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United States v. Garcia

United States District Court, D. Vermont

May 3, 2018



          Christina Reiss, District Judge United States District Court.

         This matter came before the court for a review of the Magistrate Judge's September 25, 2017 Report and Recommendation ("R & R") (Doc. 660), recommending that the court dismiss the 28 U.S.C. § 2255 petition filed by Defendant David Baez Garcia. Defendant seeks a reduction of his below-Guidelines sentence of 204 months imprisonment based on his claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. (Doc. 648.) The government opposes the motion. On August 29, 2016, Defendant's trial attorneys, David J. Williams, Esq. and Brooks G. McArthur, Esq., filed affidavits addressing the arguments in Defendant's § 2255 petition.

         On October 17, 2017, Defendant objected to the R & R's conclusion that he failed to establish that his attorneys' representation was ineffective on the grounds that they: (1) provided ineffective advice during plea negotiations by failing to explain the advantages and disadvantages of pleading guilty and misleading him as to his maximum sentence exposure if he was to be convicted at trial; (2) erroneously failed to object to the calculation of the Sentencing Guidelines range with respect to drug quantity and the object of the conspiracy; and (3) insufficiently investigated the role of Annie Dookhan, a former Massachusetts State Crime Laboratory chemist, in the testing of the narcotics attributed to Defendant. Defendant argues that neither the Magistrate Judge nor the record "provides evidence of counsel[s'] performance, " and therefore the court cannot conclude that he failed to establish his claim of ineffective assistance of counsel.

         On March 19, 2018, Defendant filed a motion for a status update, which the government did not oppose. (Doc. 663.) In light of the court's resolution of the matter, Defendant's motion for a status update is GRANTED.

         Defendant is self-represented. The government is represented by Assistant United States Attorney Nathanael T. Burris.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background.

         Defendant was charged in a Third Superseding Indictment with conspiring to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine and 100 grams or more of heroin and oxycodone. On September 9, 2015, Defendant's jury trial began, during which the government presented extensive evidence of Defendant's role in the conspiracy, including testimony by DEA special agents, a United States Customs and Border Protection officer, Massachusetts and Vermont State Police officers, and Nancy Brooks, a forensic chemist at the Massachusetts State Police Crime Laboratory who tested and identified the narcotics recovered during a traffic stop of a vehicle associated with Defendant. In addition, multiple co-conspirators and witnesses testified about Defendant's role in the conspiracy.

         On September 16, 2015, in the midst of the government's case, Defendant accepted a plea agreement wherein he agreed to plead guilty to Count One of the Third Superseding Indictment charging him with conspiracy to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine, and 100 grams or more of heroin and oxycodone in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841, 846. Pursuant to the plea agreement, Defendant attested that he understood his guilty plea would result in a ten year mandatory minimum sentence, with a statutory exposure of up to a life sentence. The agreement included a stipulation that the appropriate base offense level for the drug quantity under the United States Sentencing Guidelines (the "Guidelines") was level 34. It further stated that Defendant "acknowledge[d] that in the event that any estimates or predictions by his attorney (or anyone else) are erroneous, those erroneous predictions will not provide grounds for .. . modification of his sentence, or for appellate or post-conviction relief." (Doc. 580 at 3, ¶ 8.) Pursuant to Fed. R. Crim. P. 11(c)(1)(C), the parties further agreed that the appropriate term of imprisonment was 180 to 216 months. Finally, Defendant attested to his satisfaction with his attorneys' representation.

         On September 17, 2015, Defendant appeared in court with his attorneys for a change of plea hearing. At that time, the court reviewed the plea agreement with Defendant and engaged in the full colloquy required by Fed. R. Crim. P. 11. Defendant confirmed that he had read and discussed the entire plea agreement with his attorneys before signing it, and that he was satisfied with his counsels' representation.

         Prior to sentencing, the United States Probation Office submitted a pre-sentence report (the "PSR"), which concluded that Defendant's base offense level was 36 based on at least 23, 000 kilograms of marijuana equivalent associated with the offense. The PSR included a two level enhancement for possession of a dangerous weapon and a four level enhancement based on Defendant's leadership role in the conspiracy, resulting in a total offense level of 40. Defendant's criminal history was category VI, resulting in a Guidelines range of 360 months to life imprisonment. Defendant's counsel submitted written objections to the PSR, filed a sentencing memorandum, and argued, among other things, that Defendant was responsible for a lesser quantity of drugs than set forth in the PSR.

         On March 18, 2016, the court held a sentencing hearing at which the government presented the testimony of two witnesses, one of which testified on behalf of Defendant. The court adopted the PSR as its findings of fact and sentenced Defendant to a below-Guidelines term of imprisonment of 204 months, followed by a term of supervised release of five years. Defendant did not file a direct appeal.

         II. Conclusions of Law and Analysis.

         A. Standard of Review.

         A district judge must make a de novo determination of those portions of a magistrate judge's report and recommendation to which an objection is made. Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b); 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Cullen v. United States,194 F.3d 401, 405 (2d Cir. 1999). The district judge may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); accordCullen, 194 F.3d at 405. A district judge, however, is not required to review the factual or legal conclusions of the ...

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