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United States v. Morales

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Frankfort

April 24, 2014

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff/Respondent,
PEREZ J. MORALES, Defendant/Movant. Civil Action No. 3:13-7314-DCR-EBA


DANNY C. REEVES, District Judge.

Defendant Perez J. Morales has moved to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. [Record No. 151] He claims that collateral relief should be granted because his Court-appointed attorney provided ineffective assistance with respect to a number of matters. However, after reviewing each claim, the Court finds that the relief requested in not appropriate. As a result, the defendant's motion will be denied.


On January 3, 2012, local police officers arrested an individual on methamphetamine charges in Louisville, Kentucky. [Record No. 1] The individual cooperated with law enforcement and admitted receiving the drugs at 128 Kentucky Street in Shelbyville, Kentucky. Police decided to perform a "knock and talk" at the subject residence. After receiving permission to enter the home, Shelbyville police detectives encountered Martel Jaimes Alaniz. Alaniz immediately claimed ownership of all drugs and weapons located within the residence. He then proceeded to reveal the location of 1.7 kilograms of crystal methamphetamine, together with approximately one gallon of liquid methamphetamine in a back bedroom. During a subsequent search of the residence, police also discovered a rifle and handgun.

The original indictment contained three substantive counts charging Martel Alaniz with knowingly and intentionally possessing with intent to distribute over 500 grams of a mixture or substance containing a detectible amount of methamphetamine in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) (Count 1); knowingly possessing two firearms in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(c)(1)(A)(i) (Count 2); and being a illegal alien while knowingly possessing two firearms affecting commerce in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(5)(A) (Count 3). [Record No. 11] On April 6, 2012, a four-count Superseding Indictment was returned for the purpose of adding a conspiracy count and additional defendants, including Morales.

Count 1 of the Superseding Indictment charged:

Beginning on or about a day in December 2011, the exact date unknown, and continuing through on or about January 3, 2012, in Shelby County, in the Eastern District of Kentucky, and elsewhere

did conspire together and with others to knowingly and intentionally distribute 500 grams or more of a mixture or substance containing a detectible amount of methamphetamine, a Schedule II controlled substance, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1), all in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846.

[Record No. 21][1] If convicted of this charge, the defendants faced a term of incarceration of not less than 10 years imprisonment nor more than life, a fine of not more than $10, 000, 000.00, and a term of supervised release of not less that five years nor more than life.

A pretrial conference was scheduled for June 5, 2012. [Record No. 29] However, shortly before the hearing co-Defendant Martel Alaniz moved the Court to be rearraigned for the purpose of entering a guilty plea to Counts 1 and 3 of the Superseding Indictment. [Record No. 34] On June 6, 2012, Defendant Martel Alaniz entered a guilty plea to those counts. [Record No. 57]

Co-Defendant Alfonso Alaniz[2] initially appeared for arraignment on June 13, 2012. At the time of this appearance, trial was scheduled to begin on August 14, 2012, with a pretrial conference set for July 31, 2012. [Record No. 41] Defendant Morales was transferred from state custody, via a writ of habeas corpus ad prosequendum. [Record Nos. 52, 55] He initially appeared for arraignment on August 13, 2012. [Record No. 72] Due to Morales' late appearance before the Court, trial was subsequently continued until October 2, 2012. [Record No. 70] Likewise, the sentencing hearing of co-Defendant Martel Alaniz was continued until November 13, 2012, in the event his cooperation was needed during the trial of the Alfonso Alaniz and Morales. [Record No. 75] However, neither of the remaining defendants proceeded to trial.

On September 14, 2012, Defendants Alfonso Alaniz and Morales filed motions to be rearraigned on the Superseding Indictment. [Record Nos. 80 and 81] While Alfonso Alaniz's motion pertained to Count 1, Morales moved to be rearraigned on a lesser included offense contained in Count 1. Alfonso Alaniz had second thoughts when he appeared on September 18, 2012, to enter a guilty plea.[3] As a result, his trial date was reinstated. [Record No. 86] But on September 25, 2012, he again moved for rearraignment. [Record No. 89]

On September 27, 2012, Moralez entered a guilty plea to a lesser included offense contained in Count 1 of the Superseding Indictment which charged him with possessing with intent to distribute 50 grams or more of a mixture or substance containing methamphetamine in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 846. [Record No. 93][4] During the September 27, 2012, hearing, Morales admitted that the following facts were accurate and could be proven beyond a reasonable doubt if the matter proceeded to trial:

On January 3, 2012, the Jeffersontown (Kentucky) Police Department (JPD) made an arrest of the defendant and another individual in Louisville, Kentucky. Immediately prior to the arrest, officers observed both individuals making movements near the center of the front seat of the vehicle, near the console. Following the arrest, a search was conducted on the vehicle, and in the center console approximately 14.5 ounces of a substance containing meth was recovered. The passenger was identified as Perez Morales, defendant herein.
Morales was Mirandized and expressed [a] desire to cooperate. In the course of his cooperation he described a possible subject/stash house in Shelbyville. SPD conducted a knock and talk, where they found a man named Martel Jaimes Alaniz. Martel Alaniz stated that everything in the home was his, and that he wanted to take responsibility. Alaniz offered that he had drugs and guns in the house, and took Nunez to his bedroom where he showed officers the drugs and guns and gave verbal consent to search.
Additionally, Morales stated he also knew that Alex Alaniz, Martel's brother, was involved in drugs, and acknowledges that the baggie in his possession that night originated with Alex. Morales also informed the police about a possible "stash house" in Jefferson County where money may be stored. The material that was recovered was in fact a substance containing methamphetamine.

[Record No. 94] Thus, by the time of his appearance before this Court, Morales had already confessed to his involvement in drug activities and was connected to at least 14.5 ounces of methamphetamine. However, by virtue of his plea to the lessser included offense in Count 1, he was able to avoid the otherwise applicable mandatory minimum ten-year term of incarceration.

In exchange for the concessions given to Morales, the government received a number of benefits, some of which are outlined in paragraphs 7 and 8 of his written Plea Agreement.

7. The Defendant [Morales] will not file a departure motion pursuant to U.S.S.G. Chapter 5, Parts H or K.
8. The Defendant waives the right to appeal and the right to collaterally attack the guilty plea, conviction, and sentence, including any order of restitution.

[ Id. ] In addition to waiving his appellate rights, Morales acknowledged in paragraph 10 of the Plea Agreement that by pleading guilty, he would likely be removed from the United States following service of his sentence due to his status as an illegal alien.

Based on the drug quantity attributed to Morales (between 350 grams and 500 grams of a mixture or substance containing a detectible amount of methamphetamine), his Base Offense Level was determined to be 30. However, after receiving a two-level reduction for his role in the offense and a three-level reduction for acceptance of responsibility, Morales Total Offense Level was reduced to 25. [PSR, ¶¶ 14-22] Morales had two alcohol related convictions, resulting in two criminal history points. Therefore, he was placed in Criminal History Category II for purposes of determining his non-binding guideline range. [PSR, ¶¶ 25-29] As discussed more fully below, Morales' criminal history score disqualified him for application of the safety valve under the United States Sentencing Guidelines. Based on these calculations, Morales faced a guideline range of 63 to 78 months imprisonment at the time of sentencing and was also subject to a mandatory minimum term of incarceration of 60 months. [PSR, ¶¶ 42-43]

Pursuant to the parties' plea negotiations, the Assistant United States Attorney filed a motion seeking a downward departure from the defendant's guideline range and from the mandatory minimum term of incarceration. [Record No. 122] In relevant part, the government's motion focused on the defendant's cooperation with law enforcement soon after consultation with his attorney. According to the United States,

[Morales] provided information about his sources of supply as well as others he knows to be involved in the illegal distribution of drugs in both Louisville and Lexington, Kentucky. In this case specifically, the information provided by the defendant pertained to the person who had given him his methamphetamine, his co-defendant. This cooperation likely helped lead directly to the decision of the co-defendant to plead in this case. The information thus far has been largely corroborated and law enforcement believes he was truthful.... Therefore, the United States moved the Court to consider a downward departure from the established sentencing guidelines and statutory minimum sentence when imposing the defendant's sentence. We defer to the Court's discretion as to whether a downward departure is appropriate, and respectfully recommend a sentence of 15% less than what the court otherwise would have sentenced...

[Record No. 122] The Court granted this motion at the time of the sentencing hearing. [Record No. 128][5]

On January 23, 2013, Morales was sentenced to a term of incarceration of 59 months, followed by a term of supervised release of four years. While the defendant's status as an illegal alien disqualified him for participation in the BOP's RDAP program, the Court nevertheless recommended that he participate in any available drug and ...

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