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United States v. Lorenzo

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

September 23, 2015

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Appellee,
v.
MIGUEL VILLANUEVA LORENZO, Defendant, Appellant

APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF PUERTO RICO. Hon. JoséAntonio Fusté, U.S. District Judge.

Carlos R. Noriega on brief for appellant.

Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Velez, United States Attorney, and Nelson Pérez-Sosa, Assistant United States Attorney, Chief, Appellate Division, on brief for appellee.

Before Kayatta, Lipez, and Barron, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 183

LIPEZ, Circuit Judge.

Appellant Miguel Villanueva Lorenzo was sentenced to 240 months' imprisonment, an upward variance from the applicable recommended Guidelines range of 168 to 210 months, following his guilty plea to a charge of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute controlled substances. Appellant challenges the variance, arguing that the district court misapplied 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) by (1) failing to take into account his personal history and characteristics and focusing exclusively on his criminal record, and (2) erroneously inflating his sentence in an effort to counteract what it perceives as lax sentencing in the local Puerto Rico court system. Finding no merit to appellant's contentions, we affirm.

I.

Appellant served as a leader of a drug trafficking organization that conspired to distribute a variety of controlled substances at El Cotto public housing project in Arecibo, Puerto Rico.[1] In his role in the conspiracy, appellant supervised the distribution of crack cocaine, cocaine, marijuana, oxycodone, and Xanax. He received proceeds from the distribution of narcotics and he carried firearms in order to protect the drug distribution points at the housing project.

In March 2013, a grand jury indicted appellant, along with forty-four co-defendants, for: conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute controlled substances in violation of 21 U.S.C. § § 841(a)(1), 846, and 860 (Count One); and aiding and abetting possession with intent to distribute cocaine base, cocaine, marijuana, and heroin in violation of 21 U.S.C. § § 841(a)(1), 860 and 18 U.S.C. § 2 (Counts Two - Five).

In October 2013, appellant pled guilty to Count One of the indictment pursuant to a plea agreement. The parties stipulated that, for sentencing purposes, appellant would be treated as having a total offense level of 33, as determined under U.S.S.G. § 2D1.1. The parties did not stipulate as to appellant's Criminal History Category (" CHC" ), but assumed he was in CHC III.

Page 184

The applicable Guidelines range was determined to be 168 to 210 months.

The parties agreed that appellant would request a sentence of 168 months if the CHC was I, II or III, but would request the lower end of the applicable range if the CHC was IV. The government reserved the right to recommend 198 months if appellant fell in categories I through IV, and agreed to recommend the lower end of the applicable range if appellant fell in CHC V or VI. The court calculated appellant's CHC as III. After a sentencing hearing, the district court imposed a sentence of 240 months, followed by eight years of supervised release.

Appellant timely appealed his sentence,[2] arguing that the district court erred in failing to appropriately review the § 3553(a) factors when it sentenced him to 30 months in excess of the upper end of the applicable Guidelines range. Specifically, appellant argues that the district court failed to give sufficient weight to his character and personal history, and placed undue weight on his criminal history. He contends that the court erred in failing to consider that he is a " great father" with " rehabilitation potential" and that he " self[-]surrendered when he realized that the agents were looking for him." He additionally argues that the district court's comments during sentencing, along with public comments the court has made in the past, suggest that the court erroneously inflated his sentence in an effort to offset lenient sentences imposed in the local courts.

II.

A. Legal Principles

We review federal criminal sentences imposed under the advisory Guidelines for abuse of discretion. Gall v. United States,552 U.S. 38, 51, 128 S.Ct. 586, 169 L.Ed.2d 445 (2007); United States v. Madera-Ortiz,637 F.3d 26, 30 (1st Cir. 2011). Typically, our review of a sentence imposed under the Guidelines involves a two-step process. " First, we evaluate the procedural soundness of the sentence; second, we assay its substantive reasonableness." Madera-Ortiz, 637 F.3d at 30. The " procedural dimension" of sentencing review includes the correctness of the court's application of the Guidelines, while " [t]he substantive dimension focuses on the duration of the sentence in light of the totality of the circumstances." United States v. Del Valle-Rodríguez,761 F.3d 171, 176 (1st Cir. 2014). Procedural errors amounting to an abuse of discretion include " failing to calculate (or improperly calculating) the Guidelines range, treating the Guidelines as mandatory, failing to consider the 18 U.S.C. ยง ...


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