FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF
PUERTO RICO [Hon. Jay A. García-Gregory, U.S. District
Pamela Heit for appellant.
A. Mathews, II, Assistant United States Attorney, with whom
Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez, United States
Attorney, Mariana E. Bauzá-Almonte, Assistant United
States Attorney, Chief, Appellate Division, and Juan Carlos
Reyes-Ramos, Assistant United States Attorney, were on brief,
Howard, Chief Judge, Torruella and Barron, Circuit Judges.
Sarmiento-Palacios pleaded guilty to two cocaine-related
charges under the Maritime Drug Law Enforcement Act
("MDLEA"). On appeal, Sarmiento claims that (1)
Congress exceeded its constitutional authority in
promulgating the MDLEA; (2) Amendment 794 to the U.S.
Sentencing Commission Guidelines ("the Guidelines")
is retroactive, so he should be re-sentenced under the
Sentencing Commission's amended guidance; or, in the
alternative, (3) section 3B1.2 of the Sentencing Guidelines
is void for vagueness. Although we find Sarmiento's
constitutional challenges to MDLEA and section 3B1.2
meritless, because we agree that Amendment 794 is
retroactive, we vacate his sentence and remand for
Facts and Procedural History
August 2013, United States Coast Guard personnel stationed
aboard a Dutch warship encountered a "go-fast"
vesseldead in the Caribbean Sea's
international waters. Because the vessel bore no indicia of
nationality, the Coast Guard conducted a
right-of-visit approach. The Coast Guard found Sarmiento
and two codefendants -- as well as over 600 kilograms of
cocaine in plain view -- on the vessel. The Coast Guard
arrested the three men and seized the contraband.
March 2015, Sarmiento entered a straight plea of guilty (that
is, without a plea agreement) for (1) conspiracy to possess
cocaine with the intent to distribute; and (2) aiding and
abetting the same, all on a vessel subject to United States
jurisdiction. See 46 U.S.C. §§ 70501
et seq.; 18 U.S.C. § 2. At his sentencing
hearing in August 2015, Sarmiento argued for a two-level
reduction because he was a "minor participant" in
the offense and was "substantially less culpable than
the average participant." See U.S.S.G. §
3B1.2(b) & cmt. n.3(A) (2014). Sarmiento emphasized that
he had no criminal record prior to his arrest and that he was
almost entirely blind. As such, he argued that he was both
too inexperienced and too ill-suited to play more than a
minor role in the charged crimes.
district court rejected this argument, citing the
"substantial amount of drugs" at issue. It
sentenced Sarmiento to 135 months' imprisonment on each
count -- at the bottom of the guidelines sentencing range --
to run concurrently. This timely appeal followed.
Sarmiento's MDLEA Challenge
briefly suggests that because Congress exceeded its
constitutional authority under Article I when it promulgated
the MDLEA, the United States lacked jurisdiction to prosecute
him. See United States v. Cardales-Luna, 632 F.3d
731, 739-51 (1st Cir. 2011) (Torruella, J., dissenting). But
even if this skeletal challenge has ...