United States District Court, D. Maryland
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
L. Russell, III United States District Judge.
before the Court is Petitioner Victor Lopez Escamilla's
Motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (2012) to Vacate, Set
Aside, or Correct Sentence (ECF No. 78). The United States
opposes the Motion (ECF No. 86). The Motion is ripe for
disposition. On January 5, 2017, this Court conducted a
hearing on the Motion and took testimony from three
witnesses, including Escamilla. Escamilla's primary
language is Spanish, and he required a Spanish interpreter at
trial and the motions hearing.
February 15, 2012, after a three-day trial, a jury convicted
Escamilla of identification document fraud, social security
fraud, and immigration document fraud. (ECF No. 41). On March
21, 2012, this Court sentenced Escamilla to 97 months in
prison. (ECF No. 55). Escamilla appealed the sentence, and on
February 12, 2013, the United States Court of Appeals for the
Fourth Circuit affirmed. (ECF No. 74).
asserts that his court-appointed attorney, Anthony D. Martin,
Esq., provided him ineffective assistance of counsel.
Escamilla maintains that this ineffective assistance resulted
in his conviction and purportedly unlawful sentence.
Escamilla asserts that Martin provided ineffective assistance
in three specific instances: (1) when Martin failed to
provide Escamilla with a Spanish interpreter to discuss a
second plea offer from the Government; (2) when Martin failed
to give him a copy of discovery documents; and (3) when
Martin gave Escamilla the second plea offer three days before
trial, thereby affording Escamilla insufficient time to
review and contemplate the second plea offer.
petitioner alleges ineffective assistance of counsel, he must
show both that counsel's performance was deficient and
that the deficient performance prejudiced his defense
Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 688, 694
(1984). To demonstrate deficient performance, a petitioner
must overcome “a strong presumption that counsel's
conduct falls within the wide range of reasonable
professional assistance.” Id. at 689. When
determining whether counsel's conduct was deficient,
“[j]udicial scrutiny of counsel's performance must
be highly deferential.” Id. Indeed, “[a]
fair assessment of attorney performance requires that every
effort be made to eliminate the distorting effects of
hindsight, to reconstruct the circumstances of counsel's
challenged conduct, and to evaluate the conduct from
counsel's perspective at the time.” Id.
demonstrate prejudice, a petitioner must “show that
there is a reasonable probability that but for counsel's
unprofessional errors, the results of the proceedings would
have been different.” Id. at 694. In the
context of plea bargaining, the prejudice standard requires
proof of “a reasonable probability that, but for
counsel's errors, he would not have plead guilty and
would have insisted on going to trial.” Hill v.
Lockhart, 474 U.S. 52, 59 (1985).
the hearing, the Court heard testimony from Escamilla,
Martin, and an investigator that Martin hired, John
McAvoy. Upon consideration of the credible
testimony of the witnesses, including Escamilla, the Court
finds that Escamilla has failed to demonstrate that
Martin's performance was deficient.
testimony and evidence introduced at the motions hearing
revealed that the Government made two plea offers to
Escamilla: one in October 2011 and the other on February 6,
2012. The October 2011 plea was translated from English to
Spanish, and Escamilla had the opportunity to review the
document with his attorney. Escamilla rejected the first plea
offer. Once Martin was appointed to represent Escamilla in
December 2011, he met with him and reopened pretrial
negotiations with the Government.
December 30, 2011, Martin and McAvoy met with Escamilla to
review discovery and discuss Escamilla's options,
including pleading guilty or going to trial. The undisputed
testimony reveals that Escamilla became upset and walked out
of the meeting. According to Escamilla, he was upset that
McAvoy was using obscene words with him. McAvoy asserts that
Escamilla indicated he was not interested in a plea
agreement, but was only interested in obtaining the discovery
and the names of the witnesses. Martin explained to Escamilla
that Martin was bound by the discovery agreement not to
provide Escamilla his own copy of the discovery. When
Escamilla learned this, he became enraged and stormed out of
December 30, 2011, Martin sent Escamilla a letter in both
English and Spanish. The letter outlined the charges and
explained Escamilla's options and the potential
consequences of those options.
believed that Escamilla's greatest concern regarding the
first plea offer was a section of the agreement that required
him to stipulate to a nine-level enhancement based on the
number of documents involved in the fraud. Martin, therefore,
negotiated a second plea offer that eliminated that
stipulation and allowed the parties to argue at sentencing
the applicability of the enhancement. Time was of the
essence, however, because the second plea offer expired on
February 10, 2012.
February 9, 2012, Martin met with Escamilla for the purpose
of preparing for trial and reviewing the second plea offer.
Although the second plea offer was written only in English,
Martin advised Escamilla in Spanish of the only change: the
lack of a stipulation regarding the nine-level enhancement.
Escamilla rejected the second plea offer.
Court finds there was no need for a Spanish interpreter
during the December 30 meeting because both McAvoy and Martin
were fluent in Spanish and were able to communicate
effectively with Escamilla during their meetings with him.
Further, the Court finds that Escamilla became upset and
walked out of the meeting because of Martin's refusal to
turn over the discovery to him. There was no evidence before
the Court regarding any request for an interpreter and
certainly no evidence of a need for one. Thus, the Court
concludes that Martin's failure to secure an interpreter
was not deficient.
Court also finds that the first plea offer was translated to
Spanish and Escamilla had the opportunity to review and
understand it. The second plea offer had only one change:
there would not be a stipulation as to a nine-level
enhancement. The remainder of the plea offer remained the
same. Escamilla was aware of the change. And, given brevity
of the change, Escamilla had adequate time to consider
whether to accept the plea. The Court finds that Escamilla
summarily rejected the offer to plead guilty. Further, the
Court finds Escamilla was aware of all of his options,
including the ability to plead guilty ...