMORANDUM

WILLIAM H. YOHN, District Judge.

In 1999, Steve Medina was convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm, and he was subsequently sentenced to a term of 235 months in prison. Now an inmate at the Federal Correctional Institution at Williamsburg, South Carolina, Medina has filed a pro se motion asking the court to alter, amend, or reconsider its judgment. The motion amounts to Medina's fourth collateral challenge to his sentencing, and on review it fares no better than its predecessors. So once again, I cannot and will not grant Medina any of the relief he seeks.

I. BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY[1]

On July 21, 1999, Steve Medina was convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). At the time, all parties agreed that due to his prior felony drug-related offenses, Medina was subject to a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years under the Armed Career Criminal Act ("ACCA"), 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(1).[2] Medina was sentenced to 235 months imprisonment followed by five years of supervised release, and he was ordered to pay a fine of $2, 000 plus a special assessment of $100. The Third Circuit affirmed this conviction on direct appeal. United States v. Medina, No. 00-1043 (3d Cir. Sept. 14, 2000).

A. Medina's First Collateral Challenge

On May 9, 2001, Medina filed a pro se motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. The court appointed counsel and directed said counsel to file an amended motion. In the interim, and with the help of a prison paralegal, Medina filed a pro se affidavit on January 22, 2002, ostensibly to clarify the issues he had previously presented in his pro se § 2255 motion. In this affidavit, Medina argued that his counsel was ineffective for failing to call several witnesses at trial; he did not raise any issues related to his sentencing. On March 1, 2002, Medina's appointed counsel filed an amended § 2255 motion. This motion narrowed the issues, only challenging trial counsel's failure to investigate and present potential defense witnesses. Like Medina's pro se affidavit, the amended motion did not raise any issues related to sentencing. The court held an evidentiary hearing on Medina's § 2255 motion on May 22, 2002, and denied the motion on May 23, 2002. The Third Circuit denied a certificate of appealability on March 3, 2003. See Doc. No. 84. Medina made no sentencing-related arguments in this application to the Third Circuit.

B. Medina's Second Collateral Challenge

On August 29, 2003, five months after the Third Circuit denied his request for a certificate of appealability, Medina filed a petition to reopen his § 2255 motion. Medina argued that his sentence went beyond the statutory maximum because he was improperly classified as an armed career criminal under the ACCA. Medina further argued that the petition to reopen was not a second or successive § 2255 motion because, read liberally, Medina's original pro se § 2255 motion raised ineffective assistance of counsel at sentencing. On December 4, 2003, the court denied Medina's petition without prejudice to Medina's right to seek certification from the Third Circuit to allow a second or successive motion under § 2255. The court held that there was no error in the collateral review process because Medina had waived any claims of ineffective assistance of sentencing counsel that might have been in his original § 2255 motion by filing an amended motion and an affidavit in support of his § 2255 motion, neither of which raised any sentencing issues, and by failing to pursue any claim related to sentencing at the evidentiary hearing. Thus, what remained of Medina's petition was actually a second motion under § 2255, which the court was not empowered to hear without certification from the Third Circuit. Medina appealed, raising sentencing issues related to the use of his underlying drug offenses as predicates for purposes of the ACCA. The Third Circuit denied a certificate of appealability. United States v. Medina, No. 99-00141 (3d Cir. July 23, 2004).

C. Medina's Third Collateral Challenge

On December 22, 2005, Medina filed a motion for relief from judgment or order under Rule 60(b)(6). Medina argued that the court failed to apply a liberal construction to his original pro se § 2255 motion and rule on all of the issues it presented. Medina alleged that he did not understand that appointed counsel had the authority to waive issues in his pro se motion or that the amended motion would supersede his pro se motion. He further argued that the court should therefore have considered and ruled on his ACCA-based sentencing challenge. Specifically, Medina asserted that his prior drug offenses should not have been classified as ACCA predicates because the judgments in those criminal cases did not state the identity or quantity of the controlled substances involved, thus making it impossible to ascertain-on the face of those judgments alone-whether those drug offenses carried a maximum sentence of ten years or more. In the absence of these qualifying predicates, Medina argued, the maximum sentence authorized for a violation of § 922(g) would have been ten years. Medina also claimed that his counsel was ineffective for failing to direct the court's attention to these issues, and that the Rule 60(b) motion was not a successive or second § 2255 motion because-again, read liberally- Medina raised ineffective assistance at sentencing. Medina further argued that the defect in sentencing could not be waived or defaulted because it is a jurisdictional defect. Finally, Medina asserted that the defect invalidated the sentence, arguing that due process is violated where a court imposes a sentence based on false information or assumptions.

On December 5, 2006, the court denied Medina's Rule 60(b) motion, concluding that his pro se petition-even read liberally-did not provide sufficient notice of any sentencing claims and that, in any event, it was superseded by his amended petition. Moreover, the court determined that Medina's underlying argument lacked merit because there existed sufficient documentary proof to classify his previous criminal convictions as ACCA predicates. Medina again sought a certificate of appealability from the Third Circuit, which denied his request. United States v. Medina, No. 07-1192 (3d Cir. June 19, 2007).

D. Medina's Fourth Collateral Challenge

On September 4, 2014, Medina filed the motion presently at issue, which is styled as a motion to alter or amend judgment, or a motion for reconsideration, or a motion for appropriate relief. Medina makes the same underlying ACCA-related argument as before, but now contends that even if he is otherwise procedurally barred from raising that argument, the court still has the power to consider it under a variety of provisions. The government filed ...


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