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United States v. Medina

August 24, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Naomi Reice Buchwald, United States District Judge


On January 23, 2004, Juan Medina ("Medina") appealed from a judgment of this Court sentencing him to 240 months in custody, a three-year term of supervised release and a $100 special assessment. On September 14, 2005, the Government filed a motion with the Second Circuit requesting a remand for the limited purpose of conducting an evidentiary hearing concerning Medina's claim that his former attorney, Jon Silveri ("Silveri"), coerced or misled him into pleading guilty. The Second Circuit granted the Government's motion conditioned upon the consent of Medina's appellate counsel which was subsequently given in an affirmation dated December 15, 2005.

Accordingly, this Court held evidentiary hearings on May 11, 2006 and June 6, 2006, receiving testimony from Medina and two attorneys who advised him in advance of the plea, Silveri and Benjamin Heinrich ("Heinrich"). For the reasons explained below, this Court has concluded that Medina's allegations that defense counsel coerced and misled him into pleading guilty are entirely without merit.


Superseding Information and Plea

On October 1, 2003, Medina pled guilty to a one-count superseding information which charged him with participating in an enterprise called the Manzueta Organization through the commission of two Hobbs Act robberies in violation of the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1962(c). See S17 02 Cr. 1082 (NRB)("Information"). The Manzueta Organization "executed numerous coordinated, carefully planned home invasion robberies, primarily of narcotics traffickers in the New York metropolitan area." See id. at ¶ 3. Racketeering Act One specifically charged Medina and others with robbing the occupants of an apartment near Allerton and Holland Avenues in the Bronx in 2001. See id. at ¶ 12. Racketeering Act Two charged Medina and others with conspiring to rob the occupants of an apartment in the vicinity of Hillside Avenue in the Bronx. See id. at ¶ 13. During both robberies, Medina apparently served as a lookout while some of his co-defendants were inside the apartment buildings. See Tr. of 10/1/03 Conf. at 12-13.

Under the terms of the plea agreement, the parties stipulated that the total offense level was 39 and that Medina belonged in Criminal History Category I under the United States Sentencing Guidelines ("Guidelines"). See Gov't Ex. 3, Plea Agreement at 2-3. This resulted in an initial sentencing range under the Guidelines of 262 to 327 months in custody. Id. at 3. However, because the statutory maximum for the charged offense was 240 months, the parties stipulated to a sentence of 240 months. Id. Medina also agreed that he would not "file a direct appeal, nor litigate under Title 28, United States Code, Section 2255 and/or Section 2241, [any sentence] at or below the Stipulated Sentence of 240 months." Id. at 5.

At the beginning of the plea proceeding held on October 1, 2003, Medina was placed under oath. See Tr. of 10/1/03 Conf. at 2. Consistent with the requirements of Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, this Court then conducted an extended allocution before accepting Medina's plea of guilty. Among other things, Medina confirmed that the plea agreement had been translated for him and that he had a sufficient opportunity to discuss it with Silveri before he signed it. Id. at 4, 9-10. Medina also confirmed that he was satisfied with the advice he had received from Silveri. Id. at 4.

During the conference, this Court also asked certain questions to ensure that no threats or promises outside of the plea agreement induced Medina to enter a plea of guilty, as demonstrated by the following exchange:

Court: Now, for a moment, let's put the plea agreement to one side. Have -- apart from this plea agreement, have any threats or promises been made to you to make you plead guilty?

Medina: No ma'am.

Court: Again, leaving the plea agreement to one side, have any understandings or promises been made to you concerning the sentence that you will receive?

Medina: No, ma'am.

Court: Is your plea voluntary?

Defendant: Yes, ma'am.

Tr. of 10/1/03 Conf. at 10. Before accepting the plea, this Court reviewed the terms of the plea agreement with Medina including the fact that the stipulated sentence was twenty years and that he was waiving his right to appeal or otherwise challenge a sentence at or below twenty years. See id. at 11-12.

At the conclusion of the conference, Medina indicated that he wished to say something to this Court. Silveri stated that he knew what Medina wished to talk about and "believe[d] it's appropriate as something to be said at the sentencing, not today." Tr. of 10/1/03 Conf. at 15. This Court informed Medina that it is generally advisable to follow counsel's advice, and Medina apparently agreed because he did not say anything further. However, this exchange did prompt the Government to state that Medina had previously expressed an interest in a cooperation agreement, but that no cooperation agreement was in place and such an agreement was not anticipated in the future. See id. at 15-16. This Court then asked Medina whether he understood that he did not have a cooperation agreement with the Government, and Medina confirmed that he understood. Id. at 16. Following this exchange, I accepted Medina's guilty plea after concluding that it was both knowing and voluntary. Id.

November 27, 2003 Letter

On December 1, 2003, this Court received a letter dated November 27, 2003 from Medina indicating that he was dissatisfied with Silveri and requesting permission to change counsel and withdraw his guilty plea.*fn1 On December 4, 2003, I forwarded a copy of this letter to Silveri and requested that he meet with Medina and inform the Court in writing as to whether a conference was needed to address the issues raised. During the sentencing on January 14, ...

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