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United States v. Guzman

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

March 20, 2015

HARRY GUZMAN, Defendant.


GEORGE A. O'TOOLE, JR., Magistrate Judge.

The magistrate judge to whom this matter was referred has recommended that the defendant's motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 for habeas corpus relief be denied. The defendant has filed an objection to the Report and Recommendation ("R&R"), and the United States has filed a reply to the objection.

The defendant has raised five objections to the R&R. Four of the objections are simply reargument of the points made by the defendant in support of his § 2255 motion. I agree with the magistrate judge's disposition of those issues.

The only new matter raised in his objections is that the R&R overstates the strength of the government's case during trial and thus underestimates the prejudice the defendant suffered as a result of trial counsel's alleged ineffective assistance. However, the R&R explicitly acknowledges weaknesses in the government's case, noting, for example, the "inconsistent statements and possible motives for giving incomplete and untruthful testimony" of the government's witnesses as well as "the Government's lack of definitive evidence and scientific proof." (R&R at 10 (dkt. no. 236).) Taken as a whole, the R&R contains a thoughtful and careful analysis of the trial evidence. Based on that analysis, the magistrate judge concluded - and I agree - that, despite the weaknesses in the government's case, there was substantial evidence to support the jury's verdict of conviction.

Having reviewed the relevant pleadings and submissions, as well as the objection to the R&R, I approve and ADOPT the magistrate judge's recommendation in its entirety.

Accordingly, the defendant's Motion to Vacate (dkt. no. 181) is DENIED.

Because the petitioner has not "made a substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right, " a certificate of appealability will not issue. See 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c)(2).




I. Introduction

Harry Guzman("Guzman" or "petitioner") petitions for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence. (#181) Following a jury trial, the petitioner was found guilty of one count of Arson Resulting in Death under 18 U.S.C. § 844(i) and (2). The United States of America ("respondent" or "the Government") opposes the petitioner's motion. (##187 and 230)

II. Factual Background

On September 8, 2004, a grand jury returned a first superseding indictment charging the petitioner with arson resulting in death, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 844(i) and (2). (#14) The indictment was based on a fire that occurred on April 3, 2003 at a multifamily dwelling at 48-50 Manchester Street in Lawrence, Massachusetts. The fire resulted in the death of Matilda Medina, and her baby, Angelic Duran. Id. The indictment gave notice of the applicability of the death penalty statutes, 18 U.S.C. §§ 3591(a)(2) and 3592(c)(1) through (16). Id. On January 27, 2006, the Government informed the court that it did not intend to seek the death penalty. (Dckt. 1/27/06) On January 24, 2008, after a seven-day trial, a jury returned a guilty verdict. On May 13, 2008, Judge Joseph L. Tauro sentenced the petitioner to life in prison.

III. Procedural Background

The petitioner filed an appeal which was denied by the First Circuit Court of Appeals on June 15, 2010. (#175-1); United States v. Guzman, 603 F.3d 99, 111 (1st Cir. 2010), cert. denied, 131 S.Ct. 487 (2010). On October 12, 2010, a petition for writ of certiorari was denied by the United States Supreme Court. (#179-1) On October 12, 2011, the petitioner filed his Motion to Vacate under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. (#181) At the time the petitioner filed his Motion to Vacate, he did not file an accompanying memorandum. The Government filed an opposition to the petitioner's motion on December 16, 2011. (#189) Thereafter, the petitioner filed a memorandum in support of his Motion to Vacate. (#219) The Government then filed a response to the petitioner's memorandum. (#226)[1] The petitioner filed a reply on March 26, 2014. (#234) The case is now poised for disposition.

IV. Analysis

A. Overview

Guzman seeks section 2255 relief based on the premise that trial counsel was constitutionally ineffective in several respects. Specifically, petitioner alleges that trial counsel was constitutionally deficient for failing to: (1) contest whether the fire was intentionally set, (2) inform the jury that false confessions are not uncommon, (3) object to the district court's lack of explanation for Guzman's sentence, and (4) argue mitigating factors in favor of a sentence less than life.

B. Standard of Review

A prisoner may seek post conviction relief from a federal court conviction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 if the sentence (1) was imposed in violation of the Constitution, or (2) was imposed by a court that lacked jurisdiction, or (3) exceeded the statutory maximum, or (4) was otherwise subject to collateral attack. Title 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a). These allegations of error must "reveal fundamental defect[s] which, if uncorrected, will result in a complete miscarriage of justice" and cannot be a "surrogate for a direct appeal." David v. United States, 134 F.3d 470, 474 (1st Cir. 1998) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted).

The Supreme Court has provided a two-pronged test for analyzing ineffective assistance of counsel claims. A petitioner must first demonstrate that his counsel's performance "fell below an objective standard of reasonableness." Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 688 (1984). Second, a petitioner must show that he was prejudiced by his counsel's deficient performance. Id. at 687. Strickland creates a strong presumption of reasonable professional ...

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