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Gonzalez v. United States

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Northern Division

July 6, 2017



          THOMAS L. LUDINGTON United States District Judge

         On April 23, 2015, Petitioner Angelo Adam Gonzalez was sentenced to 140 months of imprisonment after pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to possess and distribute cocaine. ECF No. 128. Gonzalez did not appeal. On March 15, 2016, Gonzalez filed a motion to vacate his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. ECF No. 1134. That motion was referred to Magistrate Judge Patricia T. Morris. ECF No. 137. On January 20, 2017, Judge Morris issued a report recommending that Gonzalez's motion to vacate be denied. ECF No. 150. Several weeks later, Gonzalez filed objections to Judge Morris's report and recommendation. ECF No. 153. He has also filed a supplemental motion to vacate. ECF No. 154. For the reasons stated below, Gonzalez's objections will be overruled, Judge Morris's report and recommendation will be adopted, and both motions to vacate will be denied.


         Gonzalez was arrested after officers stopped the car he and one of his coconspirators were traveling in. As the vehicle came to a stop, Gonzalez's coconspirator ran from the vehicle and attempted to dispose of two kilograms of cocaine. While in jail, Gonzalez called the third coconspirator and directed him to clean up the mess. All three men were indicted See Nov. 19, 2014, Op. & Ord., ECF No. 92, for an additional summary of the facts leading to indictment.


         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72, a party may object to and seek review of a magistrate judge's report and recommendation. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b)(2). Objections must be stated with specificity. Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 151 (1985) (citation omitted). If objections are made, “[t]he district judge must determine de novo any part of the magistrate judge's disposition that has been properly objected to.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3). De novo review requires at least a review of the evidence before the magistrate judge; the Court may not act solely on the basis of a magistrate judge's report and recommendation. See Hill v. Duriron Co., 656 F.2d 1208, 1215 (6th Cir. 1981). After reviewing the evidence, the Court is free to accept, reject, or modify the findings or recommendations of the magistrate judge. See Lardie v. Birkett, 221 F.Supp.2d 806, 807 (E.D. Mich. 2002).

         Only those objections that are specific are entitled to a de novo review under the statute. Mira v. Marshall, 806 F.2d 636, 637 (6th Cir. 1986). “The parties have the duty to pinpoint those portions of the magistrate's report that the district court must specially consider.” Id. (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). A general objection, or one that merely restates the arguments previously presented, does not sufficiently identify alleged errors on the part of the magistrate judge. See VanDiver v. Martin, 304 F.Supp.2d 934, 937 (E.D. Mich. 2004). An “objection” that does nothing more than disagree with a magistrate judge's determination, “without explaining the source of the error, ” is not considered a valid objection. Howard v. Sec'y of Health and Human Servs., 932 F.2d 505, 509 (6th Cir. 1991). Without specific objections, “[t]he functions of the district court are effectively duplicated as both the magistrate and the district court perform identical tasks. This duplication of time and effort wastes judicial resources rather than saving them, and runs contrary to the purposes of the Magistrate's Act.” Id.


         Gonzalez's original motion to vacate advances three grounds for relief. First, Gonzalez argues that his retained counsel rendered ineffective assistance of counsel by failing to file a motion to suppress, for failing to contest the testimony that the officer gave before the grand jury, and for not contesting the quantity or amount of drugs used to calculate Gonzalez's guideline range at sentencing. Judge Morris rejected all three grounds because Gonzalez pleaded guilty and does not argue or allege that, but for his counsel's ineffectiveness, he would have proceeded to trial.

         Gonzalez has filed four objections. First, he contends that he pleaded guilty because Officer Remer testified before the grand jury that drugs were found near Gonzalez's location. He faults his counsel because “petitioner would have insisted on taking to trial had petitioner been aware of the inconsistencies and the insufficiency of the evidence for which this petitioner was pleaing to.” Objs. at 3, ECF No. 153. Second, Gonzalez argues that his counsel did not adequately investigate whether the dash camera on the police car might have exculpated him. Third, Gonzalez argues that his attorney was ineffective because he did not join in a co-defendant's motion to suppress. Gonzalez's fourth objection simply combines his second and third objections.


         Defendants are entitled to effective assistance of counsel during plea negotiations. Lafler v. Cooper, 566 U.S. 156, 162 (2012). As in all ineffective assistance of counsel challenges, the familiar Strickland v. Washington test applies. Id. (citing 466 U.S. 668). First, the defendant must show “that the counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness.” Strickland, 466 at 688. Second, the defendant 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.

         When a defendant has pleaded guilty and later contends that he received the ineffective assistance of counsel, the defendant “must show that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's errors, he would not have pleaded guilty and would have insisted on going to trial.” Hill v. Lockhart, 474 U.S. 52, 59 (1985). The Hill Court gave examples which are particularly helpful here:

[W]here the alleged error of counsel is a failure to investigate or discover potentially exculpatory evidence, the determination whether the error “prejudiced” the defendant by causing him to plead guilty rather than go to trial will depend on the likelihood that discovery of the evidence would have led counsel to change his recommendation as to the plea. This assessment, in turn, will depend in large part on a prediction whether the evidence likely would have changed the outcome of a trial. Similarly, where the alleged error of counsel is a failure to advise the defendant of a potential affirmative defense to the crime ...

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