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United States v. Valentepina

United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division

August 23, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
JAIME VALENTEPINA, JR., Defendant.

          OPINION

          JANET T. NEFF United States District Judge.

         Pending before the Court is Defendant Jamie Pina's Motion for New Trial (ECF No. 160). The Government has filed a Response in opposition (ECF No. 203), and Defendant has filed a Reply (ECF No. 210). For the reasons that follow, Defendant's Motion is denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Defendant was charged in an eight-count indictment with conspiracy to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute cocaine (Count 1), and possession with intent to distribute cocaine (Count 7), following the November 9, 2016 search of Benito Escamilla's home in Ravenna Township by the Michigan State Police West Michigan Enforcement Team (WEMET). Inside the residence were Defendant and his brother, Angel Pina. Police seized approximately 28 grams of cocaine found in Defendant's pocket, along with his cell phone, and $540 (see ECF No. 203 at PageID. 1481 and record citations). Defendant was read his Miranda rights and made a number of incriminating statements to the police on site, admitting that he knew the substance in his pocket was cocaine, although he stated that he was not a user of cocaine (id).

         Defendant and his brother Angel were arrested during the search. Defendant was held in state custody on state charges until he made bail. The day after the search, on November 10, 2016, Defendant made additional statements to detectives, again admitting he knew the substance in his pocket was cocaine, but stating that it was for personal use (see ECF No. 203 at PageID. 1481 and record citations). On November 14, 2016, Defendant was arraigned on a state charge of possession with intent to deliver 50 grams or more but less than 450 grams of cocaine (id. at PageID. 1482 and record citations).

         On November 16, 2016, while still in state custody, Defendant made statements to police after alleged advisement from his former state defense attorney, Edward Anderson, who had been hired by Defendant's family to represent/speak with Defendant and his brother Angel, who was also in state custody. Defendant stated, among other things, that during the summer of 2016, he supplied cocaine to an individual in Walkerville, Michigan, with the last name of Rodriguez, who drove a red truck and that he "middle-manned" deals for his relative, Benito Escamilla (see ECF No. 203 at PageID. 1482 and record citations). Defendant told police that Rodriguez and Escamilla did not have a good relationship, so he worked as a go-between, and he supplied cocaine to Rodriguez every four or five days from May 2016 through August 2016 (id). The following day, the state charged Defendant with conspiring with Benito Escamilla, Angel Pina, and others to deliver 50 grams or more but less than 450 grams of cocaine (id.).

         Defendant was thereafter charged in this case, and his current counsel was appointed. Co-defendants Magdaleno Rodriguez and Angel Pina were likewise charged in this case, and both entered guilty pleas. Co-defendant Rodriguez cooperated with law enforcement and testified against Defendant. Following a three-day jury trial on May 8 through May 10, 2017, Defendant was convicted of both counts charged (Counts 1 and 7) (ECF No. 153, Verdict Form, PageID.646).

         Prior to trial, Defendant moved to exclude evidence obtained in his November 16, 2016 statements to police, on the grounds that the statements were the result of ineffective assistance of counsel in violation of the Sixth Amendment. Defendant argued that Attorney Anderson provided ineffective assistance of counsel by: (1) suggesting and encouraging Defendant to make incriminating statements to police without a proffer agreement and without sufficient information about the case; and (2) arguably representing the conflicting interests of both Pina brothers as co-defendants, or at least having confidential information regarding each (ECF No. 54 at PageID. 119). The Court denied the motion without prejudice because the claim was premature, i.e., Defendant had not yet suffered any actual prejudice as a result of the potential constitutional violation stemming from Defendant's statements to state authorities while he was in state custody (ECFNo.l85atPageID.826-827).

         Attorney Anderson was called to testify at Defendant's trial. Defendant now asserts that Anderson's testimony was sufficient to confirm the underlying factual premise of Defendant's original motion to exclude his November 16, 2016 statements. In his motion for new trial, Defendant again argues that his right to the effective assistance of counsel was violated when Attorney Anderson advised Defendant, and permitted him, to make statements to law enforcement officers on November 16, 2016, despite Attorney Anderson's ethical conflict. Defendant moves for a new trial, in which the statements he made to police on November 16, 2016, and anything else resulting therefrom, are excluded from use by the Government because the evidence was obtained in violation of Defendant's Sixth Amendment rights.

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. Legal Standards

         Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 33(a) provides in relevant part:

(a) Defendant's Motion. Upon the defendant's motion, the court may vacate any judgment and grant a new trial if the interest of justice so requires. If the case was tried without a jury, the court may take additional testimony and enter a new judgment.

         "A motion for a new trial can be premised on the argument that the 'verdict was against the manifest weight of the evidence, ' and it can be premised on the argument that' substantial legal error has occurred.'" United States v. Callahan, 801 F.3d 606, 616(6thCir. 2015) (quoting United States v. Munoz, 605 F.3d 359, 373 (6th Cir. 2010) ("[I]t is widely agreed that Rule 33's 'interest of justice' standard allows the grant of a new trial where substantial legal error has occurred."). A violation of the Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance meets the "substantial legal error" standard. Munoz, 605 F.3d at 373-74.

         In deciding such a motion, the Court applies the well-established standards for ineffective as si stance under Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668(1984). To establish ineffective assistance, a defendant must show (1) "that counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness" and (2) that "counsel's performance [was] prejudicial to the defense...." Strickland, 466 U.S. at 688, 692; Munoz, 605 F.3d at 376. "Counsel's performance violates the Sixth Amendment only where ' 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.'" Munoz, 605 F.3d at 376 (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 686).

         "The decision to grant or deny a motion for new trial rests within the district court's sound discretion." United States v. Seago,930 F.2d 482, 488 (6th Cir. ...


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