United States District Court, S.D. California
ORDER DENYING § 2255 MOTION [Dkt. No.
Honorable Larry Alan Burns Chief United States District
2006, a jury convicted Karla Vanessa Chavarria of importation
and possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute.
Dkt. No. 58. This Court sentenced her to 180
months' imprisonment. Id. Chavarria appealed,
and the Ninth Circuit reversed the conviction and remanded to
this Court for a new trial, concluding the court prevented a
defense witness from testifying in violation of
Chavarria's Sixth Amendment rights. Dkt. No. 74 at 5-7;
United States v. Chavarria (Case No. 07-50003). In
2008, a second jury convicted Chavarria, and this Court again
sentenced her to 180 months' imprisonment. Dkt. Nos. 84,
96. Chavarria again appealed, this time unsuccessfully. Dkt.
No. 104; United States v. Chavarria (09-50076). Her
petition to the United States Supreme Court for writ of
certiorari was denied on October 4, 2010. Chavarria v.
United States (Case No. 10-6110).
eight years later, on October 2, 2018, Chavarria filed this
petition in the Northern District of California where she was
confined. Dkt. No. 107. She first sought habeas
corpus relief in the Northern District under 28 U.S.C. §
2241 raising three claims. Id. The court in the
Northern District determined that Chavarria's petition
would fail under § 2241 and instead should have been
brought as a § 2255 motion. Dkt. No. 114. Because only
the sentencing court has jurisdiction over a § 2255
motion, on March 5, 2019, Chavarria's petition was
transferred to this District (Dkt. Nos. 114-15), but without
recharacterizing it as a § 2255 motion. After receiving
the petition, this Court proposed to recharacterize the
petition as a first motion under § 2255 and provided
Chavarria an opportunity to withdraw her filing or amend it
so that it contained all the § 2255 claims she believes
she has. Dkt. No. 121; see Castro v. United States,
540 U.S. 375, 383 (2003); United States v. Seesing,
234 F.3d 456, 463-64 (9th Cir. 2000). Chavarria did not
withdraw or amend her filing, and the Court now construes
this as her consent to the recharacterization. See
also Dkt. No. 123.
§ 2255(b), the Court must require the government to
respond to the motion, “unless the motion and the files
and records of the case conclusively show” that the
petitioner is entitled to no relief. The motion, files, and
record here make clear that Chavarria is not entitled to
relief, therefore the Court need not hold a hearing or
require the government to respond to the motion. §
2255(b); United States v. Withers, 638 F.3d 1055,
1062-63 (9th Cir. 2011).
Statute of Limitations
one-year limitations period applies to § 2255 motions.
28 U.S.C. § 2255(f)(1). Chavarria's criminal
conviction became final on October 4, 2010 (see Chavarria
v. United States (Case No. 09-50076); Chavarria v.
United States (Case No. 10-6110); United States v.
Schwartz, 274 F.3d 1220, 1222-23 (9th Cir. 2001)),
therefore the limitations period to file a § 2255 motion
expired in October 2011. Chavarria's petition was filed
almost seven years later (Dkt. No. 107) and she has not shown
that one of the circumstances in §§ 2255(f)(2)-(4)
applies, or that she's entitled to equitable tolling.
Holland v. Florida, 560 U.S. 631 (2010);
see Dkt. Nos. 123, 125. Chavarria's § 2255
motion is therefore time-barred and for that reason must be
Chavarria's Claims for Relief
addition to her motion's untimeliness, it's also
without merit. Each of Chavarria's three claims fails.
Sufficiency of the Evidence
challenges the sufficiency of the evidence supporting her
conviction for illegally importing and possessing
methamphetamine with intent to distribute. Dkt. 107 at 11.
Although Chavarria's claim is not clear, the gist of it
seems to be that because the packaging used to transport the
methamphetamine had been destroyed by the time of her second
trial, there was insufficient evidence to support her
conviction. Id. Chavarria also disputes the
genuineness of the packaging, claiming that a
witness-purportedly an Agent, though Chavarria does not
specify which witness she's referring to-testified at
trial to this effect. Id. A § 2255 proceeding
is not a substitute for a direct appeal. Brule v. United
States, 240 F.2d 589 (9th Cir. 1957) (holding that the
proper remedy for raising a sufficiency of the evidence claim
is on direct appeal); see also United States v.
Berry, 624 F.3d 1031, 1038 (9th Cir. 2010)
(defendant's “evidence-based” claim calling
“into doubt the overall weight of the evidence against
him” was not cognizable under § 2255). Issues that
could have been presented on direct appeal, but were not, may
not properly be brought in a § 2255 motion unless the
defendant shows cause and prejudice or actual innocence.
See United States v. Ratigan, 351 F.3d 957, 964-65
(9th Cir. 2003). Any error Chavarria thinks the Court made
relating to the sufficiency of the evidence supporting her
conviction should have been raised on direct appeal. By
failing to do so, Chavarria defaulted her claim. Id.
She has not demonstrated cause and prejudice or provided
evidence of actual innocence, so her default is not excused.
Id. This claim fails.
Denial of Competency-Related Continuance
claims that her counsel failed to diligently pursue a
competency-related continuance before sentencing and that
this violated her constitutional right to effective
assistance of counsel. Dkt. No. 107 at 12. This claim derives
from one that Chavarria unsuccessfully raised on appeal after
her second conviction. See Dkt. No. 104. On appeal,
Chavarria argued that this court abused its discretion by
denying her request for time to conduct a competency hearing
before sentencing. The Ninth Circuit held that there was no
abuse of discretion and that there was no evidence in the
record that Chavarria was prejudiced. Id. at 4. The
Ninth Circuit also held that Chavarria had not diligently
pursued a competency-related continuance. Id.
tries to sidestep the prohibition against relitigating issues
already decided on direct appeal by converting her argument
into a claim for ineffective assistance of counsel. In order
to prevail on an ineffective assistance of counsel claim, she
must demonstrate: (1) deficient performance-that her
counsel's errors were so serious that he was not
functioning as the “counsel” guaranteed to
Chavarria by the Sixth Amendment, and, (2) prejudice-that
there is a “reasonable probability” that, but for
her counsel's errors, the result of the proceeding would
have been different. Strickland v. Washington, 466
U.S. 668, 687-89, 693-94 (1984). “A reasonable
probability is a probability sufficient to undermine
confidence in the outcome.” Id. at 694. There
is a “strong presumption” that criminal defense
counsel's “conduct falls within the wide range of
reasonable professional assistance” and review of
performance must be “highly deferential.”
Id. at 689.
can't satisfy either prong. First, she does not explain
how her counsel's performance was deficient. Id.
at 687-91 (petitioner must demonstrate that counsel's
representation fell below an “objective standard of
reasonableness”); Shah v. United States, 878
F.2d 1156, 1161 (9th Cir. 1989) (mere conclusory allegations
are insufficient to make out a claim for ineffective
assistance of counsel). Second, she has not shown prejudice.
The Ninth Circuit expressly addressed whether Chavarria was
prejudiced by the denial of a sentencing continuance and
found that there was none. Dkt. No. 104 at 4. The law of the
case precludes relitigation of this finding. See Stein v.
United States, 390 F.2d 625, 626 (9th Cir. 1968)
(“Issues disposed of on a previous direct appeal are
not reviewable in a subsequent petition under 2255.”);
United States v. Caterino, 29 F.3d 1390, 1395 (9th
Cir. 1994) (“The law of the case doctrine