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United States v. Mojica

United States District Court, S.D. California

July 22, 2016



          Hon. Cynthia Bashant, United States District Judge

         Pending before the Court is Defendant Francisco Mojica’s motion to vacate, set aside, or correct sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Defendant, who is proceeding pro se, was sentenced after entering into a plea agreement. He challenges his sentence on two grounds: (1) his guilty plea was not knowing and voluntary; and (2) he was denied effective assistance of counsel. The Government opposes the motion, supporting its opposition with a copy of the plea agreement, and transcripts from the change-of-plea and sentencing hearings.

         For the following reasons, the Court DENIES Defendant’s motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Defendant was charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 846 and 841(a)(1). The cocaine amounted to approximately 18.55 kilograms. (Plea Agreement § II.B.) Defendant’s involvement in the offense was assisting his co-defendant in the delivery of the cocaine to a location 2 miles north of the Camp Pendleton military facility. (Id.)

         In October 2014, he signed a plea agreement in which he admitted there is a factual basis for his guilty plea. (Plea Agreement § II.B.) On November 3, 2014, the Court held the change-of-plea hearing where Defendant pled guilty. (ECF No. 48.) The plea agreement was filed on the same day. (ECF No. 48.)

         On April 6, 2015, the Court held the sentencing hearing where Defendant was committed to the Federal Bureau of Prisons for a term of 48 months followed by supervised release for 3 years. (ECF No. 80.) Though Defendant was not fined, a $100 special assessment was imposed. (Id.)


         Under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, a federal court may vacate, set aside or correct a sentence “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[.]” 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a). Pursuant to Rule 4(b) of the Rules Governing Section 2255 Proceedings “[t]he judge who receives the motion must promptly examine it[, ]” and “[i]f it plainly appears from the motion, any attached exhibits, and the records from the prior proceedings that the [defendant] is not entitled to relief the judge must dismiss the action and direct the clerk to notify the moving party.” To warrant relief, the defendant must demonstrate the existence of an error of constitutional magnitude which had a substantial and injurious effect or influence on the guilty plea or the jury’s verdict. Brecht v. Abrahamson, 507 U.S. 619, 637 (1993); see also United States v. Montalvo, 331 F.3d 1052, 1058 (9th Cir. 2003) (“We hold now that Brecht ’s harmless error standard applies to habeas cases under section 2255, just as it does to those under section 2254.”) Relief is warranted only where a defendant has shown “a fundamental defect which inherently results in a complete miscarriage of justice.” Davis v. United States, 417 U.S. 333, 346 (1974); see also United States v. Gianelli, 543 F.3d 1178, 1184 (9th Cir. 2008).


         A. Validity of Plea Agreement

         “A guilty plea is constitutionally valid only to the extent it is ‘voluntary’ and ‘intelligent.’”[1] Bousley v. United States, 523 U.S. 614, 618 (1998) (citing Brady v. United States, 397 U.S. 742, 748 (1970)).

         A plea is voluntary if it “represents a voluntary and intelligent choice among the alternative courses of action open to the defendant.” North Carolina v. Alford, 400 U.S. 25, 31 (1970); Hill v. Lockhart, 474 U.S. 52, 56 (1985). “[A] plea of guilty entered by one fully aware of the direct consequences . . . must stand unless induced by threats (or promises to discontinue improper harassment), misrepresentation (including unfulfilled or unfulfillable promises), or perhaps by promises that are by their nature improper as having no proper relationship to the prosecutor’s business (e.g. bribes).” Brady, 397 U.S. at 755. “[A] guilty plea is void if it was ‘induced by promises or threats which deprive it of the character of a voluntary act.’” Sanchez v. United States, 50 F.3d 1448, 1454 (9th Cir. 1995) (quoting Machibroda v. United States, 368 U.S. 487, 493 (1962)).

         Courts examine the totality of the circumstances to determine voluntariness. United States v. Kaczynski, 239 F.3d 1108, 1114 (9th Cir. 2001). In determining whether a defendant’s guilty plea satisfies the due-process requirement for voluntariness, the Ninth Circuit focuses on the “thoroughness” of the Rule 11 hearing. United States v. Cook, 487 F.2d 963, 965 (9th Cir. 1973). Statements made by a criminal defendant contemporaneous with the plea are afforded great weight in assessing the voluntariness of ...

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