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United States v. Ramirez

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Charlottesville Division

November 16, 2018

United States of America,
v.
Juan Martinez Ramirez, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          NORMAN K. MOON JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court upon Defendant Juan Martinez Ramirez's motion to dismiss the indictment. (Dkt. 18). The indictment contains one count, charging Ramirez with illegally reentering the United States in violation of 8 U.S.C. § 1326. (Dkt. 11). Ramirez argues that the indictment should be dismissed because the notice to appear initially issued to him failed to specify the time and place of the removal proceedings against him, as required by 8 U.S.C. § 1229(a)(1) and Pereira v. Sessions, 138 S.Ct. 2105 (2018). Ramirez advances two specific attacks on the indictment. First, Ramirez argues that without a valid notice to appear, subject matter jurisdiction never vested in the immigration court, rendering that court's deportation order a legal nullity. Second, Ramirez launches a collateral attack against his deportation order under 8 U.S.C. § 1326(d), arguing that his initial deportation proceedings lacked fundamental fairness.

         Although conceding that the notice to appear issued to Ramirez was defective under § 1229(a)(1) and Pereira, the Government argues that the indictment should be upheld for two reasons. First, the Government asserts that federal regulations, not § 1229(a)(1) or Pereira, control when and how subject matter jurisdiction vests in an immigration court, and these regulations do not require that a notice to appear list the time and place of any removal proceeding. Second, the Government contends that Ramirez's collateral attack under § 1326(d) fails because Ramirez cannot show that he exhausted administrative remedies, that he was deprived of an opportunity for judicial review, or that his deportation proceedings were fundamentally unfair.

         The Government is correct that the immigration court had subject matter jurisdiction over Ramirez's deportation proceedings under the governing regulations. Moreover, Ramirez's collateral attack on the underlying deportation order fails because, although the initial notice to appear lacked the time, date, and place of the removal proceedings, Ramirez received subsequent notice of these details and attended his deportation hearing. Ramirez therefore cannot make the necessary showing under § 1326(d) that his deportation proceedings were fundamentally unfair. Accordingly, the motion to dismiss the indictment has been denied. (Dkt. 25).

         I. FACTS & KEY PRECEDENT

         A. Factual Background

         On October 10, 2018, Juan Martinez Ramirez was indicted on one count of illegal reentry into the United States in violation of 8 U.S.C. § 1326. (Dkt. 11). Ramirez, allegedly a native of Mexico, was initially served in person with a notice to appear on December 31, 2013. (Dkt. 18-2). This notice to appear ordered Ramirez to appear on “a date to be set” and “at a time to be set” to “show why [he] should not be removed from the United States.” (Id.). The notice nowhere specified the time or date when Ramirez should appear, or the place where Ramirez should appear. The Government avers that, while still in custody, Ramirez received notice in person on January 13, 2014 of the date, time, and place of his removal hearing. (Dkt. 23 at 3; Dkt. 23-1). On January 28, 2014, Ramirez attended his removal hearing, at which he was ordered deported. (Dkt. 18-1). The immigration court's removal order indicates that Ramirez waived his right to appeal the order and that Ramirez was personally served with a copy of the order on January 28, 2014. (Id.). The Government avers that Ramirez was removed from the United States on February 7, 2014, (dkt. 23 at 3), and that he later came to the attention of federal immigration officials following two arrests in the Western District of Virginia in August 2018. (Id.). The illegal reentry charge at issue followed.

         B. Pereira v. Sessions (2018)

         In Pereira v. Sessions, 138 S.Ct. 2105 (2018), the Supreme Court considered whether “notices to appear” in deportation proceedings that do not specify the time and place of removal proceedings against a noncitizen qualify as “notices to appear” under 8 U.S.C. § 1229(a)(1) for purposes of the “stop-time rule” under 8 U.S.C. § 1229b(d).[1] The Court held that such notices to appear are not true “notices to appear” as defined by § 1229(a)(1). Pereira, 138 S.Ct. at 2113- 14. The Court's holding rested primarily on the plain text of § 1229(a)(1), which requires that a “notice to appear” be given to noncitizens facing removal proceedings, and defines a “notice to appear” as “written notice” specifying certain information, including the “time and place at which the proceedings will be held.” Id. The Court noted that “common sense compels the conclusion” that if the “three words ‘notice to appear' mean anything . . . they must mean that, at a minimum, the Government has to provide noncitizens ‘notice' of the information, i.e., the ‘time' and ‘place,' that would enable them ‘to appear' at the removal hearing.” Id. at 2115. The parties now dispute how Pereira applies in contexts beyond application of the stop-time rule, namely in illegal reentry prosecutions where, as here, the underlying notice to appear provided to the noncitizen and filed with the immigration court fails to specify the time and date of the removal proceedings.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Criminal defendants may allege defects in indictments in pretrial motions, including “(i) joining two or more offenses in the same count (duplicity); (ii) charging the same offense in more than one count (multiplicity); (iii) lack of specificity; (iv) improper joinder; and (v) failure to state an offense.” Fed. R. Crim. P. 12(b)(3)(B). An indictment must contain a “plain, concise and definite written statement of the essential facts constituting the offense charged.” Fed. R. Crim. P. 7(c)(1). See also United States v. Daniels, 873 F.2d 272, 274 (4th Cir. 1992) (“An indictment must contain the elements of the offense charged, fairly inform a defendant of the charge, and enable the defendant to plead double jeopardy as a defense in a future prosecution for the same offense.”). A reviewing court “should regard all well pleaded facts as true when considering a motion to dismiss an indictment.” United States v. Dove, 70 F.Supp.2d 634, 636 (W.D. Va. 1999). A court should not dismiss an indictment on the basis of “facts that should” be “developed at trial.” United States v. Engle, 676 F.3d 405, 415 (4th Cir. 2012). Rather, motions to dismiss indictments should generally be denied unless “the allegations therein, even if true, would not state an offense.” United States v. Thomas, 367 F.3d 194, 197 (4th Cir. 2004).

         Collateral attacks of deportation orders are authorized where, as here, those orders are necessary to establish an element of the charged illegal reentry offense.[2] See United States v. Mendoza-Lopez, 481 U.S. 828, 837-38 (1987) (review of deportation proceeding must be “made available in any subsequent proceeding in which the result of the deportation proceeding is used to establish an element of a criminal offense”). Under § 1326(d), a defendant mounting a collateral attack against an underlying deportation order must show (1) he “exhausted any administrative remedies that may have been available to seek relief against the order”; (2) the deportation proceedings “at which the order was issued improperly deprived” him of the “opportunity for judicial review; and (3) entry of the order was “fundamentally unfair.” If a “defendant satisfies all three requirements, the illegal reentry charge must be dismissed as a matter of law.” United States v. El Shami, 434 F.3d 659, 663 (4th Cir. 2005).

         III. ANALYSIS

         Ramirez advances two arguments in support of his motion to dismiss the indictment. First, he argues the indictment should be dismissed because subject matter jurisdiction never vested in the immigration court. Second, he contends the indictment should be dismissed under the factors set forth for a collateral attack on a deportation order in 8 U.S.C. § 1326(d). The Court has recently addressed these arguments in ruling on two motions to dismiss indictments in similar illegal reentry cases. See United States v. Saravia-Chavez, No. 3:18-cr-00016, Dkt. 39 (denying motion to dismiss indictment); United States v. Ramos-Delcid, No. 3:18-cr-00020, 2018 WL 5833081 (W.D. Va. Nov. 7, 2018) (dismissing indictment under ยง 1326(d)). Ramirez has ...


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