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United States v. Flores-Acuna

United States District Court, S.D. California

September 2, 2014

JUAN CARLOS FLORES-ACUNA, Defendant. Civil No. 13cv3176WQH.


WILLIAM Q. HAYES, District Judge.

The matter before the Court is the motion to vacate, correct or set aside sentence by a person in federal custody pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 filed by Defendant Juan Carlos Flores-Acuna. (ECF No. 96).


On June 25, 2010, Defendant was arrested at the Otay Mesa Port of Entry while attempting to enter the United States from Mexico in a Chevrolet Silverado truck. Border Patrol Agents referred Defendant to secondary inspection. At secondary inspection, a detector dog alerted to the passenger side of the vehicle. Subsequent investigation revealed 3.564 kilograms of methamphetamine concealed within a non-factory compartment in the vehicle.

On July 21, 2010, the grand jury returned a two-count indictment charging the Defendant with importation of methamphetamine in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 952 and 960, and possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1). (ECF No. 9). Defendant entered a plea of not guilty.

On December 15, 2010, the jury trial commenced. Victor Torres represented the Defendant at trial. After the Government's case-in-chief, Defendant testified that he did not have knowledge of the methamphetamine concealed within the Chevrolet Silverado truck. Defendant testified that he purchased the truck from a neighbor Martinez, but did not have the money for an outright purchase. Defendant testified that his neighbor would periodically allow him to borrow the truck while he was making payments.

On December 17, 2010, the jury found Defendant guilty of both charges in the indictment. (ECF No. 43)

On February 22, 2011, the Court granted Defendant's request for new counsel and appointed Holly A. Sullivan to represent Defendant. (ECF No. 51). Defendant's sentencing date was continued. (ECF No. 52).

On June 27, 2011, a psychological evaluation of the Defendant was performed by Dr. Bruce Yanofsky. Dr. Yanofsky noted in the report that "it was immediately noticeable from his presentation that [Defendant] presents with limitations associated with his lack of education and illiteracy." (Report at 3). The evaluation detailed Defendant's personal history and background, academic history, occupational history, family and social functioning, criminal history, psychiatric history, medical history, and substance abuse history. In the Mental Status Examination, Dr. Yanofsky found Defendant's intellectual abilities to be "within the below average range based on testing, his verbal production, academic and work histories." Id. at 11. In his Summary of Findings and Conclusions, Dr. Yanofsky stated in part:

Psychological test results derived for the present evaluation indicate that Mr. Flores-Acuna is an individual with limited intellectual resources. Even when considering his lack of education, some cognitive functions appear to be below expectation. In this regard, an examination of his adaptive functioning reveals that in most areas of life he was able to participate with relative success as long as the activity did not require reading or writing. This distinction is brought up given the fact that the low test results on the WAIS-III would suggest that his intellectual functioning falls within the Mentally Retarded range. Nonetheless, in reviewing other aspects of Mr. Flores-Acuna's life, the question remains as to the exact nature of his intellectual abilities, and whether or not his functional skills match those of mental retardation. Even if ultimately it is determined that mental retardation is present, he is no doubt within the mild range, given his known history.... In this case, as noted, it is difficult to fully estimate the actual IQ score for Mr. Flores-Acuna in light is the limitations of the testing instruments and his low education which, as noted, will negatively impact the actual scores. However, intellectual skills and abilities may remain in spite of low educational opportunities.

Id. at 16. Dr. Yanofsky concluded that there was no indication that the Defendant was suffering from a severe mental health problem and recommended vocational and academic instruction in order to improve the Defendant's functional abilities and independence.

On July 12, 2011, Defendant moved for a new trial based on newly discovered evidence. Defendant contended that his due process rights were violated because the jury was not able to consider Dr. Yanofsky's psychological evaluation when determining whether the defendant knowingly imported the methamphetamine, or his act was the result of ignorance, mistake, or accident.

On August 15, 2011, the Court denied Defendant's motion for new trial. The Court concluded that a new trial was not warranted based on the post-trial psychological evaluation. The Court found that nothing prevented trial counsel from obtaining a mental evaluation prior to trial and that the psychological evaluation was not evidence that demonstrated that a new trial would probably result in acquittal. (ECF No. 76).

On October 24, 2011, the Court sentenced Defendant to 168 months imprisonment on each count concurrently, followed by 5 years of supervised release. (ECF No. 86).

On October 26, 2011, Defendant appealed his conviction to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. On December 19, 2012, the Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction. The Court of Appeals held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Defendant's motion for new trial because "nothing prevented defense counsel from requesting such an evaluation before trial, and the psychiatric ...

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