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United States v. Vega

June 12, 2007

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
IVETH VEGA, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Charles P. Kocoras, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter comes before the court on the petition of Iveth Vega to vacate, set aside, or correct her sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. The United States has moved to dismiss the § 2255 petition. For the reasons set forth below, the motion to dismiss is granted.

BACKGROUND

Vega pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to import a controlled substance in July 2002. In her plea, Vega admitted that she flew from Mexico to Chicago with heroin concealed in her clothes and later supervised co-defendants Sonia Rivera and Valerie Ventura in like activities in late 2000 and early 2001. The amount of heroin they brought into the United States totaled between 800 and 1000 grams. During the investigation, Vega advised Rivera that Rivera and her husband should deny that she had traveled to Mexico or had any involvement with the activities of the conspiracy if they were questioned by law enforcement agents.

The plea agreement provided that the parties agreed to a base offense level of 30 based on the amount of drugs involved. In addition, the offense level was increased by three because Vega was deemed a manager and supervisor of Ventura and Rivera and by two more levels because of Vega's attempts to prevent Rivera from providing truthful information to law enforcement. The agreement placed Vega's criminal history category at I; the applicable guideline range for her criminal history category and offense level of 35 was 168-210 months. During plea negotiations, Vega refused to provide any assistance to the government, and there is no indication within the plea agreement that the parties envisioned future cooperation from her. Finally, the agreement specified that Vega waived her right to appeal a sentence imposed within the maximum provided in the statute, which was life in prison.

At the ensuing sentencing hearing, this court accepted the guideline calculation set forth in the plea agreement and imposed a sentence at the low end of the range: 168 months. Vega did not appeal her sentence.

Nine months after the sentencing, the government contacted Vega through her attorney about the possibility of a proffer and testimony in connection with an investigation that ultimately resulted in an indictment against Antonio Moreno Flores in case number 03 CR 716. According to Vega, she informed her attorney that she would not cooperate unless the government agreed to reduce her sentence. Vega proffered evidence and testified before the grand jury. Because Flores pled guilty in January 2004, Vega did not provide trial testimony. The government did not request that her sentence be reduced.

In August 2004, Vega wrote to the prosecutor, asking "[a]m I really getting a Rule 35, or am I doing the rest of the ten years I have left?"*fn1 In April 2005, she again wrote to the prosecutor, stating "I called my lawyer...on Feb. 2004 and he said I might get a Rule 35 but it will take from thirty days to a year*fn2 ...can you please find out if I'm really getting a sentence reduction (Rule 35)...do I have to finish doing the rest of the ten years I have left of my sentence?"

In June 2006, Vega attempted to bring a motion to reduce her sentence. Though she referred to Fed. R. Crim. P. 35(b), we construed her filing as a potential attempt to seek relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 and allowed her to withdraw the motion and file a § 2255 motion if she so chose. She filed the instant motion January 31, 2007, reiterating her contentions with respect to a reduction in her sentence according to Rule 35(b) and adding two new assertions. One pertains to her attorney's representation of her after her sentencing, specifically in connection with obtaining a reduction in exchange for her participation in the Flores investigation. In the other, she contends that she did not understand the terms of her plea agreement, impliedly asserting that her sentence resulted from a guilty plea that was not knowing.

LEGAL STANDARDS

A. Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255

Section 2255 permits a prisoner to "move the court which imposed the sentence to vacate, set aside, or correct the sentence" on the grounds that the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States, or that "the court was without jurisdiction to impose such a sentence, or that the sentence was in excess of the maximum authorized by law, or is otherwise subject to collateral attack[.]" Such collateral relief is only available, however, where there was "an error of law that is jurisdictional, constitutional, or constitutes a 'fundamental defect which inherently results in a complete miscarriage of justice.'" Bischel v. United States, 32 F.3d 259, 263 (7th Cir. 1994) (quoting Borre v. United States, 940 F.2d 215, 217 (7th Cir. 1991)). In evaluating a § 2255 petition, the district court must review the record and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the government. Carnine v. United States, 974 F.2d 924, 928 (7th Cir. 1992).

B. Motions to Reduce Sentence Pursuant to Fed. R. Crim. P. 35(b)

Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 35(b) enables the government to move for a reduction in an imposed sentence when a defendant provides substantial assistance in the investigation or prosecution of another person. As is true for its presentencing counterpart, U.S.S.G. § 5K1.1, the decision to request such a reduction is within the discretion of the prosecutor. See, e.g., United States v. Burrell, 963 F.2d 976, 985 (7th Cir. 1992). Unless the decision is made for unconstitutional reasons, is unrelated to a legitimate government interest, or violates a contractual obligation, the government is free to refuse to request a sentence reduction. See Wade v. United ...


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