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Benitez v. United States

United States District Court, S.D. New York

December 2, 2014

CARLOS A. BENITEZ, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent

Carlos A Benitez, Petitioner, Pro se, Malone, N.Y. USA.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Deborah A. Batts, United States District Judge.

Petitioner Carlos A. Benitez (" Petitioner") petitions to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (" Section 2255"). His Petition asserts that his 57-month sentence was excessive and requests to: (1) be re-sentenced similarly to his co-defendant who received a 30-month term of imprisonment; and (2) have his federal sentence run concurrently with his current state sentence. For the reasons stated below, the Petition is DENIED.

I. BACKGROUND

On July 2, 2012, Petitioner pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute heroin in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(C), an offense that carries a maximum sentence of 20 years. During his plea proceeding, Petitioner allocuted to conspiring to sell 10 grams of heroin. The plea agreement included a stipulated Guideline Range of 57-71 months, which was calculated using an Offense Level of 23, attributing 100 to 400 grams of heroin to Petitioner, and a Criminal History Category of III. The Pre-Sentence Report prepared by the Department of Probation recommended a sentence of 70 months, based on a Guideline Range calculated using an Offense Level of 26 and a Criminal History Category of IV. On April 9, 2013, at sentencing, this Court adopted the stipulated Base Offense Level and Criminal History Category of III. The Court sentenced Petitioner to a term of 57 months imprisonment. Petitioner did not file an appeal, nor did he challenge in any way the sufficiency of his plea or the effectiveness of his trial counsel before or during his guilty plea.

On June 15, 2012, Petitioner's co-defendant, Hector Coste (" Coste"), pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute at least 100 grams to 400 grams of heroin, but under 18 U.S.C. § 371, which carries a maximum sentence of 5 years. On April 9, 2013, this Court sentenced Coste to a term of 30 months imprisonment.

Following Petitioner's federal sentencing hearing, he was remitted to state custody to answer unrelated state charges. On May 2, 2013, Petitioner pleaded guilty to Robbery in the 3rd Degree, a Class D Felony, in violation of New York Penal Law § 160.05 and was sentenced to a term of two to four years. The sentence in this Court did not specify whether the federal sentence was to be served concurrently or consecutively with any future state sentences not yet imposed. However, the subsequent state court directed that Petitioner's state sentence should run concurrently with his federal sentence.

On February 24, 2014, Petitioner filed this Petition seeking to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence pursuant to Section 2255. On July 18, 2014, Petitioner completed his sentence and was transferred to federal custody to commence his federal sentence. On, November 17, 2014, this Court received a letter from the Bureau of Prisons Designation and Sentence Computation Center [" BOP" ] indicating that Petitioner had requested nunc pro tunc designation of the state prison as the place of service of his federal sentence, and requesting the Court's position with respect to Petitioner's request. See Letter from Bureau of Prisons Designation and Sentence Computation Center (Nov. 10, 2014) [" BOP Letter" ].

II. DISCUSSION

A. Procedural Default

Petitioner first claims that he should be re-sentenced with a sentence similar to Coste. Petitioner alleges that he was only in possession of 10 grams of narcotics, whereas Coste possessed 100 grams of narcotics. This claim is procedurally barred because he failed to raise it on direct review. " A motion under [Section] 2255 is not a substitute for an appeal." Zhang v. United States, 506 F.3d 162, 166 (2d Cir.2007) (internal quotation marks omitted). Excepting claims of ineffective assistance of counsel, see Massaro v. United States, 538 U.S. 500, 505-06, 123 S.Ct. 1690, 155 L.Ed.2d 714 (2003), " [i]n general, a claim may not be presented in a habeas petition where the petitioner failed to properly raise the claim on direct review." Zhang, 506 F.3d at 166 (citing Reed v. Farley, 512 U.S. 339, 354, 114 S.Ct. 2291, 129 L.Ed.2d 277 (1994)). " Where a defendant has procedurally defaulted a claim by failing to raise it on direct review, the claim may be raised in habeas only if the defendant can first demonstrate either cause and actual prejudice, or that he is actually innocent." Bousley v. United States, 523 U.S. 614, 622, 118 S.Ct. 1604, 140 L.Ed.2d 828 (1998) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted); see also Harrington v. United States, 689 F.3d 124, 129 (2d Cir.2012) (" [W]e will not afford collateral review to claims that a petitioner failed properly to raise on direct review unless the petitioner shows (1) good cause to excuse the default and ensuing prejudice, or (2) actual innocence.").

A request for a sentence reduction because of a dispute about drug quantity is precisely the type of issue that should be raised on appeal. Petitioner was notified of his right to appeal at his sentencing hearing. Accordingly, Petitioner may only raise his claims in a Section 2255 Petition if he can demonstrate cause for the procedural default and actual prejudice, or actual innocence. He has failed to demonstrate either.

Furthermore, Petitioner waived his right to appeal his sentence by entering into the plea agreement in this case. In the plea agreement, Petitioner agreed that he would " not ... file a direct appeal; nor bring a collateral challenge, including but not limited to an application under Title 28, United States Code, Section 2255 and/or Section 2241. . ." Because Petitioner does not contend that the plea agreement is invalid, the appeal waiver in the plea agreement also bars him from requesting his sentence be reduced. Garcia-Santos v. United States, 273 F.3d 506, 508 (2d Cir. 2001) (holding that a defendant ...


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