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United States v. Rodriguez

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

April 24, 2019

United States of America, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
Emilio Huaracha Rodriguez, Defendant-Appellee.

          Argued and Submitted September 7, 2018 San Francisco, California

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California D.C. No. 2:11-cr-00135-JAM-1 John A. Mendez, District Judge, Presiding

          Jason Hitt (argued), Assistant United States Attorney; Camil A. Skipper, Appellate Chief; McGregor Scott, United States Attorney; United States Attorney's Office, Sacramento, California; for Plaintiff-Appellant.

          John P. Balazs (argued), Sacramento, California, for Defendant-Appellee.

          Before: Marsha S. Berzon and Michelle T. Friedland, Circuit Judges, and Kathleen Cardone, [*] District Judge.

         SUMMARY [**]

         Criminal Law

         The panel reversed the district court's order granting Emilio Huaracha Rodriguez's motion pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2) for reduction of sentence in light of Sentencing Guidelines Amendment 782, and remanded for supplemental drug-quantity findings.

         The panel clarified that, under United States v. Mercado-Moreno, 869 F.3d 942 (9th Cir. 2017), drug quantities in an adopted presentence investigation report, without an explicit and specific drug quantity finding by the original sentencing judge, are not binding in § 3582(c)(2) proceedings. The panel held that because the judge at Rodriguez's initial sentencing did not make a specific finding of drug quantity, and Rodriguez did not admit to a specific drug quantity beyond the quantity necessary to determine the appropriate Guidelines range, there were no binding drug quantity findings or admissions that bound the district court at the later § 3582(c)(2) proceedings.

         The panel held that if, as here, the district court at the original sentencing did not make a specific drug quantity finding, the proper course is for the district court to engage in supplemental fact-finding to determine whether the defendant is eligible for a sentence reduction under § 3582(c)(2). The panel therefore remanded to the district court for supplemental findings of drug quantity and, if appropriate, resentencing.

         District Judge Cardone dissented because she believes the district court made a sufficiently specific finding as to drug quantity during Rodriguez's original sentencing hearing that renders him ineligible for a reduced sentence under § 3582(c)(2).

          OPINION

          BERZON, CIRCUIT JUDGE:

         Our central question is whether uncontested drug quantities in a court-adopted presentence investigation report ("PSR") constitute specific drug quantity findings that bind district courts in subsequent 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2) sentence reduction proceedings. We clarify that, without an explicit and specific drug quantity finding by the original sentencing judge, drug quantities in an adopted PSR are not binding in § 3582(c)(2) proceedings.

         We therefore reverse and remand to the district court for supplemental findings of drug quantity and, if appropriate, resentencing.

         I

         A

         We begin with the statutory framework for deciding sentence reduction motions. Ordinarily, a federal court "may not modify a term of imprisonment once it has been imposed." 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c). Congress has, however, provided a narrow exception to this rule of finality. A court may modify a defendant's term of imprisonment if the defendant was "sentenced . . . based on a sentencing range that has subsequently been lowered" pursuant to a retroactive amendment to the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines ("Guidelines"). Id. The purpose of this limited exception is to provide the defendant with "the benefit of later enacted adjustments to the judgments reflected in the [Sentencing] Guidelines" without engaging in plenary resentencing proceedings. United States v. Mercado-Moreno, 869 F.3d 942, 948 (9th Cir. 2017) (alteration in original) (quoting Dillon v. United States, 560 U.S. 817, 828 (2010)).

         Section 3582(c)(2) sets forth a two-step inquiry for determining whether a defendant is entitled to sentence reduction. At the first step, the reviewing district court decides eligibility by determining whether a reduction is consistent with U.S. Sentencing Guidelines Manual § 1B1.10, the policy statement that implements § 3582(c)(2). Dillon, 560 U.S. at 826; see also 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2). Section 1B1.10 permits a reduction if, but only if, the amendment has the "effect of lowering the defendant's applicable [G]uideline[s] range." U.S. Sentencing Guidelines Manual ("U.S.S.G.") § 1B1.10(a)(2)(B). A court determines whether the retroactive amendment lowered the defendant's Guidelines range by calculating the "amended [G]uideline[s] range that would have been applicable to the defendant if the [relevant amendment] to the [G]uidelines . . . had been in effect at the time the defendant was sentenced." Id. § 1B1.10(b)(1). Only "the relevant amendment for the 'corresponding guideline provisions . . . applied when the defendant was sentenced'" may be considered in the first step of the analysis, and the court "must 'leave all other guideline application decisions unaffected.'" Mercado-Moreno, 869 F.3d at 949 (quoting U.S.S.G. § 1B1.10(b)(1)).

         A district court is generally prohibited from reducing a sentence if the reduction would place the defendant's term of imprisonment below the lower end of the amended Guidelines range. See U.S.S.G. § 1B1.10(b)(2)(A). The only exception is when the defendant's original term of imprisonment is below the Guidelines range because he or she received a reduction for substantially assisting authorities and the revised term is comparably below the amended Guidelines range. See id. at § 1B1.10(b)(2)(B).[1]

         At the second step, the court must consider all applicable 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) factors and determine whether, in its discretion, "the authorized reduction is warranted, either in whole or in part." Dillon, 560 U.S. at 826; see also 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2).[2] But the court's consideration of the § 3553(a) factors may not "serve to transform the proceedings under § 3582(c)(2) into plenary resentencing proceedings." Dillon, 560 U.S. at 827.

         B

         The Guidelines use a drug quantity table, based on drug type and weight, to establish the base offense levels for drug-related offenses, with a maximum of level 38. See U.S.S.G. § 2D1.1(c). Amendment 782, adopted by the U.S. Sentencing Commission ("Commission") in 2014, modified the drug quantity table by reducing the base offense level for most drugs and quantities by two levels. U.S.S.G. supp. app. C. amend. 782 (Nov. 1, 2014). Shortly thereafter, the Commission made Amendment 782 retroactive for defendants, like Rodriguez, who had been sentenced before the change to the Guidelines. U.S.S.G. supp. app. C amend. 788 (Nov. 1, 2014). Pursuant to Amendment 782, the quantity of actual methamphetamine that triggers the maximum base offense level of 38 moved from 1.5 kilograms to 4.5 kilograms. See U.S.S.G. § 2D1.1(a)(5), (c)(1).[3]

         II

         A

         In 2011, the California Highway Patrol conducted a traffic stop of Emilio Huaracha Rodriguez, a suspected drug trafficker, in Sacramento County. A drug detection dog alerted to Rodriguez's vehicle, and a search revealed 11 pounds (roughly 4.9 kilograms or 4, 989 grams) of methamphetamine. After a search of Rodriguez's vehicle, law enforcement officers obtained a search warrant for his apartment. There, the officers found an additional quantity of methamphetamine and various types of drug paraphernalia. Rodriguez was charged with ...


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