United States District Court, D. New Jersey
G. SHERIDAN, U.S.D.J.
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.
The Criminal Proceeding
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.
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.
The § 2255 Motion
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.
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).
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,
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.