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United States v. Martinez-Mendoza

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division

March 20, 2019




         On December 19, 2017, the Grand Jury indicted Rodrigo Martinez-Mendoza ("Defendant" or "Martinez-Mendoza") for illegally reentering the United States in violation of 8 U.S.C. § 1326(a) and (b)(1). This matter comes before the Court on Defendant's Motion to Dismiss the Indictment (the "Motion," ECF No. 15), which collaterally attacks the May 6, 1997 deportation order that was entered in Defendant's absence ("Deportation Order" or the "Order"). Martinez-Mendoza argues that notice of his deportation hearing was legally insufficient. As a result, Defendant maintains that the entry of the corresponding Deportation Order was a violation of his Due Process rights.

         The Court conducted an evidentiary hearing on December 6, 2018 and asked the parties to provide supplemental briefing to summarize their positions. The relevant issues have been fully briefed and the matter is ripe for review.

         I. BACKGROUND

         First, the Court will review the events that preceded the immigration court's entry of Martinez-Mendoza's Deportation Order, and then, the Court will turn to the facts related to the Indictment.

         A. Events Leading to the 1997 Deportation Order

         Officer David Chin, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement ("ICE") deportation officer, testified during the evidentiary hearing about his direct dealings with Defendant and his knowledge of Defendant's Alien File ("A-File"). The Court admitted the Officer's testimony and portions of the A-File into evidence without objection.[1]

         The evidence established that Defendant illegally entered the country in 1993 near Laredo, Texas. Federal authorities became aware of Defendant's immigration status in 1996, after he was convicted of forgery. On September 20, 1996, agents from the Immigration and Naturalization Service ("INS") interviewed Defendant. During that interview, Defendant admitted that he was a Mexican citizen and that he illegally entered the United States.

         On November 10, 1996, INS agents personally served Defendant with an Order to Show Cause (the "OSC"). The OSC initiated deportation proceedings against Defendant. It also informed him that a deportation hearing would be calendared at a later time and he would receive notice of that hearing's time and location through the mail.[2] Notice of Defendant's deportation hearing would be sent to his address, which he wrote on the OSC as "13210 Chrisman, Houston, Texas 77039." INS officials also informed Defendant that he had an obligation to update his address and telephone information if either changed. Defendant signed the OCS and was released.[3]

         On April 9, 1997, INS agents arrested Defendant during a worksite raid in Galveston, Texas. During an ensuing interview, Defendant admitted that he used false documentation to obtain a job at the worksite. He also told the agents that he had an immigration hearing scheduled for May 1997, and he requested to waive that hearing in order to voluntarily depart the United States for Mexico. Regarding the effect this request would have had on the May 1997 hearing, Officer Chin testified, "[the request] does not affect the hearing date Only the [Immigration] Judge can grant the voluntary removal or voluntary departure. [The Defendant] can make a note of that at the hearing to the Judge and request voluntary removal, voluntary departure." (Tr. 22-23.)

         Less than one month later, Defendant failed to appear at the deportation hearing on May 6, 1997. As a result, the immigration judge entered the Deportation Order in his absence. The Order indicated that notice of the deportation hearing was sent via "[c]ertified mail to [the] address provided by [Defendant]," however, no certified mailing return was received before the hearing. (Gov't Ex. 5.) Officer Chin testified that notice of the hearing was sent to Defendant's "13210 Chrisman" address. He also testified that the A-File did not contain a copy of the hearing notice or the corresponding certified mailing return.

         The day after the deportation hearing, notice of the Deportation Order was sent to Defendant's address. It stated that the judge entered the Order "as the result of [Defendant's] failure to appear at [the] scheduled deportation hearing," and that the decision was final unless Defendant made a motion to reopen the matter. (Gov't Ex. 6.)

         Several years later, on August 18, 2005, immigration authorities arrested Defendant in Petersburg, Virginia.[4] Thereafter, on September 27, 2005, Defendant was deported to Mexico. Defendant did not request any administrative relief or judicial review of the Deportation Order before he was deported.

         B. Events Leading to the Current Indictment

         Defendant later reentered the United States at an unknown date and location. Thereafter, he was arrested in 2009 and charged with illegal reentery. While in custody, Defendant did not challenge the original Deportation Order. In fact, on October 23, 2009, Defendant signed a Department of Homeland Security "Notice of Intent/Decision to Reinstate Prior Order" Form, which stated "I do not wish to make a statement contesting this determination." (Gov't Ex. 8.)

         On January 29, 2010, Defendant pleaded guilty to a single count of illegal reentry, [5] and he was deported for a second time on May 3, 2010. Defendant then reentered the United States without authorization for a third time, and he was arrested again on December 5, 2017. Defendant is now before this Court, charged with illegal reentry in violation of 8 U.S.C. § 1326.[6]

         II. ...

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