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United States v. Rodríguez-Rosado

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

April 19, 2017

WILFREDO RODRÍGUEZ-ROSADO, a/k/a La Gorda, a/k/a Mogoyo, a/k/a Pitin, a/k/a Mogo, Defendant, Appellee.


          Vivianne M. Marrero, Assistant Federal Public Defender, Supervisor, Appeals Section, with whom Eric Alexander Vos, Federal Public Defender, and Leonardo M. Aldridge, Assistant Federal Public Defender, were on brief, for appellant.

          Mainon A. Schwartz, Assistant United States Attorney, with whom Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez, United States Attorney, and Mariana E. Bauzá-Almonte, Assistant United States Attorney, Chief, Appellate Division, were on brief, for appellee.

          Before Howard, Chief Judge, Lipez and Thompson, Circuit Judges.

          HOWARD, Chief Judge.

         Defendant-Appellant Wilfredo Rodríguez-Rosado appeals from the district court's denial of his motion to reduce sentence pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2). Under the unique circumstances of this case, we conclude that the prudent course is to remand for the district court to apply its own administrative directive.


         In May 2010, Rodríguez pled guilty to participating in a conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute between fifteen and fifty kilograms of cocaine. See 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), 841(b)(1)(A)(ii), 846. Rodríguez, who was an American Airlines employee at the time, utilized commercial flights to transport large amounts of cocaine from Puerto Rico to the continental United States. Rodríguez's plea agreement indicates that he was the "Leader" of the drug trafficking conspiracy, which continued for approximately ten years and involved more than 9, 000 kilograms of cocaine. In October 2010, the district court, consistent with the parties' joint recommendation, sentenced Rodríguez to 180 months' imprisonment.

         In November 2014, Rodríguez filed a motion to reduce his sentence, citing an April 2014 amendment to the sentencing guidelines ("Amendment 782"), which was given retroactive effect by the Sentencing Commission. Amendment 782 reduced the base offense level ("BOL") for certain drug crimes by two levels, effective November 1, 2014. See U.S.S.G. App. C Supp., Amend. 782. At the time of his sentencing, Rodríguez's guideline sentencing range ("GSR") was based on the then-applicable BOL of thirty-four. Under Amendment 782, however, Rodríguez's BOL would be thirty-two. See U.S.S.G. §2D1.1(c)(4) (2016).

         Amendment 782, as expected, generated thousands of sentence reduction motions. Indeed, in the District of Puerto Rico alone, more than 1, 400 such motions were decided before the end of 2016. See U.S. Sentencing Comm'n, 2014 Drug Guidelines Amendment Retroactivity Data Report, Table 1 (Jan. 2017). On November 6, 2014, just five days after Amendment 782's effective date, the Puerto Rico District Court issued an administrative directive ("AD 14-426") outlining a procedure for handling the impending onslaught of motions. Under AD 14-426, all motions to reduce sentence based on Amendment 782 are automatically referred to a magistrate judge for "initial screening." At this preliminary stage, the magistrate judge evaluates only the defendant's potential eligibility for a sentence reduction. A defendant is not eligible if, for example, the relevant amendment does not apply to him or does not lower his GSR. See U.S.S.G. §1B1.10(a)(2). If the magistrate judge determines that a given defendant may be eligible, the government, defense counsel, and probation officer "shall meet to discuss the case" in an attempt to reach a stipulation. In the event that the participants are unable to agree, they are directed to file memoranda with the district court. The court is then tasked with resolving the issue. AD 14-426 expressly provides that it is not "intended to confer individual rights to litigants, nor limit the discretion of judicial officers."

         In the present case, on November 26, 2014, the district judge sua sponte denied Rodríguez's motion before the magistrate judge had the opportunity to make an eligibility determination pursuant to AD 14-426. The court explained that Rodríguez "was the maximum leader of an elaborate drug trafficking organization that operated for many years packaging and transporting over 9000 kilos of cocaine." About a month later, the magistrate judge, to whom the motion had automatically been referred under AD 14-426, issued a report and recommendation indicating that Rodríguez "may be eligible for a sentence reduction and therefore the matter is referred to a United States District Judge." On December 30, 2014, the district court, in a brief text order, rejected the report and recommendation, stating that Rodríguez's motion "has been denied" and citing its own prior order. On appeal, Rodríguez challenges the district court orders denying his motion for sentence reduction, arguing, among other things, that the court failed to apply its own administrative directive.


         The parties first dispute whether Rodríguez has filed a timely notice of appeal. Under Fed. R. App. P. 4(b), such a notice must, absent an extension, be filed within fourteen days of the judgment or order being appealed. In his opening brief, Rodríguez cited a February 18, 2015 "Form for Selection of Counsel" (reflecting Rodríguez's request to proceed pro se)[1] to establish the timeliness of his appeal. As the government points out, however, that document was filed well over fourteen days after both of the relevant district court orders, entered on November 26 and December 30, 2014, respectively. The government moved for summary dismissal, but we reserved the issue of timeliness for the merits panel and directed the parties to address in their response and reply briefs whether any filings other than the February 18 form might have provided timely and sufficient notice.

         As requested, the government preemptively argued in its brief that no other documents filed by Rodríguez were both timely under Rule 4 and specified "the judgment, order, or part thereof being appealed, " as required by Fed. R. App. P. 3(c)(1)(B). In so arguing, the government discussed a December 8, 2014 Form for Selection of Counsel. That document listed the applicable district court docket number and requested that Hector L. Ramos-Vega be appointed to represent Rodríguez on appeal. At the time of this filing, however, Rodríguez had another appeal pending in this court (No. 14-1010) stemming from the same district court case. In that appeal, the details of which are not relevant here, Rodríguez had challenged the district court's denial of his motion for post-conviction relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. As the government notes, other than listing the district court docket number, Rodríguez's December 8 filing contained no information about the judgment or order being appealed. See ...

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