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Cuartas v. United States

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

February 4, 2014

ADRIANA CUARTAS, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent.

Adriana Cuartas, Danbury FCI, Danbury, CT, Petitioner pro se.

Dennis C. Carletta, U.S. Attorney's Office, Newark, NJ, Counsel for Respondent.

OPINION

DICKINSON R. DEBEVOISE, Senior District Judge.

Petitioner Adriana Cuartas, a prisoner currently confined at Danbury Federal Correctional Institution at Danbury, Connecticut, has filed this Motion [1] to vacate, set aside, or correct sentence, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, (the "Petition") challenging her sentence of 120 months' imprisonment. For the reasons stated herein, the Petition shall be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. In the alternative, to the extent the Petition could be construed as a motion under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c), to modify Petitioner's sentence, it will be denied.

I. BACKGROUND

Pursuant to a jury verdict, Petitioner was found guilty of conspiracy to distribute one kilogram or more of heroin, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846, as a result of which this Court sentenced her to the statutory minimum term of 120 months' imprisonment, to be followed by a term of supervised release. See United States v. Cuartas, Criminal No. 04-0609 (D.N.J.) (Judgment, Docket Entry No. 68). The Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed, finding no non-frivolous issues for appeal after Petitioner's counsel filed an Anders[1] brief. See U.S. v. Cuartas, 283 F.Appx. 969 (2008). In its Opinion, the Court of Appeals specifically addressed the matter of drug quantity, as it impacted the sentence.

... The jury reached a guilty verdict and affirmatively answered a special interrogatory regarding whether the government had proved that the conspiracy involved one kilogram or more of heroin.... The District Court then... imposed a non-Guidelines sentence of 120 months imprisonment, the statutory mandatory minimum for her offense.

Finally, we note that the jury expressly found that the conspiracy involved one kilogram or more of heroin, and thus Cuartas was subject to a ten-year mandatory minimum sentence. See 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(A). Because Cuartas received the lowest possible sentence, no non-frivolous issues could be raised on appeal with respect to her sentence.

U.S. v. Cuartas, 283 F.Appx. at 972-73.[2]

On or about July 14, 2008, Petitioner filed her first motion pursuant to § 2255 to vacate, set aside, or correct sentence. See Cuartas v. United States, Civil No. 08-3487 (D.N.J.). There, Petitioner asserted that she was entitled to relief based upon ineffective assistance of trial counsel, in connection with jury selection and sentencing, and of appellate counsel, for failing to argue that her statements to police should have been suppressed. This Court dismissed that motion without an evidentiary hearing and declined to issue a certificate of appealability. See Cuartas v. U.S., Civil No. 08-3487, 2008 WL 4890762 (D.N.J. Nov. 13, 2008). The Court of

Appeals also declined to issue a certificate of appealability. See Cuartas v. U.S., Civil No. 08-3487, (Order, Docket Entry No. 12) (Appeal No. 09-1208)).

In this most recent Petition, filed October 15, 2013, Petitioner seeks relief based upon the decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court in Alleyne v. United States , 133 S.Ct. 2151 (2013), and Pepper v. United States , 131 S.Ct. 1229 (2011). In Alleyne, the Supreme Court held that any fact (other than a prior conviction) that increases the mandatory minimum sentence for a crime is an "element" of the crime that must, under the Sixth Amendment, be submitted to the jury and found beyond a reasonable doubt. In Pepper, the Supreme Court held that, if a sentence has been set aside on appeal, the district court at resentencing may consider evidence of the defendant's postsentencing rehabilitation in support of a downward variance from the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines range. It appears, then, that Petitioner is challenging her sentence under Alleyne and seeking, on resentencing, consideration of alleged postsentencing rehabilitation, in accordance with Pepper.

After Petitioner filed this pro se Petition and supporting documentation, her previously-appointed counsel submitted a Letter [2] to the Court, opining that the sentence complied with Alleyne and that Petitioner has stated no grounds for relief. In response, Petitioner submitted a Letter [3] advising the Court that her previously-appointed counsel no longer represents here and that this Court should consider her Petition as a motion under 18 U.S.C. § 3582, to modify ...


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