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Guzman-Ortiz v. United States

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

February 27, 2017

Patricio Guzman-Ortiz Petitioner - Appellant
United States of America Respondent - Appellee

          Submitted: October 21, 2016

         Appeal from United States District Court for the District of South Dakota - Sioux Falls

          Before RILEY, Chief Judge, WOLLMAN and BENTON, Circuit Judges.

          RILEY, Chief Judge.

         Patricio Guzman-Ortiz was convicted of conspiring to distribute 500 grams or more of a mixture or substance containing methamphetamine in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 846. This court affirmed his conviction and sentence along with those of a co-defendant on direct appeal. See United States v. Chantharath, 705 F.3d 295, 298 (8th Cir. 2013). Guzman-Ortiz then moved to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a). The district court[1]denied his request for post-conviction relief without granting an evidentiary hearing. Guzman-Ortiz appeals, arguing (1) he was unconstitutionally deprived of effective assistance of counsel, and (2) at a minimum, the district court should have held an evidentiary hearing. We disagree and affirm.

         I. BACKGROUND[2]

         Following his March 2010 arrest, Guzman-Ortiz and nine co-defendants were charged with knowingly and intentionally conspiring to distribute a controlled substance. Guzman-Ortiz and a co-defendant, Viengxay Chantharath, were tried jointly. See Chantharath, 705 F.3d at 298.

         At trial, the government sought to prove the defendants were members of the same conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine. See id. at 298-300. In opening remarks, the government explained the jury would not hear "that these two defendants knew each other" because this "was not a small conspiracy involving just two people, but instead was a much larger conspiracy involving a variety of people, not all of whom knew each other, a conspiracy that was forced to evolve as members of that conspiracy were arrested." Evidence demonstrated Chantharath, who was distributing methamphetamine in Worthington, Minnesota, and Sioux Falls, South Dakota, became acquainted with co-defendant Aurelio Solorio in 2009 and began dealing to Solorio. See id. at 298. Later, Solorio started obtaining methamphetamine directly from Chantharath's supplier, Mario Maldonado. See id. In summer 2009, law enforcement began surveillance of a motel in Sioux Falls where Chantharath had allegedly been selling methamphetamine. See id. at 298-99. Chantharath was eventually arrested in connection with that surveillance, but was released in November 2009. Id. at 299. After his release, Solorio helped Chantharath get back in business by giving Chantharath methamphetamine to sell. Id. Chantharath was arrested one month later when law enforcement raided a motel room in Sioux Falls and Chantharath arrived at the room with 12.1 grams of methamphetamine on him. Id.

         Guzman-Ortiz, on the other hand, was distributing methamphetamine in St. Cloud, Minnesota, and out of a "stash house" in Monticello, Minnesota. Id. In January 2010, Guzman-Ortiz met Solorio when Guzman-Ortiz happened to enter a bathroom in a Minneapolis nightclub and came upon Solorio using methamphetamine. Id. Guzman-Ortiz offered to get Solorio methamphetamine, and Solorio accepted. Id. Guzman-Ortiz and Solorio met again on three separate occasions. See id. at 299-300. On their final meeting, Guzman-Ortiz was following Solorio in a separate vehicle out of Sioux Falls on their way to Worthington when Guzman-Ortiz was pulled over. Id. at 300. Law enforcement recovered from Guzman-Ortiz's vehicle $29, 000 in cash and a scale with white, powdery residue, and Guzman-Ortiz was arrested. Id. Later, law enforcement executed search warrants in Guzman-Ortiz's apartment and stash house and recovered a 9-millimeter pistol, a modified AK-47 rifle, an SKS rifle, and a 9-millimeter rifle. Id.

         The jury found both defendants guilty of entering the charged conspiracy. The district court sentenced Guzman-Ortiz to 262 months imprisonment-later reduced to 210 months.[3] See U.S.S.G. § 2D1.1(c)(3). On direct appeal, we affirmed the sufficiency of the evidence supporting Guzman-Ortiz's conviction, the application of a sentencing enhancement, and the substantive reasonableness of his sentence. See Chantharath, 705 F.3d at 301-02, 304-05.

         In April 2014, asserting he was denied effective assistance of counsel in violation of his Sixth Amendment right under the United States Constitution, Guzman-Ortiz filed a pro se motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence. See 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a). Guzman-Ortiz contended his counsel's performance was unconstitutionally deficient because his counsel failed to (1) cross-examine Solorio competently, "the supposed linchpin between Guzman-Ortiz and Chantharath, regarding the charge that Guzman-Ortiz and Chantharath were part of the same conspiracy"; (2) present a competent closing argument to the jury; and (3) challenge the drug quantities attributed to him at his sentencing hearing.[4] As a result, Guzman-Ortiz claimed the jury was left "with the incorrect but uncontested impression that Guzman-Ortiz, as charged, was part of a single and far larger drug trafficking conspiracy than was actually the case, " and the district court sentenced Guzman-Ortiz at a higher base offense level due to incorrect drug quantity calculations.

         Guzman-Ortiz's counsel submitted a sworn affidavit denying Guzman-Ortiz's claims. The government denied the allegations set forth in the petition and moved to dismiss. The petition was referred to a magistrate judge, who issued a comprehensive report and recommendation proposing that the district court deny the § 2255 motion without an evidentiary hearing. Adopting the magistrate judge's report and recommendation, the district court decided no evidentiary hearing was necessary and denied Guzman-Ortiz's claim to relief. Guzman-Ortiz subsequently moved for a certificate of appealability, see id. § 2253(c)(2); Fed. R. App. P. 22(b)(1), which the district court granted. Guzman-Ortiz appeals. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1291, 2253(a) (appellate jurisdiction over a final order in a § 2255 proceeding).


         "When addressing post-conviction ineffective assistance claims brought under § 2255, we review the ineffective assistance issue de novo and the underlying findings of fact for clear error." United States v. Regenos, 405 F.3d 691, 692-93 (8th Cir. 2005). A district court's denial of an evidentiary ...

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