423 F.3d 830 (8th Cir. 2005), 04-2632, United States v. Ledezma-Rodriguez

Docket Nº:04-2632.
Citation:423 F.3d 830
Party Name:UNITED STATES of America, Appellee, v. Juan LEDEZMA-RODRIGUEZ, also known as Roberto Hurtado Madrigal-Guzman, Appellant.
Case Date:September 13, 2005
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
 
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423 F.3d 830 (8th Cir. 2005)

UNITED STATES of America, Appellee,

v.

Juan LEDEZMA-RODRIGUEZ, also known as Roberto Hurtado Madrigal-Guzman, Appellant.

No. 04-2632.

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit.

September 13, 2005

Submitted: April 13, 2005.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Iowa.

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Jennifer E. Plaster, argued, a student at Washington University School of Law in St. Louis, MO. D. Bruce LaPierre, Professor of Law at Washington University appeared as supervising attorney, along with K. Lee Marshall of St. Louis, MO. Additional students who entered special appearances on behalf of appellant were Anna Martina Tyreus, Penny A. Calhoun, Teresa Lynn Sowards, and Jonathan Linas, all of Washington University School of Law.

Richard E. Rothrock, AUSA, argued, Des Moines, IA (Shannon Olson, AUSA, Des Moines, on appellee's brief), for appellee.

Before MURPHY, HANSEN and GRUENDER, Circuit Judges.

GRUENDER, Circuit Judge.

Juan Ledezma-Rodriguez ("Ledezma") filed a motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, arguing that one of his attorneys provided ineffective assistance by filing a motion to withdraw guilty pleas against his wishes and that two of his attorneys provided ineffective assistance by failing to explain

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his obligations under a plea agreement and to facilitate his desire to cooperate with law enforcement. The district court1 denied Ledezma's § 2255 motion without an evidentiary hearing. Ledezma appeals the district court's decision not to hold an evidentiary hearing. We affirm.

I. BACKGROUND

Ledezma was charged in a third superceding indictment with one count of illegally reentering the United States, in violation of 8 U.S.C. §§ 1326(a) and 1326(b)(2), two counts of illegally possessing a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1) and 922(g)(5)(A) (these three counts are referred to collectively as the "non-drug counts"), one count of possessing with the intent to distribute a mixture or substance containing more than 500 grams of methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(A), one count of possessing with the intent to distribute cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1), and one count of conspiring to distribute more than 500 grams of a mixture or substance containing methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), 841(b)(1)(A) and 846. On February 26, 2001, Ledezma and the Government executed a plea agreement related to the three non-drug counts charged in the third superceding indictment. Pursuant to the plea agreement, Ledezma agreed to plead guilty to one count of illegally possessing a firearm and the Government agreed to drop the other two non-drug counts. The plea agreement did not prevent the Government from proceeding to trial on the three drug counts or restrict the Government from pursuing other criminal offenses.

On March 22, 2001, Ledezma and the Government executed a plea agreement ("March plea agreement") with respect to the three drug counts. Pursuant to the March plea agreement, Ledezma agreed to plead guilty to the count of possessing with the intent to distribute cocaine. He also agreed to stipulate to career offender status as defined by U.S. Sentencing Guidelines Manual § 4B1.1(B). Finally, he agreed to a drug quantity of at least 500 grams of cocaine and agreed to cooperate with the Government in the investigation and prosecution of others. For its part, the Government agreed to drop the remaining two drug counts, not to charge Ledezma in the Southern District of Iowa with any other federal narcotics offenses, and, if Ledezma provided substantial assistance to law enforcement, to file a motion for a downward departure pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 5K1.1. In a Statement by Defendant in Advance of Plea of Guilty, Ledezma indicated that he had reviewed the plea agreement with his attorney and that he had the services of an interpreter to interpret the plea agreement.

At the change-of-plea hearing, the district court conducted the usual Rule 11 colloquy, which included asking Ledezma whether the plea of guilty had been forced or coerced, whether he understood the range of sentences he faced, whether he was satisfied with the services of his attorney, and whether he had read and understood the terms of the March plea agreement. With the benefit of both an attorney, Norma Nuñez, who spoke Spanish, and a Spanish interpreter, Ledezma answered each of these questions to the satisfaction of the district court.2 Ledezma

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then pled guilty to possession with the intent to distribute cocaine and admitted to a drug quantity of at least 500 grams of cocaine.

At the conclusion of the change-of-plea hearing, the Government alerted the district court to the fact that "Ledezma [had] decided today not to talk to the Government" as required by the March plea agreement. The district court took the opportunity to explain to Ledezma the consequences of cooperating or not cooperating with the Government. This included a brief description of how a downward departure for substantial assistance worked and what his sentence might be if he did not receive a downward departure. The district court ended its discussion by asking Ledezma if he understood that, without a motion for a downward departure for substantial assistance, he could face a mandatory sentence of 20 years' imprisonment. Ledezma answered that he understood the situation.

Shortly after executing the March plea agreement, Ledezma began to regret his decision. On March 26, 2001, Ledezma sent Nuñeza letter in which he wrote, "I was lead to believe [sic] that my plea was a [sic] open plea . Now that I have had time to go over what I signed on 3-22-01 . . . I wish to withdraw my plea and change my plea to not guilty." Ledezma sent a similar letter to the district court on April 17, 2001. Because of Ledezma's allegations that she intentionally misled him in order to induce a guilty plea, Ledezma's attorney filed a motion to withdraw, which was granted on May 1, 2001. Ledezma was subsequently appointed a new attorney.

Per Ledezma's stated intentions, his new attorney, James Bryson Clements, filed a Motion to Withdraw Guilty Pleas on May 31, 2001. According to Ledezma's motion, his plea of guilty was coerced by the Government's apparent threat to charge his wife in the drug conspiracy. Two days later, Ledezma once again had a change of heart and asked the district court to withdraw the motion to withdraw his guilty pleas. The district court immediately granted Ledezma's motion to withdraw the motion to withdraw his guilty pleas.

By this point, the Government was becoming increasingly frustrated by Ledezma's refusal to cooperate with law enforcement. For example, through counsel, Ledezma informed the Government that "he would be interested in assisting the government only in exchange for no incarceration, deportation to Mexico, and allowing him to re-enter the United States legally to return to his family." Ledezma's continual refusal to abide by the March plea agreement eventually caused the Government to file a Motion to Revoke or Set Aside Plea Agreement ("motion to revoke").

On July 27, 2001, the district court held a hearing on the Government's motion to revoke. The Government argued that Ledezma's refusal to cooperate with law enforcement or to stipulate to career offender status represented material breaches of the March plea agreement. Ledezma, however, asserted that he never agreed to cooperate with law enforcement and was not informed of this obligation. Instead,

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Ledezma stated that he first became aware of his obligation to cooperate with law enforcement after the change-of-plea hearing, when a jailhouse friend read to him the March plea agreement. Although this was in obvious contradiction to the discussion at the end of the change-of-plea hearing, the district court gave Ledezma the benefit of the doubt and accepted his assertions. The district court granted the Government's motion to revoke the March plea agreement and set aside Ledezma's guilty pleas and associated stipulations. The net result of the district court's action was to return the parties to their original positions prior to the plea agreements.

Ledezma was now becoming increasingly frustrated with Clements, his new attorney. In a letter to the district court, Ledezma again alleged that his attorney failed to explain fully the now-revoked plea agreement and that Clements did not provide a translator during their meetings. Clements explained in a separate letter to the district court that he and Ledezma had met several...

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