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United States of America v. Joe Valencia Gonzales Ii

October 18, 2012

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
JOE VALENCIA GONZALES II,
DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Michael M. Anello United States District Judge

ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO VACATE PURSUANT TO 28 U.S.C. § 2255; [Doc. No. 43] DECLINING TO ISSUE CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY

Defendant Joe Valencia Gonzales II collaterally challenges his criminal conviction pursuant to Title 28 of the United States Code, section 2255, arguing he received ineffective assistance of counsel. After initial review, the Court ordered the government to respond to Defendant's motion. See Doc. No. 44. The government filed a response, to which Defendant replied. See Doc. Nos. 45, 46. For the reasons set forth below, the Court DENIES Defendant's motion.

BACKGROUND

On January 13, 2011, pursuant to a written plea agreement, Defendant pleaded guilty to a single count Information charging him with distributing images of minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct in violation of Title 18 of the United States Code, section 2252(a)(2). See Plea Agreement, Doc. No. 21. In exchange for Defendant's plea, the government agreed not to seek an indictment for additional counts of receipt and/or distribution of child pornography or advertising, which carried a mandatory minimum sentence of fifteen years in custody. See id. at 2. In the plea agreement, Defendant attested that he had "fully discussed the facts of this case with defense counsel" and "consulted with counsel and is satisfied with counsel's representation." Id. at 4, 14. Defendant initialed each page of the plea agreement, and signed his name under penalty of perjury. Id. at 14.

Subsequent to a plea colloquy on December 21, 2010, the assigned magistrate judge issued findings that Defendant understood he was giving up his rights, admitted to a sufficient factual basis for his plea, and that he otherwise understood the plea agreement in its entirety. See Doc. No. 22. The magistrate judge further found that Defendant was competent to enter the plea and that Defendant's plea was knowing and voluntary. Id. at 2. On January 27, 2011, this Court accepted Defendant's guilty plea. See Doc. No. 24. The Court sentenced Defendant on June 27, 2011, to 72 months imprisonment, 15 years of supervised release, and a $100 penalty assessment. See Judgment, Doc. No. 35.

DISCUSSION

1. Legal Standard

Section 2255 provides, in relevant part: A prisoner in custody under sentence of a court established by Act of Congress claiming the right to be released upon the ground that the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States, or that the court was without jurisdiction to impose such sentence, or that the sentence was in excess of the maximum authorized by law, or is otherwise subject to collateral attack, may move the court which imposed the sentence to vacate, set aside or correct the sentence.

28 U.S.C. § 2255(a). Defendant moves to vacate his conviction based on two grounds: (1) ineffective assistance of counsel for failing to investigate an insanity defense or prepare adequately during the post-plea, pre-sentencing phase of the case, and (2) ineffective assistance of counsel for failing to communicate with Defendant's naval lawyer or to assist with Defendant's "naval defense."*fn1

To prevail on an ineffective assistance of counsel claim, a defendant must demonstrate that (1) counsel's performance was deficient; and (2) counsel's deficient performance prejudiced the defense. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U. S. 668, 687 (1984). There is a "strong presumption that counsel's conduct falls within the wide range of acceptable professional assistance." Id. at 689. To demonstrate prejudice arising from ineffective assistance in the plea process, the defendant must "show that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's errors, he would not have pleaded guilty and would have insisted on going to trial." Hill v. Lockhart, 474 U.S. 52, 59 (1985).

Of particular relevance here, defense counsel has a "duty to make reasonable investigations or to make a reasonable decision that makes particular investigations unnecessary." Strickland, 466 U.S. at 691. Counsel must, "at a minimum, conduct a reasonable investigation enabling him to make informed decisions about how best to represent his client." Hendricks v. Calderon, 70 F.3d 1032, 1035 (9th Cir. 1995), quoting Sanders v. Ratelle, 21 F.3d 1446, 1456 (9th Cir. 1994) (internal citation and quotations omitted).

2. Analysis

Defendant alleges his counsel was ineffective for failing to investigate and present an insanity defense. According to Defendant, "despite being aware of the defendants [sic] long and well-documented history of mental illness" and knowing that his mental state "was not normal due anxiety, depression, and PTSD," his attorney failed to obtain a psychiatrist's opinion as to his mental competence. See Def. Motion, 6. The government argues that defense counsel performed competently because insanity would not have been a viable defense to the charged conduct. See Gov't Response, 4. The government further points out that defense counsel had her client's mental state evaluated post-plea and provided psychological information to the Court for consideration at the time of sentencing. Id. In reply, Defendant contends that counsel failed to investigate or present evidence regarding his psychiatric history, his military service, or his childhood abuse. See Def. Reply, 5. Defendant argues that his counsel's failure to make these inquiries resulted in an unknowing and involuntary plea. Id. at 3.

To the extent Defendant contends his plea was not knowing or voluntary because his attorney failed to explore the viability of an insanity defense, his contention lacks merit. The Court was aware from the outset that Defendant needed mental health counseling and ordered him to submit to psychiatric/psychological counseling as a condition of his pretrial release. See Addendum to Order and Conditions of Pretrial Release, Doc. No. 14. As such, Defendant's mental health issues were known at the time he pleaded guilty, and were described in detail in the Pre-Sentence Report. The assigned probation officer advised the Court fully regarding Defendant's history of anxiety and depression, including his ongoing treatment during active duty in the United States Navy for symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Defendant appears to suggest that these disorders affected his mental state, predisposing him to commit the underlying criminal offense in this case. However, anxiety and depression generally will not rise to the level of a "severe mental disease or defect" rendering a defendant "unable to appreciate the nature and quality or the wrongfulness of his ...


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