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United States v. Rodriguez

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit

August 8, 2013

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Appellee,
v.
RENE RODRIGUEZ, Defendant-Appellant.[*]

Argued: March 5, 2013

Defendant-appellant Rene Rodriguez pleaded guilty before the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York (Suddaby, J.) to one count of possessing with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(B). On appeal, Rodriguez asks the Court to vacate his conviction because the District Court failed to comply with Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(b)(1)(I) and because he received ineffective assistance of counsel. We AFFIRM the judgment of the District Court.

Steven Y. Yurowitz, Newman & Greenberg, New York, NY, for Defendant-Appellant.

Brenda K. Sannes, Assistant United States Attorney (Paula Ryan Conan, Carla Freedman, Assistant United States Attorneys, and Richard S. Hartunian, United States Attorney for the Northern District of New York, on the brief), Syracuse, NY, for Appellee.

Before: LYNCH, LOHIER, and CARNEY, Circuit Judges.

LOHIER, Circuit Judge:

Defendant Rene Rodriguez appeals from a judgment of conviction entered May 24, 2011, in the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York (Glenn T. Suddaby, Judge). Rodriguez pleaded guilty to possessing with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of cocaine. Due to the filing of a prior felony information, the District Court imposed a statutory mandatory minimum sentence of 120 months' imprisonment. Rodriguez now seeks to vacate his conviction and sentence for two reasons. First, he claims that the District Court violated Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(b)(1)(I), which requires district courts in the course of guilty plea proceedings to "inform the defendant of, and determine that the defendant understands . . . any mandatory minimum penalty." Second, Rodriguez argues that he received ineffective assistance of counsel. Because Rodriguez, who failed to object in the district court to the alleged Rule 11 errors, has not shown that any error affected his substantial rights, and because we decline to consider his ineffective assistance of counsel claim on direct appeal, we affirm.

BACKGROUND

Rodriguez was charged with one count of possessing with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(B) ("Count One"), and one count of distributing and attempting to distribute 500 grams or more of cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(B), and 846. In October 2010, pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 851, the Government filed a prior felony information based on Rodriguez's previous state felony drug conviction, thus subjecting Rodriguez to a doubling of the applicable mandatory minimum sentence, from five years to ten years.

A. Rodriguez's Agreements with the Government

On January 27, 2011, Rodriguez and his counsel, Stuart LaRose, signed a written plea agreement in which Rodriguez agreed to plead guilty to Count One. The agreement made clear that Rodriguez would be subject to a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment of ten years and a maximum term of life imprisonment. It explained that "the sentence to be imposed upon him is within the discretion of the sentencing Court, subject to the statutory maximum and mandatory minimum penalties and the provisions of the Sentencing Reform Act and the United States Sentencing Guidelines." The parties stipulated that Rodriguez's offense level under the Guidelines was 26 and that the Government would recommend a 2- or 3-level reduction for acceptance of responsibility if he refrained from obstructing justice prior to sentencing. The agreement also stated that Rodriguez "waives any and all rights . . . to appeal or collaterally attack his conviction and any sentence of imprisonment of 120 months or less."

Also on January 27, Rodriguez signed a separate agreement ("Exhibit A")[1] with the Government, in which he made additional promises in exchange for the Government's promise to consider, among other things, moving for a downward departure to allow the court to impose a sentence below the ten-year mandatory minimum term of imprisonment.

B. Guilty Plea

The day after signing the plea agreement and Exhibit A, Rodriguez pleaded guilty to Count One. During the plea hearing, the District Court asked the Government to inform Rodriguez and the ...


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