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Bonilla v. United States

United States District Court, D. Maryland

January 14, 2019

OSWALDO JARIEL BONILLA, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          THEODORE D. CHUANG, JUDGE

         Oswaldo Jariel Bonilla has filed a Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 9 2255 ("9 2255 Motion"). In his Motion, Bonilla challenges his conviction in the underlying criminal action on the basis that his trial counsel acted in a constitutionally deficient manner during his discussions with Bonilla, during plea negotiation,, and in failing to pursue certain evidence. Having reviewed the submitted materials, the Court finds that no hearing is necessary. See Rule 8(a), Rules Governing Section 2255 Proceedings for the United States District Courts; D. Md. Local R. 105.6. For the reasons set forth below, the Motion is DENIED.

         BACKGROUND

         On February 22, 2016, a federal grand jury returned a four-count Indictment charging Bonilla with Conspiracy to Interfere with Interstate Commerce by Robbery ("Conspiracy to Commit Hobbs Act Robbery",, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1951(a) (Count One); Attempt to Interfere with Interstate Commerce by Robbery ("Attempted Hobbs Act Robbery"), in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1951(a) (Count Two); Using, Carrying, and Discharging a Firearm During and in Relation to a Crime of Violence ("9 924(c) charge"), in violation of 18 U.S.C. 9 924(c) (Count Three); and Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon, in violation of 18 U.S.C. S 922(g) (Count Four). The Indictment issued after Bonilla and one other individual attempted to rob Alley Cat Towing, a business located in Hyattsville, Maryland.

         According to a factual statement agreed to by Bonilla, on January 5, 2016, Bonilla, who was armed with a revolver, and a co-conspirator tried to sneak in through the back door of Alley Cat Towing but found it locked. The only employee inside, hearing noise outside of the back door, opened the door and looked outside. The employee managed to close and lock the back door before Bonilla and his co-conspirator could rush through. As the employee attempted to make a phone call for help, Bonilla ran around to the front door of Alley Cat Towing, kicked it in, and approached the employee, revolver raised. Bonilla pointed the revolver at the employeess head and demanded that the employee show him to the businessss cash registers and safe. The employee told Bonilla that there were no cash registers or safes, but Bonilla refused to believe him, and, with the revolver still aimed at the employeess head, forced the employee to walk through the premises to find a safe, other valuables, and tools to break into a safe. As he marched the employee through the facility, Bonilla used his smart watch to tell his co-conspirator to enter through the front door. After Bonilla and the employee entered the main office, Bonilla saw his co-conspirator running away. At that point, Bonilla fled Alley Cat Towing as well, revolver still in hand.

         Another employee of Alley Cat Towing, who was driving to work, spotted Bonilla and his co-conspirator in full flight and gave chase in his car. Still running and realizing he was being followed, Bonilla fired a shot with his revolver. Moments later, a police cruiser arrived with its emergency lights and sirens activated. Bonilla fired the revolver once more. More police descended on the scene and soon caught Bonilla trying to enter a residence a few blocks away. He was arrested and taken to the Prince Georgess County Police Department ("PGPD") to be processed and questioned.

         While in the custody of the PGPD, Bonilla made two efforts to conceal evidence of the crime. First, he swallowed two bullets. He soon became afraid that the bullets would discharge in his stomach, told officers that he had swallowed the bullets, and asked to be taken to a hospital. The police officers transported Bonilla to Prince Georgess County Communtty Hospital. There, x-rays showed that Bonilla had in fact swallowed two bullets. Bonilla then tried to conceal evidence for a second time. While at the hospital, Bonilla wrote a note on a tea bag to his girlfriend asking her to take all guns and ammunition out of his home. He gave the note to a nurse and requested that she pass along the message. The nurse instead gave the note to police officers.

         The next day, a police search in the area where Bonilla had been arrested uncovered the revolver and the clothes Bonilla had worn during the attempted robbery of Alley Cat Towing. The revolver contained two spent rounds and several live rounds. Before the attempted robbery, Bonilla had been convicted of an offense carrying punishment of more than a year of imprisonment and was thus barred by federal law from possessing a firearm or ammunition.

         After his indictmen,, Bonilla was appointed counsel on March 25, 2016, and his arraignment was held on March 28, 2016. On May 11, 2016, Bonillass attorney, Assistant Federal Public Defender Michael CitaraManis ("Counsel"), filed six pretrial motions, in which he moved to dismiss Count Three of the Indictment, to suppress evidence obtained as a result of the police stop, to suppress statements made by Bonilla during his police interview, to suppress evidence obtained from Bonillass smart watch-sell phone, to suppress a witnesses identification of Bonilla, and for an extension of time to file a motion to suppress based on possible false statements in a search warrant affidavit pursuant to Franks v. Delaware, 438 U.S. 154 (1978).

         On My 16, 2016, Bonilla entered into a plea agreement in which he agreed to plead guilty to Counts One, Two, and Four of the Indictment and the Government agreed to dismiss Count Three. Count Three, the S 924(c) charge, carried a mandatory minimum ten-year sentence, to run consecutively to the sentences on any other counts of conviction. See 18U.S.C. S 924(c)(1)(A)(iii) (2012). The parties agreed that the total offense level under the United States Sentencing Guidelines ("Guidelines") for the counts of conviction would be 28, including a seven-level enhancement for the discharge of a firearm under U.S.S.G. S 2B3.1(b)(2)(A), a two-level enhancement for obstruction of justice under U.S.S.G. S 3C1.1, a two-level enhancement for creating a substantial risk of death or serious bodily injury during flight from law enforcement under U.S.S.G. S 3C1.2, and a three-level reduction for acceptance of responsibility under U.S.S.G. S 3E1.1. The parties entered into the plea agreement pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(c)(1)(C), under which Bonilla would be permitted to withdraw his guilty plea if the Court did not agree to sentence him within the parties' agreed-upon sentencing range of 137 to 177 months of imprisonment "regardless of the applicable [United States Sentencing Guidelines] calculations." Plea Agreement r 9, ECF No. 35; see Fed. R. Crim. P. 11(c)(1)(C).

         The plea agreement stated the elements of Counts One, Two, and Four and confirmed that Bonilla understood that he had waived his right to a jury trial and to appeal his judgment and sentence if it was within the agreed-upon sentencing range. In signing the plea agreement Bonilla attested that he had "read this agreement" and "carefully reviewed every part of it with my attorney." Plea Agreement at 8. His attorney made a comparable attestation. Bonilla further acknowledged that he voluntarlly agreed to the plea agreement and was "completely satisfied with the representation of my attorney." Id.

         On August 8, 2016, Bonilla pleaded guilty to Counts One, Two, and Four. On January 24, 2017, the Court sentenced Bonilla to 144 months of imprisonment on Counts One and Two and 120 months of imprisonment on Count Four, with the sentences to run concurrently. Upon the Government's motion, the Court dismissed Count Three. Bonilla did not file a direct appeal of his conviction and sentence. On February 5, 2018, he filed the pending Motion.

         DISCUSSION

         In his Motion, Bonilla collaterally attacks his conviction based on his claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. The primary alleged deficiencies identified by Bonilla are his claims that his counsel (1) failed to file motions to dismiss and to suppress evidence and to conduct certain investigation; (2) failed to inform him of his right to a jury trial and to provide him with sufficient information to support a knowing and voluntary guilty plea; (3) forced him to sign the plea agreement against his best interests; and (4) failed to advise him that the terms of the plea agreement called for a sentence above the applicable Guidelines range. Bonilla asserted several other alleged deficiencies in his affidavit and reply brief.

         I. Legal Standards

         A. Section 2255 Motions

         A prisoner in federal custody may move to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence on the basis that: (1) "the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States"; (2) the sentencing court lacked jurisdiction; (3) the sentence exceeded the maximum authorized by law; or (4) the sentence is "otherwise subject to collateral attack." 28 U.S.C. S 2255(a) (2012). The petitioner bears the burden of proof and must establish the claim by a preponderance of the evidence. See Miller v. United States,261 F.2d 546, 547 (4th Cir. 1958). In S 2255 proceedings, "[u]nless the motion and the files and records of the case conclusively show that the prisoner is entitled to no relief, the court shall. .. grant a prompt hearing thereon, determine the issues and make findings of fact and conclusions of law with respect thereto." 28 U.S.C. § 2255(b). A hearing is necessary where there are disputed issues of fact that need to be resolved in order for the court to rule on the motion. See United States v. Witherspoon,231 F.3d 923, 927 (4th Cir. 2000). "If it plainly appears from the motion, any attached exhibits, and the record of prior proceedings that the moving party is not entitled to relief, the judge must dismiss the motion." Rule 4(b), Rules Governing Section 2255 Proceedings for the United States District Courts. Moreover, absent extraordinary circumstance,, a court may, "without holding an evidentiary ...


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