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United States v. Lamas

United States District Court, D. Kansas

February 7, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
ROGELIO AMADA LAMAS, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          CARLOS MURGUIA, United States District Judge

         This case is before the court on defendant Rogelio Amada Lamas’s Motion Under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence by a Person in Federal Custody (Doc. 214) alleging trial counsel was ineffective when he failed to properly advise him about the importance of entering a guilty plea before a certain deadline (Ground III). The court held an evidentiary hearing on August 2, 2017, and for the reasons set forth below, the court finds that defendant is entitled to relief on Ground III.

         I. Factual Background

         On September 6, 2012, a grand jury indicted defendant with conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute more than 50 grams of methamphetamine (Count One); distributing more than 50 grams of methamphetamine (Count Three); and possessing with intent to distribute more than 50 grams of methamphetamine (Count Four).

         The government initially proposed a plea agreement dated October 31, 2012, with a plea-entry deadline of December 3, 2012. Trial counsel did not remember discussing this deadline with defendant, however, defendant did not accept this initial plea agreement.

         On February 27, 2013, the government offered a second plea agreement with a plea-entry deadline of March 8, 2013. Once again, trial counsel did not remember discussing the deadline with defendant, and defendant did not plead guilty by March 8, 2013. The court subsequently scheduled defendant’s jury trial for July 22, 2013.

         On July 15, 2013, the parties appeared before the court for defendant’s change of plea. The plea paperwork was prepared and defendant was ready to enter a guilty plea. However, trial counsel stopped the hearing mid-way through because he had not fully explained the plea agreement to defendant. Trial counsel stated that it was his fault, and asked for additional time to speak with defendant. Following a short recess, trial counsel requested additional time to consult with the other prosecutor assigned to defendant’s case who was unavailable that day.

         On July 17, 2013, trial counsel filed a motion to continue the jury trial. Trial counsel referenced the fact that the July 15, 2013 plea did not go through, and stated that he had suspended trial preparation because he believed the parties had reached an agreement. Trial counsel also noted that he had another trial scheduled for July 22, 2013, in state court. The court granted defendant’s motion to continue his jury trial, and scheduled the trial for September 16, 2013.

         At some point after the July 15, 2013 plea hearing, the government gave a third proposed plea agreement to trial counsel. The evidence is unclear about when or in what form the third proposed plea agreement was transmitted, and neither party produced any written record regarding the negotiations. Trial counsel testified that he does not remember whether there was a deadline for accepting the third proposed plea agreement. Trial counsel also could not recall when the government withdrew its previous recommendation for a third-level acceptance-of responsibility reduction.

         On September 10, 2013, defendant filed a notice of intent to assert an affirmative defense; but later that same day, defendant communicated his intent to plead guilty.

         On September 11, 2013, defendant pleaded guilty to Count One of the indictment. Among others agreements, the parties agreed that the government would recommend a sentence within the applicable guideline range and for defendant to receive a two-level reduction to his applicable offense level for acceptance of responsibility under U.S.S.G. § 3E1.1(a). The parties’ plea agreement did not mention a third-level reduction under § 3E1.1(b).

         Defendant’s total offense level was 39, with a criminal history category of II, and the court ultimately imposed a 204-month sentence. Defendant filed his § 2255 motion on March 3, 2016. In a Memorandum and Order dated May 17, 2017, the court denied two claims, but granted an evidentiary hearing on defendant’s claim that trial counsel failed to explain the plea-agreement deadlines (Doc. 228).

         II. Legal Standards

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a), a prisoner in custody has the right to challenge a sentence imposed by the district court if it is in violation of the Constitution or other law of the United States, or if the sentence imposed was in excess of the maximum authorized by law. If the court finds that defendant is being held in violation of federal law, the court “shall vacate and set the judgment aside and shall discharge ...


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