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United States v. Parrilla

July 8, 2008

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PETITIONER-DEFENDANT
v.
RAFAEL PARRILLA, RESPONDENT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable David H. Coar

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Before this Court is a motion to vacate, set aside, or correct a sentence filed by Petitioner-Defendant Rafael Parrilla ("Defendant") pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. For the reasons set forth below, this motion is DENIED.

BACKGROUND

On August 17, 2006, Defendant Parrilla was indicted for: conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and distribution of over 50 grams of mixtures and substances containing methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846 (count one); distributing in excess of 5 grams of methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) (counts two and four); and distributing 15 grams of mixtures and substances containing methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) (count five). At a hearing held November 20, 2006, Parrilla pled guilty to count one of the indictment before this Court pursuant to a written plea agreement. In that agreement, Defendant waived his right to appeal the ultimate sentencing determination, according to the following language:

14. The defendant is also aware that Title 18, United States Code, Section 3742 affords a defendant the right to appeal the sentence imposed. Acknowledging this, the defendant knowingly waives the right to appeal any sentence within the maximum provided in the statute of conviction (or the manner in which that sentence was determined), in exchange for the concessions made by the United States in this Plea Agreement.

Plea Agreement ¶ 14.

Prior to sentencing, Defendant's counsel urged the court to sentence Defendant below the advisory guidelines. (Govt. Resp. at 2.) Defendant did not raise any equal protection arguments based on his deportable alien status, which precluded placement in a halfway house or minimum security facility. (Id.) On September 11, 2007, Defendant was sentenced to a term of 38 months imprisonment, followed by four years supervised release. (Id.) In accordance with the plea agreement, Defendant did not appeal his sentence. (Id.)

On January 11, 2008, Defendant filed a pro se motion challenging his incarceration and requesting that his sentence be set aside or corrected pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. (2255 Mot. at 3.) In that filing, Defendant argues that his status as a deportable alien results in collateral consequences that violate his constitutional rights under the Equal Protection Clause. (Id.) Defendant therefore requests that this Court remedy his injury by granting an additional reduction to his original sentence. (Id. at 4.)

LEGAL STANDARDS

As a preliminary matter, this Court notes that the pleadings of pro se parties are to be construed liberally and held to less stringent standards than those prepared by attorneys. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21, 92 S.Ct. 594, 596 (1972); Donald v. Cook County Sheriff's Dept., 95 F.3d 548, 555 (7th Cir. 1996). In addition, a claim prepared by a pro se party is rendered cognizable on habeas review if the petition draws a sufficient connection between the petitioner's due process rights and any alleged evidentiary errors committed by the district court. Perruquet v. Briley, 390 F.3d 505, 512 (7th Cir. 2004).

While Defendant's petition is a memorandum in form, in it he articulates a procedural due process argument; that the district court did not consider his deportable alien status when imposing sentence on him. (2255 Mot at 3.) As a direct result of this error, Defendant claims he received a harsher sentence than would be given to a citizen who pled guilty to the same charge, thus violating the Equal Protection Clause. (Id.) As such, Defendant's claim is sufficient for construal as a § 2255 petition, and this court will construe it accordingly.

Waivers of appeal included in a plea agreement are generally enforceable if the record clearly demonstrates that they are made knowingly and voluntarily. United States v. Williams, 184 F.3d 666, 668 (7th Cir. 1999); United States v. Woolley, 123 F.3d 627, 632 (7th Cir. 1997); United States v. Hicks, 129 F.3d 376, 377 (7th Cir. 1997). Similarly, a defendant may also waive the right to collaterally attack his sentence or conviction under § 2255 if the waiver is "express and unambiguous." Pratt v. United States, 22 F.Supp.2d 868, 870 (C.D. Ill. 1998); Woolley, 123 F.3d at 632. Plea agreements are interpreted by ordinary contract principles, therefore their content and language control the validity of any waiver they might contain. Id. (citing Woolley, 123 F.3d at 632). Any ambiguous terms are construed against the drafting party. United States v. Fort, No. 91 CR 463-6, 1994 WL 702643 *2 (N.D. Ill. Dec. 14, 1994).

Federal courts may grant a motion challenging the validity of a petitioner's confinement if the petitioner establishes 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 sentence, or that the sentence was in excess of the maximum authorized by law, or is otherwise subject to collateral attack." 28 U.S.C. § 2255; see also Arango-Alvarez v. United States, 134 F.3d 888, 890 (7th Cir. 1998) (applying § 2255). Upon such a finding, the reviewing court "shall vacate and set the judgment aside and shall discharge the prisoner or resentence him or grant a new trial or correct the sentence as may appear appropriate." 28 U.S.C. § 2255. However, habeas corpus relief under § 2255 "is reserved for extraordinary situations." Sims v. United States, 71 F. Supp. 2d 874, 876 (N.D. Ill. 1999); Prewitt v. United States, 83 F.3d 812, 816 (7th Cir. 1996).

Before considering the merits of a § 2255 petition, a court must first ensure that the issue was raised in a "procedurally appropriate manner." Theodorou v. United States, 887 F.2d 1336, 1339 (7th Cir. 1989). If the sentence is final and the petitioner fails to directly appeal the issue, a habeas corpus petition is rarely the proper channel by which to challenge the application of a Sentencing Guideline provision. Prewitt, 83 F.3d at 816 (noting that a ยง 2255 petition is not a substitute for a direct appeal); see also United States v. Robinson, No. 98 C 7026, 1999 WL ...


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