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Naranjo-Ramirez v. United States

United States District Court, E.D. New York

July 25, 2017



          TOWNES, United States District Judge. [1]

         In July 2008, Movant Robinson Naranjo-Ramirez was convicted, upon his plea of guilty, of a single count of conspiracy to import heroin. The Court sentenced him to 150 months' imprisonment. Having unsuccessfully appealed, Movant now moves to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentencing pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a), alleging that his trial attorney provided ineffective assistance of counsel in stipulating to a two-level aggravating role enhancement under U.S.S.G. § 3B1.1 despite the Government's promise not to seek such an enhancement. For the reasons set forth below, the motion is denied.


         The Underlying Criminal Case

         On March 20, 2006, Movant was indicted in this district on a single count of conspiracy to import one kilogram or more of a substance containing heroin. The indictment stemmed from an investigation undertaken by agents of the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which revealed that Movant was the head of a drug trafficking organization engaged in importing narcotics into the United States from Colombia and Brazil. Movant was arrested in Colombia on March 27, 2006, and detained at the notorious, high-security prison in Combita, Colombia, for approximately eleven months before the Colombian courts approved the United States' request for his extradition. Movant was extradited on February 19, 2007, and was arraigned in this district on the following day.

         The Plea of Guilty

         After Movant was arraigned, he entered into plea negotiations with the Government, then represented by AUSA Mary K. Barr. During the course of those negotiations, AUSA Barr stated that the Government subsequently would not advocate for the four-level aggravating role enhancement under U.S.S.G. § 3B1.1. Although the plea negotiations ultimately proved unsuccessful, the Government took the position that it "would not be just" to advocate for the aggravating role enhancement in light of AUSA Barr's assurances to the contrary. Transcript of Jan. 15, 2009, Proceedings, p. 7.

         On July 10, 2008, Movant appeared before this Court and pled guilty to the only count in the indictment. Transcript of July 10, 2008, Plea ("Plea Transcript"), p. 11. There was no plea agreement between the parties, but the Government prepared a sentencing sheet which estimated a base level offense of 36 with a three-level downward adjustment for acceptance of responsibility. Sentencing Sheet, July 10, 2008, p. 2. In keeping with AUSA Barr's promise, the sentencing sheet did not include any aggravating role enhancement for Movant's leadership role in the commission of the offense. Id.

         During the plea proceedings, the Court explained that if Movant pled guilty, his term of imprisonment would be somewhere between the minimum term often years and the maximum term of life imprisonment. Plea Transcript, p. 12. The Court further explained that the Government's estimate of the guidelines range corresponded to a range of imprisonment of 135 to 168 months, but that the Government's estimate could be wrong. Id. at 14. Movant confirmed that he understood that the sentencing Judge would not be bound by the Government's estimate, and that no one had made any promises to him about what his sentence would be. Id. at 14-15. Movant also confirmed that he had spoken to his attorney about the advisory guidelines and understood that they were not mandatory. Id. at 13. The Court accepted Movant's guilty plea.

         Prior to sentencing, the Probation Department prepared a presentence report which calculated Movant's total offense level at 37-not 33, as estimated by the Government. Like the Government, the Probation Department calculated the base offense level at 36 under U.S.S.G. § 2D 1.1, based on the belief that the offense involved 13.7274 kilograms of heroin. However, unlike the Government, the Probation Department included a four-level aggravating role enhancement under U.S.S.G. §3B1.1 on the ground that Movant was the leader of a drug-trafficking scheme involving at least 11 participants. The Probation Department then reduced the offense level by three levels for acceptance of responsibility, yielding a total offense level of 37.

         In their pre-sentencing submissions, both the defense and the Government argued for an adjusted offense level of 31. The parties agreed that the quantity of heroin attributable to Movant was 7.7274 kilograms-the weight of the heroin actually seized during the investigation. This quantity corresponded to a base level of 34. See U.S.S.G. § 2D1.1(c)(3). The parties further agreed that a three-level reduction for acceptance of responsibility was appropriate. The Government did not advocate for an aggravating role enhancement, noting that the parties agreed that "absent a Fatico hearing, facts justifying an enhancement... under U.S.S.G. § 3E1.1 have not been proved." Letter to Hon. Sandra L. Townes from AUSA Justin D. Lerer dated Jan. 14, 2009.

         At sentencing on January 15, 2009, the Court focused on resolving the conflict between the Probation Department's guideline calculations and those of the parties. The Court agreed to amend the presentence report to reflect the quantity of heroin agreed upon by the parties, and to reflect a base offense level of 34, rather than 36. Transcript of Jan. 15, 2009, Proceedings, p. 3. However, the Court insisted on scheduling a Fatico hearing to determine whether an aggravating role enhancement was appropriate, noting that it had an obligation to consider "the history and characteristics of this defendant as well as the circumstances of this offense ..."Id. at 7. The Government repeatedly stated that it had agreed not to advocate for an aggravating role enhancement, but conceded that it had enough evidence to proceed with the Fatico hearing. Id. at 3-5, 7.

         The Fatico hearing never took place. At an appearance in mid-May 2009, the parties agreed that a two-level aggravating role enhancement was warranted under U.S.S.G. § 3B1.1, and the Court directed that the presentence report be amended to reflect this adjustment. On June 11, 2009, however, Movant himself wrote this Court a letter expressing his dissatisfaction with the agreement. Movant stated that he felt the two-level enhancement was "unfair" since he had pled guilty with the understanding that the Government would not seek an enhancement for his leadership role. Letter to Hon. Sandra L. Townes from Robinson Naranjo-Ramirez dated June 11, 2008, p. 2. Movant did not request any particular relief aside from "mercy and leniency." Id. at 3.

         At the start of the sentencing proceedings on July 31, 2009, the Court read from Movant's June 11, 2009, letter. The Court interpreted the letter as "objecting to the two level enhancement, " and opined that a Fatico hearing was necessary in light of this objection. Transcript of July 31, 2009, Sentencing ("Sentencing Transcript"), p. 4. Defense counsel urged a different interpretation, asserting that Movant's letter had been "inartful" and that he had not "meant to convey" a desire to abandon the agreement. Id. Defense counsel noted that both he and another defense attorney had advised Movant not to proceed with the Fatico hearing, that Movant had accepted that advice, and that it was not Movant's "intention ... to relitigate the issue of the two level enhancement." Id. at 5.

         After giving Movant the chance to discuss his options with defense counsel, Movant announced through his attorney that he was prepared to withdraw the July 11, 2009, letter. Sentencing Transcript, p. 8. The Court then questioned Movant directly:

The Court: Your attorney tells me that you wish to withdraw that letter; ...

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