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United States v. Pedraza

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

August 2, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff/Respondent,


          Danny C. Reeves United States District Judge.

         Defendant Isai Pedraza was convicted at trial of conspiring to distribute cocaine, money laundering, conspiracy to commit promotional money laundering, and possession of a machine gun. [Record Nos. 160-176] He was later sentenced to a 262-month term of imprisonment, followed by a five-year term of supervised release. [Record Nos. 208, 216] The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed the defendant's conviction and sentence. United States v. Orozco, 716 Fed.Appx. 390 (6th Cir. 2017); [Record No. 272]. The United States Supreme Court denied Pedraza's petition for a writ of certiorari. Pedraza v. United States, 138 S.Ct. 1313 (2018); [Record No. 275]. The matter is now pending for consideration of Pedraza's pro se motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. [Record No. 284]


         Pedraza's § 2255 motion was referred to a United States magistrate judge for review and issuance of a Report and Recommendation (“R&R”) pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). Following briefing, United States Magistrate Judge Matthew A. Stinnett recommended that Pedraza's motion be denied. [Record No. 296]

         This Court must make a de novo determination of those portions of the magistrate judge's recommendations to which specific objections are made. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). However, “[w]here no objections are made, or the objections are vague or conclusory, the Court is not required to review under a de novo, or any other, standard.” United States v. Hale, No. 15-018-DLB, 2017 WL 6606861, at *1 (E.D. Ky. Dec. 26, 2017) (citations omitted). Additionally, “[a]n objection that does nothing more than state a disagreement with a magistrate's suggested resolution, or simply summarizes what has been presented before, is not an objection as that term is used in this context.” United States v. Bowers, 2017 WL 6606860, at *1 (E.D. Ky. Dec. 26, 2017) (internal quotations and citations omitted).

         Pedraza's objections present the same arguments that Magistrate Judge Stinnett has already considered and rejected. [Record No. 297] However, the Court has examined the record and, having made a de novo determination, agrees with the magistrate judge's analysis.


         To prevail, a defendant/petitioner “must establish an error of constitutional magnitude which had a substantial and injurious effect or influence on the proceedings.” Watson v. United States, 165 F.3d 486, 488 (6th Cir. 1999) (citing Brecht v. Abrahamson, 507 U.S. 619, 637-38 (1993)). One claim satisfying an error of constitutional magnitude is for ineffective assistance of counsel. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 685-87 (1984).

         Pedraza presents five grounds in support of his § 2255 motion, all asserting various claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. [Record No. 284] The objections to the R&R address four of the five grounds in his § 2255 motion asserting that his counsel was ineffective. [Record No. 297] Pedraza bears the burden of proving his allegations by a preponderance of the evidence. See Pough v. United States, 442 F.3d 959, 964 (6th Cir. 2006).

         To succeed on an ineffective assistance of counsel claim, Pedraza must show two elements. Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687. First, he must demonstrate that his counsel's performance was deficient. This “requires showing that counsel made errors so serious that counsel was not functioning as the ‘counsel' guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment.” Id. Next, Pedraza must show that his counsel's deficient performance prejudiced him. Id. To meet this element, Pedraza must “show that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different.” Id. at 694.

         Pedraza must demonstrate both elements of the Strickland analysis, but the Court need “not address both components of the inquiry ‘if the defendant makes an insufficient showing on one.'” Campbell v. United States, 364 F.3d 727, 730 (6th Cir. 2004); Strickland, 466 U.S. at 697. “The benchmark for judging any claim of ineffectiveness must be whether counsel's conduct so undermined the proper functioning of the adversarial process that the trial cannot be relied on as having produced a just result.” Strickland, 466 U.S. at 686.

         A. Alleged Educational Deficiency

         Pedraza first claims that trial counsel Joseph Eggert's performance was deficient because Eggert failed to investigate and acknowledge Pedraza's “low levels in math, english [sic], reading, social studies, science, [and] vocabulary.” [Record No. 284-1] Pedraza goes on to state that he had no “clear comprehension of what information he was told by his counsel through an interpreter.” [Id.] Further, he contends that if Eggert investigated Pedraza's comprehension levels, he could have requested a “specialized interpreter to administer a Spanish test and present[] the results to the Court. Where the Court would have been aware of such poor mental capacity.” [Id.] Pedraza does not assert that the Court's knowledge of his alleged poor mental capacity would have changed the outcome of the proceedings.

         Pedraza's objections rely on the Presentence Investigation Report (“PSR”) in claiming that it “displays an indication to counsel Eggert” that Pedraza has a “poor education level which results in poor language and comprehension levels of understanding to what information is being said to him.” [Record No. 297] But the PSR ultimately refutes this claim for two reasons: (1) the PSR was completed and entered after Pedraza's conviction, and (2) the PSR indicates that Pedraza became a U.S. citizen through naturalization in 2012, he attended school in Kentucky but dropped out in the 11th grade “due to a language barrier since his native ...

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