FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF
PUERTO RICO [Hon. José Antonio Fusté, U.S.
A. Albino González and Albino & Assoc. Law Office,
PC on brief for appellant.
Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez, United States Attorney,
and Nelson Pérez-Sosa, Assistant United States
Attorney, Chief, Appellate Division, on brief for appellee.
Howard, Chief Judge, Torruella and Barron, Circuit Judges.
BARRON, CIRCUIT JUDGE
Trinidad was convicted of violating the Maritime Drug Law
Enforcement Act ("MDLEA") after his vessel was
intercepted by United States authorities. Trinidad appeals
the District Court's application of a sentencing
enhancement to him. That enhancement applies if the defendant
"acted as a pilot, copilot, captain, navigator, flight
officer, or any other operation officer" on a vessel
carrying controlled substances. U.S.S.G.
§2D1.1(b)(3)(C). We conclude that the District Court did
not err in ruling that Trinidad acted as a
"navigator" within the meaning of the enhancement.
about September 27, 2014, Trinidad and Algemiro
Coa-Peña were intercepted in a 30-foot "go-fast
type vessel" by the United States Coast Guard,
approximately 80 nautical miles south of Lea Beata, Dominican
Republic. The vessel bore no indicia of nationality.
and Coa-Peña told the Coast Guard that the vessel was
coming from Colombia, and one of the men claimed Colombian
nationality for the vessel. After the Government of Colombia
indicated that it could neither confirm nor deny registry of
the vessel, the Coast Guard determined that the vessel was
one without nationality within the meaning of the MDLEA, 46
U.S.C. § 70502(c)(1)(A), and boarded the vessel. The
Coast Guard found approximately 144 kilograms of cocaine
January 8, 2015, Trinidad pleaded guilty to one count of
possession with intent to distribute cocaine, in violation of
provisions of the MDLEA. See 46 U.S.C. §§
70503(a)(1), 70504(b)(1), 70506(a), and 70506(b). In so
doing, Trinidad admitted that he and Coa-Peña took
turns driving the vessel. Trinidad also admitted that he and
Coa-Peña "set sail for the Dominican Republic
utilizing Global Positioning Devices that were provided to
parties agreed to a total offense level of 31, unless
Trinidad complied with the requirements set forth in U.S.S.G.
§2D1.1(b)(17) (the so-called "safety-valve
reduction"), in which case the parties agreed that the
total offense level would be 29. The agreed-upon offense
level did not include the two-level sentencing enhancement
for Trinidad's "act[ing] as a pilot, copilot,
captain, navigator, flight officer, or any other operation
officer aboard any craft or vessel." U.S.S.G.
pre-sentence report ("PSR") put together by the
probation office calculated a total offense level of 33. The
PSR calculated that level by taking into account the
parties' stipulated base offense level and by adding the
two-level "pilot-navigator enhancement" set forth
in U.S.S.G. §2D1.1(b)(3)(C). The PSR did not account for
the two-level safety-valve reduction. The PSR added the
enhancement because the probation officer determined that
Trinidad "acted as a navigator" in the course of
committing the underlying offense. Trinidad objected to the
enhancement on the grounds that he was neither the captain
nor the navigator of the vessel, as Trinidad only took turns
steering the vessel and did not himself handle the
vessel's GPS system.
District Court calculated a total offense level of 31 and
sentenced Trinidad to a term of imprisonment of 108 months,
at the low end of the applicable Guidelines range. In so
doing, the District Court adopted both the two-level safety-
valve reduction and the two-level pilot-navigator
enhancement. The District Court applied the enhancement
because it found that Trinidad navigated the vessel under the
appeals the application of the pilot-navigator sentencing
enhancement to him.
review the District Court's interpretation and
application of this sentencing enhancement de novo and the
District Court's underlying "factual findings, which
must be supported by a preponderance of the evidence, for
clear error." United States v.
Lopez, 299 F.3d 84, 87 (1st Cir. 2002). The
government's sole argument to us is that the District
Court did not err in finding that the enhancement applies
because Trinidad acted as a navigator. We agree.
undisputed record shows that Trinidad took turns steering the
vessel with Coa-Peña, the only other passenger on
board; that the vessel was traveling from Colombia to the
Dominican Republic; that he and Coa-Peña "set
sail . . . utilizing Global Positioning Devices"; and
that the vessel was intercepted after twenty-four hours on
the high seas. Given these facts, the District Court
reasonably concluded that Trinidad must have been responsible
for ensuring that the boat stayed on course for some not
insubstantial portion of the trip.
does contend that he did not "use" the GPS, and
that he therefore cannot be said to have been navigating. But
the District Court reasonably concluded that Trinidad must
have relied on the GPS to keep the boat on course. Unlike on
land, the District Court noted, Trinidad could not have been
instructed to "[j]ust keep going straight." Thus,
the District Court did not clearly err in determining that,
even if Trinidad did not himself set or calibrate the GPS
device, it was impossible to conclude that he "[got] on
a boat, " was told "that way, " and went.
"That's not the way it goes. You will end up God
knows where. It's a big ocean up there."
supporting the District Court's assessment of
Trinidad's onboard role -- and reliance on
instrumentation in guiding the boat's course -- is the
portion of the colloquy at sentencing in which Trinidad's
counsel did not contest the notion that Trinidad had relied
on the GPS to keep the boat on course. In that exchange,
Trinidad's counsel, in trying to explain that
Trinidad's role was too minimal to make him a navigator,
remarked, "If you tell him look at the GPS or the
(Remarks in Spanish) -- we're going 280 east for
example." At that point, the District Court stated:
"You have given it in. The moment that you use the
compass, if you will, or you're using the GPS as you
mention, you are navigating." So, while Trinidad
contends that, in order to be deemed a navigator, he must
have been, at points, "in charge of navigating the
vessel and directing it to its ultimate destination, "
we conclude that the District Court reasonably found Trinidad
was in charge of doing just that during some not
insubstantial portions of the trip.
therefore agree that, on this record, Trinidad, who was an
experienced fisherman, acted as a navigator during the
journey from Colombia to the Dominican Republic. See The
Oxford English Dictionary 259 (2d ed. 1989) (defining
"navigate" to mean, among other things, "to
sail, direct, or manage (a ship)" and "to plot and
supervise the course of (an aircraft or spacecraft)");
The Random House Dictionary of the English Language
1282 (2d ed. 1987) (defining "navigate" to mean,
among other things, "to direct or manage (a ship . . .)
on its course"); Webster's Third New Int'l
Dictionary 1509 (1981) (defining "navigate" to
mean, among other things, "to steer, direct, or manage
in sailing: conduct (a boat) upon the water by the art or
skill of seamen").
concluding, we reject Trinidad's contention that a person
can only qualify as a navigator if he or she knows how to
program or adjust a GPS -- or other navigational device --and
not if he merely relies on it to keep the boat on course.
Nothing in the text or commentary of the enhancement supports
such a restricted definition of the term
"navigator." Cf. United States v.
Cruz-Mendez, 811 F.3d 1172, 1176 (9th Cir. 2016)
(explaining that appropriate application of the
"pilot" portion of the enhancement is "not
dependent on a finding of any particular formal
training"); United States v.
Cartwright, 413 F.3d 1295, 1296-99 (11th Cir. 2005)
(per curiam) (reviewing the defendant's actions on board
the vessel, rather than the extent of his knowledge or
training, in applying the "captain" portion of the
reject Trinidad's contention that he did not act as a
navigator because he was a subordinate to the other man on
the vessel. By its own terms, the enhancement reaches anyone
who "act[s] as a navigator, " just as it
reaches captains and copilots alike. U.S.S.G.
§2D1.1(b)(3)(C) (emphasis added). Thus, even assuming
that Trinidad did not bear "ultimate
responsibility" for the vessel's safe passage, as he
contends, that fact would not preclude the conclusion that he
"act[ed] as a navigator." Id. And to the
extent Trinidad contends that the enhancement can only be
applied to persons with special authority, he is also wrong.
See United States v. Guerrero, 114
F.3d 332, 346 & n.16 (1st Cir. 1997), cert.
denied 522 U.S. 870 & 522 U.S. 924 (1997).
For the reasons given, we affirm.
TORRUELLA, Circuit ...