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Manuel Gudiel-Soto v. United States of America

January 31, 2011


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



On October 29, 2010, petitioner Manuel Gudiel-Soto applied for a writ of error coram nobis pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1651(a) to vacate the judgment and conviction entered against him on December 9, 1998. The Government opposes the petition. Pursuant to Rule 78.1 of the Local Rules, the Court decides the application without oral argument. The petition is denied.


On September 19, 1997, Gudiel-Soto was arrested at an airport in Puerto Rico after a customs search revealed heroin in his luggage. (Resp't Ex. A, Presentence Investigation Report.) Gudiel-Soto was in transit from Aruba to New Jersey. After his arrest, Gudiel-Soto agreed to cooperate with the investigating law enforcement officers. He was permitted to complete his journey and deliver the drugs to his contact in New Jersey. His contact, William Toro, was arrested and prosecuted. Following his arrest, Gudiel-Soto was represented by an attorney from the Office of the Federal Public Defender for the District of New Jersey. Gudiel-Soto was indicted for conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute more than one kilogram of heroin. (Pet'r Ex. 2, Indictment.) The charge carried a statutory mandatory minimum sentence of ten years imprisonment, and a maximum sentence of life in prison. (Pet'r Ex. 4, Plea Hearing Tr.)

Gudiel-Soto entered into a plea agreement with the government on January 28, 1998. (Resp't Ex. B, Plea Agreement.) The agreement provided that Gudiel-Soto would plead guilty to the indictment. It also provided that Gudiel-Soto would be sentenced according to the then-existing version of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. Gudiel-Soto was sentenced on December 8, 1998. Due to Gudiel-Soto's guilty plea and "substantial" cooperation, the government advocated for imposition of a sentence well below the statutory mandatory minimum. (Pet'r Ex. 5, Sentencing Tr.) This Court sentenced Gudiel-Soto to 43 months imprisonment and three years of supervised release. (Resp't Ex. C, J. in a Criminal Case.) He served his term of imprisonment and completed supervised release on October 27, 2003. (Resp't Ex. D, Letter of Termination.)

Gudiel-Soto had filed an application for naturalization with the Immigration and Naturalization Service on September 6, 1995. (Resp't Ex. E, Req. for Withdrawal of Appl. for Naturalization.) He states that at the time of his arrest, he had substantially completed the process of becoming a citizen; the only step remaining was for him to take the oath of citizenship. He withdrew his application on August 28, 2001, because he learned that his criminal conviction would prevent his application from being approved. (Resp't Ex. F, Confirmation Processing Worksheet.)

The government asserts that in January of 2006, Gudiel-Soto left the United States for a one-week trip to Guatemala. On January 27, 2006, customs officials informed Gudiel-Soto that was he could not return to the United States as a lawful permanent resident because of his criminal conviction. (Resp't Ex. G, Record of Sworn Statement.) The petitioner does not mention this episode, but states that he is currently the subject of a deportation proceeding pending before the United States Immigration Court in Los Angeles, California. He asserts that this proceeding is based solely on the fact of his prior conviction.


Writ of Coram Nobis

"The writ of error coram nobis is available to federal courts in criminal matters under the All Writs Act, 28 U.S.C.A. § 1651(a). It is used to attack allegedly invalid convictions which have continuing consequences, when the petitioner has served his sentence and is no longer in custody for purposes of 28 U.S.C.A § 2255." United States v. Stoneman, 870 F.2d 102, 105-06 (3d Cir. 1989) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). "Coram nobis is an extraordinary remedy, and a court's jurisdiction to grant relief is of limited scope. The interest in the finality of judgments dictates that the standard for a successful collateral attack on a conviction should be more stringent than the standard applicable on a direct appeal. It is even more stringent than that on a petitioner seeking habeas corpus relief under 28 U.S.C.A. § 2255." Id. at 106 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). A petitioner seeking coram nobis relief must demonstrate that "sound reasons" exist for failing to seek relief earlier, that he continues to suffer collateral consequences from his conviction (even though he is out of custody), and that an error of "the most fundamental character" has occurred. See id.; United States v. Osser, 864 F.2d 1056, 1059 (3d Cir. 1988).

Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

In Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984), the Supreme Court established a two-part test for analyzing ineffective assistance of counsel claims. First, the defendant must show that counsel's performance "fell below an objective standard of reasonableness." Id. at 688.

This requires a showing that "counsel made errors so serious that counsel was not functioning as the 'counsel' guaranteed the defendant by the Sixth Amendment." Id. at 687. The Supreme Court recently held in Padilla v. Kentucky that failing to advise a client about the immigration consequences of a guilty plea amounts to deficient performance. 130 S. Ct. 1473, 1478 (2010). Second, the defendant must show that counsel's ineffectiveness was prejudicial. Id. at 692. In order to satisfy the "prejudice" requirement in a guilty plea context, "the defendant must show that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's errors, he would not have pleaded guilty and would have insisted on going to ...

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