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Rodriguez v. United States

September 21, 2006

JUAN RODRIGUEZ, 19848-050, JOSE MARTINEZ, 19912-050 PETITIONERS,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA RESPONDENT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum, United States District Judge

OPINION

Petitioners move under Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b)(6) for relief from a judgment denying, as time-barred, their initial petition for a writ of habeas corpus. Petitioners maintain that the limitations period should have been tolled because the conduct of their lawyer prevented them from filing a timely petition. Because the underlying habeas corpus petition has no merit, petitioners' motion is denied.

BACKGROUND

According to the evidence submitted by the government, Juan Rodriguez was the leader of a drug trafficking organization, and Jose Martinez was a member of Rodriguez's organization. The evidence at trial showed that, in order to avoid paying a drug related debt Rodriguez owed to Jose Valencia, petitioners attempted to use hired professionals to kill Valencia and Freddy Sanchez, one of Valencia's associates. When the hitmen failed to carry out the killings, petitioners personally shot the two men.

Petitioners were each charged with one count of conspiracy to commit murder in aid of racketeering in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1959(a)(5), two counts of murder in aid of racketeering in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1959(a)(1), one count of using a firearm in connection with a crime of violence in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c), and one count of transporting a firearm in interstate commerce while under indictment in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(n). All the charges resulted from the August 22, 1996 murders of Valencia and Sanchez.

The jury found petitioners guilty on all five counts. After trial, petitioners made a motion for a new trial pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 33. That motion was denied. Petitioners were sentenced to life in prison for the counts related to conspiracy, murder, and interstate transportation of a firearm. Additionally, they were sentenced to a mandatory five-year, consecutive prison term for the use of a firearm in connection with a crime of violence. The Second Circuit affirmed the convictions on June 22, 1999. See United States v. Rodriguez, 182 F.3d 902 (2d Cir. 1999). The mandate issued on July 22, 1999.

Although petitioners were aware of the one year limitations period for filing a petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, they did not submit such a petition until October 2002 (the "2002 petition"). Section 2255 states that the one year period begins to run from:

(1) the date on which the judgment of conviction becomes final;

(2) the date on which the impediment to making a motion created by governmental action in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States is removed, if the movant was prevented from making a motion by such governmental action;

(3) the date on which the right asserted was initially recognized by the Supreme Court, if that right has been newly recognized by the Supreme Court and made retroactively applicable to cases on collateral review; or

(4) the date on which the facts supporting the claim or claims presented could have been discovered through the exercise of due diligence.

Petitioners did not assert that they were prevented from filing by governmental action, that they relied upon a new right made retroactively applicable to cases on collateral review, or that their claim was supported by newly discovered evidence. Therefore, petitioners were required to file their petition within one year from the date that their convictions became final. Petitioners' conviction became final on September 20, 1999, a date 90 days after the Second Circuit affirmed their convictions. Clay v. United States, 537 U.S. 522, 525 (2003). Their 2002 petition was filed more than two years after the statute of limitations had barred their claim. Therefore, on June 2, 2003, the petition was dismissed.

The dismissal of a petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 as time-barred is considered a decision on the merits. Villanueva v. United States, 346 F.3d 55, 60 (2d Cir. 2003). Although petitions which have been decided on the merits cannot be amended or expanded, petitioners submitted an "Amendment to the Filed Petition" in May 2004 and a "Supplement to the Amended Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus" in August 2004. Other submissions were sent in September 2004, February 2005, and June 2005. The submissions received subsequent to the June 2, 2003 denial of the 2002 petition raised substantive challenges to their convictions. The new challenges were not raised in and did not relate back to the 2002 habeas corpus petition. Under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, which incorporates 28 U.S.C. § 2244(b)(3), the Second Circuit must authorize all second or successive habeas corpus petitions. After giving petitioners a chance to withdraw their submissions and properly submit them to the Second Circuit for authorization, the submissions were transferred to the Second Circuit on March 20, 2006.

Approximately one week later, petitioners filed a motion under Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b) to vacate or set aside the June 2, 2003 order denying their 2002 habeas corpus petition and the March 20, 2006 order transferring their subsequent submissions to the Second Circuit.*fn1 For the first time, petitioners now argue that their lawyer, Eric B. Singleton, an attorney in San Juan, Puerto Rico, prevented them from filing their 2002 petition within the statute of limitations period. They argue that ...


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