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United States v. Favela

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

April 28, 2014

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
RAMON FAVELA

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

MATTHEW F. KENNELLY, District Judge.

Ramon Favela pled guilty to a charge of distribution of heroin under 18 U.S.C. § 841, and the Court imposed a sentence of sixty-six months in November 2012. Just prior to his sentencing here, Favela pled guilty in state court to charges of drug possession with intent to deliver and unlawful use of a weapon by a felon. The resulting state conviction and sentence gave Favela more than one criminal history point under the federal Sentencing Guidelines. This eliminated his chance for a "safety valve" sentence reduction below the five-year mandatory minimum sentence under 18 U.S.C. § 3553(f) and U.S.S.G. § 5C1.2. Favela subsequently filed a petition for post-conviction relief in Illinois state court, asking to vacate the judgment in the state criminal case. The petition was granted in December 2013. As a result, Favela's state court guilty plea, conviction, and sentence were vacated.

Favela has filed a motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, alleging that the vacating of his state court conviction entitles him to a resentencing in the present case. For the reasons stated below, the Court grants Favela's motion.

Facts

Favela was indicted in January 2012 on one count of heroin distribution and one count of heroin possession. In March 2012, he participated in an interview with the government for purposes of the safety valve provision of the sentencing statute and the Guidelines. In August 2012, he pled guilty one count of heroin distribution.

The Court held a sentencing hearing on November 13, 2012. At the hearing, Favela's counsel acknowledged that Favela had very recently pled guilty to separate crimes in state court and had been sentenced. The parties agreed that the state sentence increased Favela's criminal history point total under the Guidelines by three points, to a total of four points, and that as a result he was in Guidelines criminal history category III. The Court observed that "the guilty plea basically eliminates the availability of the safety valve" and that the mandatory minimum of five years for Favela's offense therefore applied. Sent. Hrg. Tr. at 6, 25.

At the sentencing hearing, the Court declined to address the government's argument that Favela had not been truthful at his earlier safety valve interview. The Court noted that the safety valve did not apply to Favela's sentence because of the recent state court sentence and stated that a decision on factual issues underpinning the safety valve issue would amount to an advisory opinion. "[I]f the safety valve doesn't apply, " the Court said, "it's not an issue. If something happens at some later point in time that brings the case back in front of me, who knows if that's even going to happen. If it does, I'll decide it then." Id. at 10.

The Court concluded that Favela's offense level was twenty-five. This, together with his criminal history category of III, made the advisory range under the Sentencing Guidelines seventy to eighty-seven months. The Court imposed a sentence of sixty-six months.

In September 2013, Favela filed a petition for post-conviction relief in the Circuit Court of Cook County. He alleged that his guilty plea was not knowing and voluntary because of his trial counsel's ineffective assistance in advising him in connection with the plea. The judge in Favela's state court case granted the petition and vacated Favela's plea, conviction, and sentence in December 2013. Favela filed his section 2255 motion in this Court in January 2014.

Discussion

A federal prisoner may seek to vacate his sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255
upon the ground 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(a). Favela seeks a new sentencing because "the predicate state conviction that enhanced the Defendant's federal sentence [has been] vacated." Def.'s Mem. at 3 (citing Johnson v. United States, 544 U.S. 295 (2005)).

The government makes three arguments in response. First, it contends that Favela has defaulted his claim, because he should have made it on direct appeal. Second, the government argues that Favela cannot show prejudice to excuse the default, because he lied in his safety valve proffer with the government and that this would preclude application of the safety valve even if it applied. Finally, the government argues that Favela's ineligibility for a ...


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