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United States v. Morales

United States District Court, E.D. California

May 23, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
RAYMOND Y. MORALES, Defendant.

          ORDER

          DEBORAH BARNES UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         This matter came before the court on May 23, 2017, for the sentencing of Defendant Raymond Y. Morales. Assistant United States Attorney Robert Artruz represented the government and Deputy Federal Defender Rachelle Barbour represented Defendant Morales who was present in court.

         Defendant Morales was issued a citation at Camp Pendelton, California, in the Southern District of California, for driving on a suspended license on August 16, 2016 in violation of California Vehicle Code section 14601.2(a) which carries a sentence of “not less than 10 days and more than six months” in jail and a fine of not less than $300 and not more than $1, 000. C.V.C. § 14601.2(d)(1) (emphasis supplied). In November of 2016, the case was transferred to the Eastern District of California. In February of 2017, defendant appeared before the undersigned and pled guilty. The matter was then set for sentencing, which was ultimately scheduled for May 23, 2017.

         Pending before the court are the sentencing memoranda filed by the government (ECF Nos. 4; 8) and defendant (ECF Nos. 3; 7; 10). The government asserts that this court cannot exercise jurisdiction over this case and that the matter must be transferred back to the Southern District of California. The undersigned agrees. Upon consideration of the arguments on file and those made at the hearing, defendant's guilty plea is voided and this matter shall be transferred back to the Southern District of California for all further proceedings.

         I. Background

         Defendant was issued a citation in the Southern District of California for driving on a suspended license on August 16, 2016. (ECF No. 1.) Defendant's case was originally scheduled to be heard before Magistrate Judge Jan. M. Adler of the Southern District of California. See United States v. Raymond Y. Morales, Case No. 3:16-po-02138-JMA-1 (S.D. Cal. 2016). On November 29, 2016, defendant's case was transferred to the Eastern District of California. United States v. Raymond Y. Morales, Case No. 3:16-po-02138-JMA-1, ECF No. 3 (S.D. Cal. Nov. 29, 2016).

         On February 14, 2017, defendant appeared before the undersigned in the Eastern District of California, where this court conducted a Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11 plea colloquy and accepted defendant's guilty plea to a violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 13, California Vehicle Code Section 14601.2(a) for driving under a suspended license. The matter was then set for sentencing, which, after a subsequent status conference on March 21, 2017 (ECF No. 9), was reset for May 23, 2017.

         II. Legal Standards and Analysis

         A. Jurisdiction to Accept Guilty Plea and Impose Sentence

         “Without jurisdiction the court cannot proceed at all in any cause.” Ex parte McCardle, 74 U.S. 506, 514 (1869). Accordingly, when a court “assume[s] a jurisdiction which in fact it could not take, . . . all the proceedings in that court must go for naught.” Riverdale Cotton Mills v. Ala. & Ga. Mfg. Co., 198 U.S. 188, 195 (1905); see also Cunningham v. BHP Petroleum Gr. Brit. PLC, 427 F.3d 1238, 1244 (10th Cir. 2005) (holding that “[a] court may not exercise authority over a case” for which it lacks jurisdiction (quotation and alteration omitted)).

         In the government's supplemental sentencing memorandum, it argues that this court cannot exercise jurisdiction over this case because the November 29, 2016 transfer from the Southern District of California violates Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 58(c). (ECF No. 8.) Rule 58(c) outlines procedures for a criminal defendant in a petty offense case to waive venue and plead guilty or nolo contendere in a district other than the one where the petty offense occurred. Fed. R. Crim. P. 58(c). The rule explicitly states that the procedures for waiving venue are applicable only “in a case involving a petty offense for which no sentence of imprisonment will be imposed.” Id.

         Defendant argues that this restriction in Rule 58 bars the court from imposing a sentence of imprisonment in this case. (ECF No. 7 at 2.) Quoting United States v. Ramirez, 555 F.Supp. 736, 740 (E.D. Cal. 1983), defendant contends that the term “‘petty offenses for which no sentence of imprisonment will be imposed' . . . means any petty offenses, regardless of the penalty authorized by law, as to which the magistrate determines that, in the event of conviction, no sentence of imprisonment will actually be imposed in the particular case.” (ECF No. 7 at 2.)

         Defendant asserts that he emailed the Central Violations Bureau (CVB) -- a “national center charged with processing violation notices (tickets) issued and payments received for petty offenses committed on federal property”[1] -- to request that his case be transferred to avoid the burdensome costs of traveling to San Diego to address the citation. (Id. at 3.) Defendant states that he filled out the waiver form provided by an employee using the public email address of CVB (id.) and then received confirmation on the court docket in the Southern District of California that his citation was transferred to the Eastern District of California (United States v. Raymond Y. Morales, Case No. 3:16-po-02138-JMA-1, ECF No. 3 (S.D. Cal. Nov. 29, 2016)). Because the waiver of venue was “approved” and the case transferred, defendant argues that the Southern District of California effectively limited this court's jurisdiction, dictating that no sentence of imprisonment may be imposed in this case. (ECF No. 7 at 3-4.)

         However, the transfer order entered by the Southern District of California does not explicitly “approve” the venue waiver, nor does it impose any restrictions upon the court to receive the case. See United States v. Raymond Y. Morales, Case No. 3:16-po-02138-JMA-1, ECF No. 3 (S.D. Cal. Nov. 29, 2016). Additionally, the government did not “approve” of the waiver, nor did it agree to recommend a sentence that did not include imprisonment. Furthermore, CVB is bureaucratic entity charged with “processing violation notices (tickets) issued and payments received for petty offenses committed on federal property;” it does not have authority ...


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