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United States v. Negron

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

September 14, 2016

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Appellee,
v.
RAYMOND NEGRÓN, Defendant, Appellee.

         APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW HAMPSHIRE [Hon. Joseph A. DiClerico, U.S. District Judge]

          Bruce E. Kenna, on brief for appellant.

          Seth R. Aframe, Assistant United States Attorney, and Emily Gray Rice, United States Attorney, on brief for appellee.

          Before Torruella, Lynch, and Barron, Circuit Judges.

          TORRUELLA, Circuit Judge.

         Defendant-Appellant Raymond Negrón appeals the United States District Court for the District of New Hampshire's decision to deny a retroactive reduction to his sentence pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2). Negrón had previously entered into plea agreement pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(c)(1)(C), which "bind[s] the district court to a pre-agreed sentence if the court accepts the plea." United States v. Rivera-Martínez, 665 F.3d 344, 345 (1st Cir. 2011). Under so-called C-type plea agreements, a defendant is eligible for a sentence reduction based on a retroactive amendment to the United States Sentencing Guidelines ("Guidelines") only if the term of imprisonment specified in the agreement is "based on" a Guidelines sentencing range. We agree with the district court that the proposed sentenced in Negrón's plea agreement failed to meet this requirement and affirm.

         I.

         On August 22, 2012, a federal grand jury returned a nine-count indictment against Negrón.[1] Negrón and the Government subsequently reached a plea agreement in which Negrón pled guilty to counts one through eight. The Government dismissed count nine, which carried a mandatory minimum consecutive sentence of 120 months' imprisonment. See 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(B)(i). Negrón's plea agreement was made pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(c)(1)(C). Under so-called C-type plea agreements, "the parties bind the district court to a pre-agreed sentence if the court accepts the plea." Rivera-Martínez, 665 F.3d at 345. Although the plea agreement did not state a base level offense, applicable Guidelines range, or criminal history category ("CHC"), the parties stipulated that Negrón would be sentenced to 144 months' imprisonment.

         The district court conducted a sentencing hearing on June 13, 2013, and determined that Negrón had a total base offense level of 25 and CHC of I, corresponding to a Guidelines range sentence of 57 to 71 months' imprisonment. Noting that the stipulated sentence was "slightly over twice the high end of the advisory guideline, " the district court accepted the plea agreement and imposed the stipulated sentence.

         In 2014, the United States Sentencing Commission retroactively reduced the base offense level for many drug offenses by two levels. See U.S.S.G. § 1B1.10(a)(1); U.S.S.G. supplement to app. C amend. 782 (Nov. 1, 2014); United States v. Vaughn, 806 F.3d 640, 643 (1st Cir. 2015). Because several of his convictions were for controlled substance offenses, Negrón subsequently filed a motion to modify his sentence pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2). The district court denied Negrón's motion, concluding that Negrón's sentence was not based on a Guidelines sentencing range affected by an amendment. This timely appeal followed.

         II.

         A district court performs a "two-step inquiry" in determining whether a defendant is entitled to a sentence reduction under § 3582(c)(2). Dillon v. United States, 560 U.S. 817, 826 (2010). First, the district court must determine whether any applicable Guidelines amendments apply to the defendant's sentence. Id. at 826-27. Second, if the district court concludes the defendant is eligible for relief, it must weigh the sentencing factors described in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) and determine whether a reduction is warranted. Id. Here, the sole issue on appeal is whether the district court properly applied our decision in Rivera-Martínez, 665 F.3d at 344, to conclude that Negrón was ineligible for relief.[2] Although "[w]e review a district court's denial of a motion for reduction of sentence under section 3582(c)(2) for abuse of discretion, " United States v. Caraballo, 552 F.3d 6, 8 (1st Cir. 2008), because Negrón contends the district court committed legal error, our review is effectively de novo, id. ("A material error of law is perforce an abuse of discretion.").

         Courts may reduce the term of imprisonment for "a defendant who has been sentenced to a term of imprisonment based on a sentencing range that has subsequently been lowered by the Sentencing Commission." 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2). The term of imprisonment in a C-type plea agreement is "based on" a Guidelines sentencing range in two scenarios: (1) when the agreement "calls for a sentence within an identified sentencing range, " Rivera-Martínez, 665 F.3d at 348, and (2) when "the terms contained within the four corners of the plea agreement, " id. at 349, "make clear that the basis for a specified term of imprisonment is a Guidelines sentencing range applicable to the offense to which the defendant pleaded guilty, " id. at 348 (alterations omitted) (quoting Freeman v. United States, 564 U.S. 522, 539 (2011) (Sotomayor, J., concurring)).[3]

         Negrón acknowledges his term of imprisonment is not within a specific Guidelines sentencing range, but argues that his plea agreement fell into this second category. As in Rivera-Martínez, however, Negrón's plea agreement lacks the "two essential coordinates" that show a Guidelines sentencing range underpins the proposed sentence. Id. at 349. In that case, we found that a C-type plea agreement that failed to specify a CHC (despite specifying a base offense level) could not be considered to be based on a Guidelines sentencing range. Id. Negrón's case is even weaker because his plea agreement contains neither a base offense level nor a CHC. Absent either of these two essential coordinates, we cannot conclude Negrón's plea agreement was based on a Guidelines sentencing range. Id.

         Nonetheless, Negrón contends that we can infer both numbers from the four corners of his plea agreement. With respect to the base offense level, Negrón argues his plea agreement contains all of the facts necessary to calculate this integer. With respect to his CHC, Negrón claims this number was never seriously contested, due to his relatively sparse criminal record, and is obvious from his presentence report. Finally, Negrón cites the fact that at his sentencing hearing the district court acknowledged that 144 months' imprisonment was equal to doubling the high end of the applicable Guidelines range and ...


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