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Aguilera v. United States

United States District Court, Eighth Circuit

January 24, 2014



DONALD E. O'BRIEN, Senior District Judge.


This matter is before the Court on Petitioner, Jorge Osbaldo Aguilera's [hereinafter Mr. Aguilera], 28 U.S.C. § 2255 Petition, Docket No. 1, Att. 2. The parties appeared for hearing on October 21, 2013. After listening to the parties' arguments, the Court took the matter under consideration and now enters the following.


On December 17, 2008, the grand jury returned an indictment against Mr. Aguilera on a variety of charges related to the distribution of methamphetamine. On February 19, 2009, a superseding indictment was filed based on the same allegations. See 08-CR-4095-DEO, [1] Docket No. 33. On June 19, 2009, a jury convicted Mr. Aguilera of conspiracy to distribute 50 grams or more of methamphetamine. The jury also found Mr. Aguilera guilty of possession with intent to distribute 50 grams or more of methamphetamine. See 08-CR-4095-DEO, Docket No. 80.

Mr. Aguilera appealed the conviction. The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals set out the relevant factual background regarding Mr. Aguilera's case:

On December 5, 2008, law enforcement agents arranged a controlled purchase of methamphetamine from Luis Mata-Gutierrez. Mata-Gutierrez agreed to deliver four ounces of methamphetamine to a confidential informant in Le Mars, Iowa. At Aguilera's trial, Mata-Gutierrez testified that he was in Omaha, Nebraska, with Aguilera and Alfonso Saldana when the confidential informant called him requesting methamphetamine. Mata-Gutierrez explained that Saldana supplied him with drugs to sell, and that Aguilera helped Saldana distribute drugs. He also testified that after the informant placed the order, Saldana retrieved the methamphetamine and Aguilera hid the drugs in a blue GMC Yukon, which was borrowed from Saldana. Aguilera and Mata-Gutierrez then left for Le Mars.
Law enforcement agents recorded a telephone conversation between Mata-Gutierrez and the confidential informant while Aguilera and Mata-Gutierrez were en route to Le Mars. In this conversation, Mata-Gutierrez described his location to the confidential informant, and the informant provided directions to his residence. Knowing that Mata-Gutierrez had used a blue GMC Yukon in the past, law enforcement agents began to search for the vehicle. Iowa State Trooper Jeremy Probasco eventually observed the Yukon, which was driven by Aguilera, and stopped it for not having license plates. Aguilera was arrested for driving without a valid license, and a search of the vehicle uncovered 111.38 grams of methamphetamine.
In a superseding indictment, Aguilera and Mata-Gutierrez were charged with conspiring to distribute 50 grams or more of methamphetamine, and possession with intent to distribute 50 grams or more of methamphetamine. Mata-Gutierrez was also charged with two additional counts of possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine. Mata-Gutierrez pleaded guilty to all four counts, but Aguilera's case went to trial, and Mata-Gutierrez testified against him.
At trial, Aguilera moved to suppress the evidence obtained in the search of the Yukon, but the district court denied his motion. The case was then submitted to the jury, and after deliberating for less than thirty minutes, the jury returned a guilty verdict on both counts of the indictment. Aguilera filed a motion for a new trial pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 33, and the district court denied the motion.
Before sentencing, Aguilera provided a "safety-valve statement" to the government. This statement was designed to satisfy the requirement of 18 U.S.C. § 3553(f)(5) and USSG § 5C1.2(a)(5) that a defendant must have "truthfully provided to the Government all information and evidence the defendant has concerning the offense or offenses of conviction that were part of the same course of conduct or of a common scheme or plan." In his statement, Aguilera asserted that he was not involved in using or distributing drugs, and claimed that "[w]hen we were stopped by law enforcement, I did not know there were drugs in the Yukon." He also explained that on December 5, 2008, Mata-Gutierrez had asked him for a ride to George, Iowa, so that Mata-Gutierrez could pay rent. The district court heard arguments from the parties on whether the safety-valve provisions of 18 U.S.C. § 3553(f) and USSG § 5C1.2 applied to Aguilera, but denied relief. The district court then sentenced Aguilera to 120 months' imprisonment.

United States v. Aguilera , 625 F.3d 482, 484-85 (8th Cir. 2010).

As noted above, following his conviction, Mr. Aguilera appealed his case to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals. Mr. Aguilera made three arguments to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals: 1) probable cause did not exist to support a search of his vehicle; 2) this Court should have granted a new trial; and 3) he was entitled to safety-valve relief. Aguilera , 625 F.3d at 485. The 8th Circuit affirmed Mr. Aguilera's conviction and sentence. Regarding the search issue, the 8th Circuit stated:

[b]ased on the information obtained during the investigation of Mata-Gutierrez, law enforcement officers were instructed to watch for Mata-Gutierrez's gold-colored Jeep or a blue GMC Yukon. Once Trooper Probasco observed the Yukon on the route to the informant's residence, and verified that Mata-Gutierrez was a passenger in the vehicle, he had probable cause to believe that the vehicle contained the methamphetamine that was scheduled for delivery. Accordingly, the district court did not err in concluding that the trooper's warrantless search was permissible under the automobile exception, and we need not consider whether the search of the vehicle was a valid search incident to arrest.

Aguilera , 625 F.3d at 486. On the new trial issue, the 8th Circuit stated:

the evidence here did not compel the grant of a new trial. To the extent that the duration of deliberations is relevant at all, this was not a complex case. If the jury credited Mata-Gutierrez's testimony, which directly implicated Aguilera in the charged conduct, then lengthy deliberations were unnecessary. The district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Aguilera's motion for a new trial.

Aguilera , 625 F.3d at 487. Regarding the safety valve interview, the 8th Circuit ruled that:

In his safety-valve statement, Aguilera continued to proclaim his innocence, despite the government's proof that he participated in a conspiracy to possess and distribute methamphetamine. The district court simply did not believe that Aguilera was telling the subjective truth as he knew it, and this finding was not clearly erroneous.

Aguilera , 625 F.3d at 488.

Following the 8th Circuit's decision, Mr. Aguilera timely filed the present 28 U.S.C § 2255 petition.[2] Docket No. 2. On December 7, 2012, this Court entered an Initial Review Order allowing Mr. Aguilera's case to proceed and appointing attorney Priscilla Forsyth as his attorney. Docket No. 3. On February 7, 2013, Ms. Forsyth filed a Motion to Withdraw pursuant to the holding in Anders v. California , 386 U.S. 738 (1967). Docket No. 7. On May 8, 2013, the Government filed a Motion to Dismiss Case as Frivolous. Docket No. 8. As stated above, the Court held a joint Motion to Dismiss/merits hearing on October 21, 2013. During that hearing, the Court verbally denied Ms. Forsyth's Motion to Withdraw. See Docket No. 12. Both the Petitioner, Mr. Aguilera, and his former Attorney, Wallace Taylor, had an opportunity to be heard during the hearing. Following that hearing, the Court took all matters under advisement.


A district court is given discretion in determining whether to hold an evidentiary hearing on a motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. See United States v. Oldham , 787 F.2d 454, 457 (8th Cir. 1986). In exercising that discretion, the district court must determine whether the alleged facts, if true, entitle the movant to relief. See Payne v. United States , 78 F.3d 343, 347 (8th Cir. 1996). "Accordingly, [a district court may summarily dismiss a motion brought under 28 U.S.C. § 2255] if (1) the... allegations, accepted as true, would not entitle the [movant] to relief, or (2) the allegations cannot be accepted as true because they are contradicted by the record, inherently incredible, or conclusions rather than statements of fact." Engelen v. United States , 68 F.3d 238, 240-41 (8th Cir. 1995) (citations omitted); see also Delgado v. United States , 162 F.3d 981, 983 (8th Cir. 1998) (stating that an evidentiary hearing is unnecessary where allegations, even if true, do not warrant relief or allegations cannot be accepted as true because they are contradicted by the record or lack factual evidence and rely on conclusive statements); United States v. Hester , 489 F.2d 48, 50 (8th Cir. 1973) (stating that no evidentiary hearing is necessary where the files and records of the case demonstrate that relief is unavailable or where the motion is based on a question of law). Stated differently, a 28 U.S.C. § 2255 motion can be ...

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