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Herndandez v. United States

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

August 22, 2014

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent. No. 06-126 (JBS)


JEROME B. SIMANDLE, Chief District Judge.

Petitioner William Hernandez, serving a prison sentence of 480 months, brings this motion for reconsideration of the Court's Opinion and Order denying his petition for writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. [Docket Item 74.] For the reasons explained below, Petitioner's motion for reconsideration is denied.

1. The background and procedural history of this case was set forth in Hernandez v. United States, No. 10-4943, 2013 WL 5331055 (D.N.J. Sept. 23, 2013), and will not be repeated here. The Court issued a 46-page opinion denying Petitioner's petition to vacate, set aside or correct his sentence, in which he alleged fifteen constitutional violations associated with his conviction and sentence.

2. Petitioner's present motion asks the Court to reconsider his claims of ineffective assistance of counsel based on his counsel's (1) failure to advise about sentence exposure, (2) failure to advise about pleading guilty, (3) failure to object to improper calculation and classification related to sentencing, and (4) failure to brief and present meritorious issues on appeal. Petitioner alleges the Court made clear errors of law. In the alternative, Petitioner requests that the Court grant him a certificate of appealability, which the Court declined to grant in its previous opinion and order. The Government did not file a brief in opposition.

3. Motions for reconsideration of § 2255 petitions are governed by Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(e), which "is a device to relitigate the original issue' decided by the district court, and used to allege legal error." United States v. Fiorelli , 337 F.3d 282, 288 (3d Cir. 2003) (quoting Smith v. Evans , 853 F.2d 155, 158-59 (3d Cir. 1988)). A "proper Rule 59(e) motion... must rely on one of three grounds: (1) an intervening change in controlling law; (2) the availability of new evidence; or (3) the need to correct clear error of law or prevent manifest injustice.'" Wiest v. Lynch , 710 F.3d 122, 128 (3d Cir. 2013) (quoting Lazaridis v. Wehmer , 591 F.3d 666, 669 (3d Cir. 2010)). Reconsideration should be granted only when such legal authority was presented to the court but overlooked. D'Argenzio v. Bank of Am. Corp. , 877 F.Supp.2d 202, 206 (D.N.J. 2012). "[M]ere disagreement with the district court's decision is an inappropriate ground for a motion for reconsideration...." Telfair v. Tandy , 797 F.Supp.2d 508, 522 (D.N.J. 2011).

4. Petitioner first argues that the Court committed a "manifest error of law" in denying his claim that his trial attorney was ineffective for failing to advise him about his sentence exposure. (Pet. Mot. Br. at 3-5.) The Court held that because the record clearly showed that Petitioner "knew of the possibility of a life sentence, and received 40 years in prison, he will be unable to show prejudice from counsel's alleged ineffective assistance under Strickland and no evidentiary hearing will be held on this issue." Hernandez, 2013 WL 5331055, at *3 (referencing Strickland v. Washington , 466 U.S. 668 (1984)). Petitioner argues that his claim encompassed more than maximum sentence exposure, and his counsel was ineffective for failing to advise about "other sentencing factors and considerations under the United States Sentencing Guidelines and statutory provisions... because criminal defendants rarely receive the maximum statutory sentence applicable to their case...." (Pet. Mot. Br. at 5.) Petitioner posits that the Court's failure to discuss these other failures by his counsel constituted a clear error of law. Petitioner argues that Boyd v. Waymart , 579 F.3d 330 (3d Cir. 2009), and United States v. Day , 969 F.2d 39 (3d Cir. 1992), compel a different result than the one reached by this Court. (Id. at 7.)

5. Petitioner's arguments on this point are unavailing. He does not present the Court with any precedent standing for the proposition that when a criminal defendant is aware that he faces a possible life sentence, he suffered prejudice from his counsel's failure to discuss "other sentencing factors and considerations" under the sentencing guidelines. The record clearly shows Petitioner was aware of his sentence exposure, and Petitioner opted to try his luck at trial. Hernandez, 2013 WL 5331055, at *3. Petitioner does not identify what information in the guidelines, if discussed, would have made him appreciate his sentence exposure more than being told several times he was at risk of a life sentence. The point of informing a defendant of his criminal exposure for each charge he faces, as was done in this case, is for the defendant to make an informed decision of whether to plead guilty or to mount a defense at trial. Even if Petitioner did not think it likely that he would receive a maximum sentence, he cannot argue that he did not appreciate that he faced a possible life sentence, and therefore, cannot show he suffered prejudice when sentenced to 40 years of imprisonment for his multiple convictions for this violent crime with multiple innocent children as victims.

6. Furthermore, Petitioner's citations do not support his arguments. In Day, the Third Circuit stated that the Sixth Amendment does not require counsel to "give each defendant anything approaching a detailed exegesis of the myriad arguably relevant nuances of the Guidelines" and concluded that "if Day is correct that he was seriously misled about his sentence exposure when the likelihood of his conviction was overwhelming, he received ineffective assistance of counsel." Day , 969 F.2d at 43-44 (emphasis added). Day does not speak to the present situation where a defendant was properly informed of his maximum sentence exposure. Moreover, in Boyd, the Third Circuit remanded a § 2254 petition after the district court reviewed a claim for ineffective assistance of counsel de novo, rather than apply the AEDPA standard in 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). Boyd , 579 F.3d at 332. Boyd is of no help to Petitioner on this point. The Court did not commit a clear error of law and denies the motion for reconsideration on this claim.

7. Next, Petitioner argues the Court erred in not ordering an evidentiary hearing on his claim that he would have entered an open plea of guilty if his counsel had advised him of that possibility. (Pet. Mot. Br. at 8-16.) The Court held that Plaintiff failed "to demonstrate that he would have entered an open plea, let alone that his attorney unreasonably failed to urge him to enter an open plea under the circumstances." Hernandez, 2013 WL 5331055, at *5. The Court found no evidence in the record that Petitioner would have pleaded guilty, and no evidence that the government refused to participate in plea negotiations unless Petitioner cooperated with the government. In addition, the Court found no evidence that Petitioner would have chosen "to face the certainty of many years of imprisonment and mandatory consecutive sentences, " even if he obtained a three-point reduction in his proposed guideline range for acceptance of responsibility. Id.

8. Petitioner argues that, under United States v. Booth , 432 F.3d 542 (3d Cir. 2005), the Court was required to hold an evidentiary hearing, because the record contains evidence that Petitioner expressed interest in pleading guilty in return for a 10-year sentence. Petitioner's counsel did not think Petitioner was serious and did not discuss the offer with the government. Although Petitioner did not claim that his counsel was ineffective for failure to communicate the offer to the government, [1] he argues that the record contains some evidence of his willingness to accept a plea offer, and the Court should have held an evidentiary hearing on the matter. He argues that the record evidence of his willingness to accept a plea offer of 10 years makes his case more like Booth and less like United States v. Gonzalez-Rivera , 217 F.Appx. 166 (3d Cir. 2007), which the Court found persuasive in its previous Opinion. Additionally, Petitioner argues that Missouri v. Frye , 132 S.Ct. 1399 (2012), and Lafler v. Cooper , 132 S.Ct. 1376 (2012), support his claim.

9. Petitioner has not highlighted a clear error of law here. Petitioner previously made these arguments to the Court, and disagrees with the Court's reading of the record and Supreme Court and Third Circuit precedent. These disagreements, however, do not form the basis for a proper motion for reconsideration. The record contains conclusive evidence that Petitioner wanted his attorney to pursue all defenses. Even after Petitioner was convicted by a jury, he continued to maintain his innocence: "if I would have did it, I would have took responsibility for it. I'm sorry they went through what they went through, but I'm just going to keep my innocence because I plan on coming back on appeal even if it's not with my lawyer and that's it." (Sentencing tr. at 17:3-7 (April 16, 2007).) At sentencing his attorney stated: "with respect to accepting responsibility, I don't know that the Court's going to hear that today because [Petitioner]'s maintained his innocence throughout." (Id. at 12:6-8.) The Court stated that

the defendant has a right to continue to persist in asserting his innocence. He's not required to take responsibility for any crime and I don't punish him for not accepting responsibility. He has a right to rely upon his previous plea of not guilty. And so, that he chooses to do so is neither here nor there with regard to this sentence.

(Id. at 27:10-15.)

10. Booth is distinguishable from this case, because in that case the petitioner negotiated a plea deal in good faith and the government proposed a formal offer, which the petitioner rejected "because he did not want to cooperate against anyone else involved in the crime." Booth , 432 F.3d at 544. By contrast, here, the government never put a plea offer on the table and necessarily Petitioner never rejected it. ...

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