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Mercedes-Baez v. United States

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

December 4, 2018

LENIN MERCEDES-BAEZ, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent.

          OPINION

          PETER G. SHERIDAN, U.S.D.J.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This matter comes before the court on a Motion to Vacate, Set Aside or Correct Sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 ("Motion") by Petitioner Lenin Mercedes-Baez, challenging a sentence imposed by this Court in United States v. Mercedes-Baez, Crim. No. 12-354, ECF No. 34 (entered Sept. 25, 2013), for conspiracy to distribute benzylpiperazine after a guilty plea. Respondent has filed an answer, ECF No. 10, and Petitioner filed a reply, ECF No. 11. For the reasons stated below, the Court denies the Motion.

         II. BACKGROUND

         A. The Criminal Proceeding

         On May 18, 2012, Petitioner was charged in a multi-count indictment with one count of conspiracy to distribute 4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine and benzylpiperazine, contrary to 21 U.S.C. § 841(a), 841(b)(1)(C) and two counts of distribution of benzylpiperazine, contrary to 21 U.S.C. § 841(a) and 841(b)(1)(A). On February 22, 2012, Petitioner pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute benzylpiperazine. On September 23, 2013, this Court sentenced petitioner to a prison term of forty-two months to be followed by two years of supervised release.

         In August 2016, Petitioner filed a motion in the criminal proceeding under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c) for a reduction of his sentence pursuant to a retroactive amendment to the Sentencing Guidelines that lowered the base offense levels assigned to drug quantities. Petitioner and the Government both stipulated that based on the amendment, Petitioner's sentence should be reduced to a term of thirty-four months. On September 19, 2016, this Court granted Petitioner's motion and ordered his sentence be reduced to thirty-four months. Based on the reduction, Petitioner was eligible for immediate release from Bureau of Prisons custody and he was released on September 21, 2016.

         B. The § 2255 Motion

          On August 19, 2015, Petitioner filed this Motion, raising three claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. Petitioner alleges that his counsel was deficient in that he failed (1) to request a downward departure for Petitioner's apparent cooperation with the government, (2) to properly investigate the charges against Petitioner, and (3) to file a Notice of Appeal on Petitioner's behalf. The Government filed an answer in which it argued that Petitioner's Motion was time-barred under § 2255(f) and, even if it was deemed timely, it lacked merit. Petitioner filed a reply in which he asserted that he did file a timely § 2255 motion, but it was not received by the Court.

         III. LEGAL STANDARDS

         A prisoner in federal custody under a sentence imposed by a federal court "may move the court which imposed the sentence to vacate, set aside or correct the sentence" upon three grounds: (1) "that the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States"; (2) "that the court was without jurisdiction to impose such sentence"; or (3) "that the sentence was in excess of the maximum authorized by law." 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a).

         A criminal defendant bears the burden of establishing his entitlement to § 2255 relief. See United States v. Davies, 394 F.3d 182, 189 (3d Cir. 2005). Moreover, as a § 2255 motion to vacate is a collateral attack on a sentence, a criminal defendant "must clear a significantly higher hurdle than would exist on direct appeal." United States v. Frady, 456 U.S. 152, 166 (1983).

         In considering a motion to vacate a defendant's sentence, "the court must accept the truth of the movant's factual allegations unless they are clearly frivolous on the basis of the existing record." United States v. Booth, 432 F.3d 542, 545 (3d Cir. 2005) (quoting Gov't of V.I. v. Forte, 865 F.2d 59, 62 (3d Cir. 1989)). "It is the policy of the courts to give a liberal construction to pro se habeas petitions." Rainey v. Varner, 603 F.3d 189, 198 (3d Cir. 2010) (quoting United States ex rel. Montgomery v. Brierly, 414 F.2d 552, 555 (3d Cir. 1969)). The Court may dismiss the motion without holding an evidentiary hearing if the motion and the files and records of the case conclusively show that the prisoner is entitled to no relief. See 28 U.S.C. § 2255(b); Liu v. United State, No. 11-4646, 2013 WL 4538293, at *9 (D.N.J. Aug. 26, 2013).

         IV. ...


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