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Espinoza v. United States

June 5, 2006

ELEAZAR ESPINOZA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reagan, District Judge

MEMORANDUM and ORDER

A. Introduction

Before this Court is plaintiff Eleazar Espinoza's motion to vacate, set aside or correct his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (Doc. 1). Having carefully considered the evidence and arguments presented by Espinoza and the Government, the Court DENIES Espinoza's § 2255 petition for the reasons that follow.

B. Procedural Background

On November 15, 2000, a grand jury returned an indictment against Eleazor Espinoza and his co-defendant Jose Martin Alvarado (See United States v. Espinoza, No. 00-CR-30212-MJR (S.D. Ill. filed Nov. 6, 2000)). The indictment charged Espinoza with knowingly and intentionally possessing with intent to distribute crack cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1).

Before pleading guilty, Espinoza attempted a proffer with the Government, where the information he presented was compared with the information from his arrest. The differences between the two indicated that Espinoza was not being entirely truthful. Accordingly, the government was not satisfied with the proffer and refused to accept it. Espinoza did not request or attempt a second proffer.

On February 1, 2001, Espinoza entered an open plea of guilty to the charged offense. During the plea colloquy, this Court advised Espinoza of the maximum as well as the minimum mandatory penalties he faced and clearly informed him that because the government had filed an information charging a prior offense, his minimum mandatory penalty could be doubled. Transcript of Change of Plea ("C.P. Tr.") at 6-7. This Court informed Espinoza that his sentence might be longer or shorter than any estimate he had been given, and also informed him of the rights he was waiving. Id. at 11-13. Espinoza indicated that he understood this information. Id. at 12-13.

At sentencing, May 21, 2001, both parties presented testimony regarding whether Espinoza was truthful and forthcoming during his proffer. This Court found that Espinoza had not completely and truthfully provided all the information concerning the offense. Accordingly, the Court denied Espinoza's motion for sentence reduction under the safety valve and sentenced Espinoza to the minimum mandatory sentence of 240 months pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(A).

Espinoza appealed to the Seventh Circuit, claiming that this Court erred when determining that he was ineligible for a safety valve sentence reduction. The Seventh Circuit found that Espinoza's testimony had a number of inconsistencies, and on February 26, 2002, affirmed this Court's ruling that Espinoza did not merit safety valve relief. See United States v. Espinoza, 39 Fed. Appx. 325 (7th Cir. 2002). Espinoza filed for writ on July 29, 2002, and the Supreme Court denied that request on October 15, 2002.

Subsequently, on August 28, 2003, Espinoza filed the motion to vacate, set aside or correct his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 that is now before this Court (Doc. 1). The Government filed its response on June 23, 2005 (Doc. 14), and this Court received Espinoza's reply on September 2, 2005 (Doc. 17). On September 8, 2005, the Court found that an evidentiary hearing on Espinoza's § 2255 petition was warranted and conducted that hearing on January 10, 2006.

C. Analysis

28 U.S.C. § 2255 authorizes a federal prisoner to ask the court which sentenced him to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence, if "the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States, or ... the court was without jurisdiction to impose such sentence, or ... the sentence was in excess of the maximum authorized by law...."

Relief under § 2255 is limited. Unlike a direct appeal, in which a defendant may complain of nearly any error, § 2255 proceedings may be used only to correct errors that vitiate the sentencing court's jurisdiction or are otherwise "of constitutional magnitude." Broadway v. United States, 104 F.3d 901, 903 (7th Cir. 1997). Accord Corcoran v. Sullivan, 112 F.3d 836, 837 (7th Cir. 1997)(§ 2255 relief is available only to correct "fundamental errors in the criminal process").

The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has explained that § 2255 relief "is appropriate only for an error of law that is jurisdictional, constitutional, or constitutes a fundamental defect which inherently results in a complete miscarriage of justice." Harris v. United States, 366 F.3d 593, 594 (7th Cir. 2004). Accord Borre v. United States, 940 F.2d 215, 217 (7th Cir. 1999).

Espinoza asserts four bases for relief in his § 2255 petition and supplement:(1) his due process and Sixth Amendment rights were violated when facts supporting his sentence enhancement were not proven beyond a reasonable doubt; (2) his due process rights were violated by an unlawful search during the traffic stop leading up to his arrest; (3) he received ineffective assistance of trial counsel; and (4) he received ineffective assistance of appellate counsel. The Court will consider each of these arguments in turn.

Espinoza's Assertion that His Sentence Violated His Sixth Amendment Rights

Espinoza argues that his sentence violated his Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial because his prior conviction -- which increased his mandatory sentence from ten years to twenty years -- was not proven beyond a reasonable doubt. For ...


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