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Mendez-Castro v. United States

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

June 24, 2019

ANGEL MENDEZ-CASTRO, Petitioner
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent

          MEMORANDUM

          KANE JUDGE

         Before the Court is Petitioner Angel Mendez-Castro (“Petitioner”)'s motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. (Doc. No. 153.) For the reasons that follow, the Court will deny Petitioner's motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On January 22, 2014, a grand jury returned an indictment charging Petitioner with conspiracy to distribute over one kilogram of heroin and five kilograms and more of cocaine; aiding and abetting the possession with intent to distribute and distribution of one kilogram and more of heroin and five kilograms and more of cocaine; aiding and abetting the possession, carrying, and use of firearms in furtherance of a drug trafficking conspiracy; and conspiracy to possess, carry, and use a firearm in furtherance of the distribution of heroin and cocaine. (Doc. No. 1.) George H. Matangos (“Attorney Matangos”) represented Petitioner, who entered into plea negotiations with the Government, resulting in a plea agreement. (Doc. No. 75.) The agreement called for Petitioner to plead guilty to Count One of the indictment, charging him with conspiracy to distribute heroin and five kilograms and more of cocaine. (Id. ¶ 1.) In the plea agreement, Petitioner and the government stipulated that Petitioner was responsible for five kilograms of cocaine and one kilogram of heroin and that Petitioner would be subject to a two-level increase of the applicable Sentencing Guidelines for involvement of a dangerous weapon; a two-level increase for making a threat of violence; and a two-level increase for importing controlled substances. (Id. ¶ 12.)

         On January 30, 2015, Petitioner appeared before this Court for a change of plea hearing. During the hearing, counsel for the Government reviewed the Sentencing Guidelines recommendations to which the parties had stipulated. (Doc. No. 147 at 11.) Petitioner pled guilty to Count One, and the Court accepted his guilty plea. (Id. at 20-21.)

         The United States Probation Office prepared a Presentence Report (“PSR”), which followed the parties' stipulations regarding applicable Sentencing Guidelines factors. (Doc. No. 109 ¶¶ 24-27.) The PSR also noted that Petitioner should receive a four-level increase for being an organizer or leader of criminal activity, and a two-level increase for obstruction of justice. (Id. ¶¶ 29-30.) As for Petitioner's criminal history, the Probation Office assessed one point for a juvenile adjudication for unlawful delivery of heroin from York County Juvenile Court. (Id. ¶ 36.) The PSR noted that on April 17, 2007, Petitioner was adjudicated delinquent and disposition was deferred. (Id.) On June 8, 2007, Petitioner was released from the juvenile court's disposition after a determination that “further juvenile court involvement would be unproductive” because Petitioner had pending charges as an adult. (Id.) With a total criminal history score of six, Petitioner fell within criminal history category III. (Id. ¶ 42.) Attorney Matangos did not object to the criminal history determination. (See Doc. No. 110.)

         The parties appeared before the Court for Petitioner's sentencing on June 16, 2015. (Doc. No. 148.) The Court noted that the parties had agreed to adjust Petitioner's total offense level to 35, resulting in a Sentencing Guidelines range of 210 to 262 months of imprisonment. (Id. at 2.) However, the parties recommended that the Court sentence Petitioner “in the guideline range originally contemplated by the parties when presenting the plea agreement to the [C]ourt, and that guideline range is 168 months to 210 months.” (Id. at 3.) The Court accepted the recommendation. (Id.) Ultimately, the Court sentenced Petitioner to 180 months of incarceration. (Id. at 11; Doc. No. 137.)

         On July 1, 2015, Petitioner, acting pro se, filed an appeal of this Court's judgment of conviction. (Doc. No. 138.) On appeal, Petitioner argued that his sentence was substantively unreasonable. See United States v. Mendez-Castro, 655 Fed.Appx. 115, 116 (3d Cir. 2016). The United States Court of Appeals affirmed this Court's judgment of conviction on July 22, 2016. See id.

         On October 13, 2017, Petitioner, through counsel, filed the instant motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, raising three claims for relief. (Doc. No. 153.) Specifically, Petitioner asserted the following three claims:

Ground One: Petitioner “was deprived of his right to the effective assistance of counsel when sentencing counsel failed to object to the assessment of a criminal history point for a juvenile charge for which disposition was deferred and that was not countable as a result of U.S.S.G. § 4A1.2(f), diversionary dispositions”;
Ground Two: Petitioner “was deprived of his right to the effective assistance of counsel when sentencing counsel failed to advise [him] that the juvenile matter was [expungable] and/or failed to take action to have the matter expunged before sentencing”;
Ground Three: Petitioner's “sentence should be vacated, and the matter set for a new sentencing hearing, as certain York County Court of Common Pleas cases are expected to be expunged.”

(Id. at 4-6.) Counsel also filed a supporting brief. (Doc. No. 153-1.) The Government filed a brief in opposition on November 27, 2017. (Doc. No. 159.)

         Petitioner subsequently filed a motion to stay, asking the Court to stay his § 2255 proceedings pending the conclusion of collateral actions in the York County Court of Common Pleas. (Doc. No. 160.) Petitioner asserted that success on those actions could render part of his § 2255 motion moot. (Id.) The Government concurred in the request for a stay. (Doc. No. 162.) In an Order dated December 19, 2017, the Court granted the motion to ...


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