United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
September 16, 2004.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
BALDEMAR RODRIGUEZ-RODRIGUEZ, Defendant.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: HARRY LEINENWEBER, District Judge
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Before the Court is Defendant Baldemar Rodriguez-Rodriguez's
(hereinafter, "Rodriguez") Motion to Withdraw Guilty Plea. On
December 2, 2003, the Government filed a one-count indictment
charging Rodriguez with illegally re-entering the United States,
in violation of 8 U.S.C. §§ 1326(a) and 1326(b)(2). On April 1,
2004, Rodriguez pled guilty to re-entering the United States
after having been deported following a conviction for an
aggravated felony in violation of 8 U.S.C. §§ 1326(a) and
1326(b)(2). Rodriguez's plea agreement included an admission that
certain sentencing enhancements under United States Sentencing
Guideline (the "U.S.S.G.") § 2L1.2, notably, a prior aggravated
felony conviction on a drug possession charge, applied to his
offense. Specifically, Rodriguez admitted in his plea agreement
that he had previously pled guilty to First Degree Sale of a
Controlled Substance in Minnesota, and was sentenced to 86 months in prison, which was
stayed pending completion of one year at a county workhouse.
Rodriguez now moves to withdraw his guilty plea on the grounds
that the recent decisions of Blakely v. Washington,
124 S.Ct 2531 (2004) and United States v. Booker, 375 F.3d 508 (7th Cir.
2004) have created a fair and just reason to question whether his
plea agreement was "knowingly entered into." For the following
reasons, the Court denies Rodriguez's Motion.
Under Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure,
Rodriguez must show that there is a "fair and just reason" to
allow him to withdraw his guilty plea. See United States v.
Roque-Espinoza, 338 F.3d 724, 726 (7th Cir. 2003). Rule 11
provides only a "narrow escape hatch from a plea entered
following a proper Rule 11 colloquy." Id. The crux of
Rodriguez's argument is that the intervening Blakely and
Booker decisions "altered the reasons" for Rodriguez's
admission of a prior drug offense conviction and his willingness
to enter into the plea agreement. Specifically, Rodriguez argues
that he did not "knowingly" enter into the plea agreement because
he was under the impression that the Government only needed to
prove his past conviction to a judge under a preponderance of the
evidence standard. In addition, Rodriguez claims that he "had to
admit these sentencing facts to ensure himself of a three-point reduction in offense level for
acceptance of responsibility." Def. Reply Br. at ¶ 5.
The Government first responds by arguing that the issue of past
convictions is the type of factual question that escapes the
purview of Booker and Blakely. Moreover, even if this issue
falls under the intervening cases, the Government contends that
Rodriguez admitted all the pertinent facts of the prior
conviction beyond a reasonable doubt in his plea agreement.
The Court need not determine the thorny issue of whether the
prior conviction determination falls under the Booker and
Blakeley case law because there is recent and persuasive
authority in this District that indicates Rodriguez's Motion must
fail. On September 1, 2004, Judge James B. Zagel issued an
opinion that is precisely on-point to the present situation. See
United States v. Reyes-Acosta, 2004 WL 1963753 (N.D. Ill. 2004).
In Reyes-Acosta, the defendant entered a plea of guilty to an
indictment alleging that he was an alien who had illegally
re-entered the country. See id. at 1. In the plea agreement,
the defendant admitted a prior conviction of an aggravated felony
related to a drug offense, but unlike the situation here the
indictment did not include mention of an aggravated felony. See
Following the decisions of Blakely and Booker, the
defendant in Reyes-Acosta filed a motion to withdraw his guilty
plea under the theory that he was "forced" to admit to the facts
of his prior conviction to secure the three point sentencing deduction for
admission of responsibility. See id. at *2. The defendant
essentially argued that had he known that the Government was
required to prove his prior conviction beyond a reasonable doubt
before a jury, as Booker subsequently determined, he would have
made a different strategic decision pertaining to his plea
agreement. See id.
Judge Zagel denied defendant's motion to withdraw the guilty
plea, noting that "this is a case about the effects of an
after-plea change in law that, arguably, might change the
calculus the defendant would use to plead guilty and not a case
about the propriety of admonitions, [and] it becomes clear that
there is no fair or just reason to permit withdrawal." Id. at
*3. Judge Zagel also distinguished the Seventh Circuit case of
Gomez-Orozco, where a defendant was permitted to withdraw a
plea only because it was clear that intervening circumstances
made it such that the Government may have had no case against
the defendant, rather than simply a weaker case or a more
difficult time proving a fact. See id. at *4, citing United
States v. Gomez-Orozco, 188 F.3d 422 (7th Cir. 1999). Finally,
Judge Zagel noted that the defendant had not made any attempt to
demonstrate "palpable prejudice," as there was "no claim that the
prior conviction and sentence could not be conclusively proven
beyond any reasonable doubt." Id. The situation here is virtually indistinguishable from that in
the recently-decided Reyes-Acosta case. Here, Rodriguez makes
no complaint of the Rule 11 colloquy. He also makes absolutely no
argument that the prior conviction that he admitted in his plea
agreement could not be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. The
stark reality here is that in his plea agreement Rodriguez
admitted the following facts "beyond a reasonable doubt": (1)
prior to deportation, he was convicted of an aggravated felony by
pleading guilty to First Degree Sale of a Controlled Substance in
the Second Judicial District Court in St. Paul, Minnesota, and
(2) he was sentenced to 86 months in prison, which was stayed
pending his completion of one year at the Ramsey County
Workhouse. See Gov. Resp. Br., Ex. B at ¶ 5 (Plea Agreement).
Thus, Rodriguez admitted facts under the proper standard of proof
that squarely place him under the sentence enhancement of
U.S.S.G. § 2L1.2(b)(1)(B). His sole contention is that
intervening case law might have changed the calculus of his plea
decision. This is not a sufficiently fair and just reason to
withdraw his plea. See Reyes-Acosta, 2004 WL 1963753 at *4.
As a final note, Rodriguez also argues that his Motion should
be granted because the plea agreement is "filled with legally
false statements," such as the parties' acknowledgment that the
Court would ultimately determine the facts relevant to sentencing
and other issues that Blakely and Booker subsequently called
into question. This, however, does not alter the fact that Rodriguez
fully admitted to a prior conviction for aggravated felony. And
Rodriguez provides no authority for the proposition that certain
inaccuracies in a plea agreement, caused by subsequent law,
render the entire plea agreement null and void. Accordingly, this
For the foregoing reasons, Rodriguez's Motion to Withdraw
Guilty Plea is DENIED.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
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