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United States v. Rentas-Muniz

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

April 3, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Appellee,
v.
JAYSON RENTAS-MUNIZ, Defendant, Appellant.

          APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF PUERTO RICO [Hon. Aida M. Delgado-Colón, U.S. District Judge]

          Maria Soledad Ramirez-Becerra and Maria Soledad-Ramirez Becerra Law Office on brief for appellant.

          Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez, United States Attorney, Mariana E. Bauzá-Almonte, Assistant United States Attorney, Chief, Appellate Division, and John A. Mathews II, Assistant United States Attorney, on brief for appellee.

          Before Lynch, Selya and Kayatta, Circuit Judges.

          SELYA, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         Defendant-appellant Jayson Rentas-Muñiz pleaded guilty to conspiring to possess with intent to distribute cocaine base (crack cocaine) and to possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug-trafficking crime. The district court sentenced him to a 202-month term of immurement on the drug-conspiracy charge and a sixty-month term of immurement on the firearms charge, stipulating that those prison terms would run consecutive to one another and to the undischarged portions of multiple Puerto Rico sentences that he was then serving. Before us, the appellant primarily challenges the district court's determination to run the federal sentences consecutive to the Puerto Rico sentences previously imposed. After careful consideration, we affirm.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Since this appeal follows a guilty plea, we draw the relevant facts from the plea agreement (the Agreement), the change-of-plea colloquy, the undisputed portions of the presentence investigation report (PSI Report), and the sentencing transcript. See United States v. Nuñez, 852 F.3d 141, 143 (1st Cir. 2017); United States v. Dávila-González, 595 F.3d 42, 45 (1st Cir. 2010).

         The appellant is no stranger to the judicial system. Going back in time, he was convicted in Puerto Rico of attempted aggravated burglary in 2000, robbery and unlicensed use of a weapon in 2002, and conspiracy against a judicial officer in 2006. He continued to operate on the wrong side of the law and, by 2012, had become engaged in a conspiracy to distribute cocaine, crack cocaine, heroin, and marijuana in and around Ponce, Puerto Rico. During this phase of his criminal career, the appellant sold drugs, served as an enforcer for the drug ring, and assisted in the storage of contraband. Separately, he was involved (on November 30, 2012) in the premeditated murder of a high-school student, Juan Ruiz-Vega.

         These chickens ultimately came home to roost: the appellant was charged in the Puerto Rico courts and convicted of a laundry list of crimes. He was sentenced to multiple terms of imprisonment, [1] including ninety-nine years for murder, ten years for attempted murder, thirty years for the unlawful use of firearms, and one year for the unlawful distribution and possession of controlled substances. These sentences were ordered to run consecutive to one another.

         On September 4, 2013, a federal grand jury in the District of Puerto Rico charged the appellant - who was then incarcerated in consequence of his state crimes - with conspiring to possess with intent to distribute in excess of 280 grams of cocaine base and detectable amounts of cocaine, heroin, and marijuana, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 846 (count 1) and possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug-trafficking crime, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) (count 2). About two months later, the appellant pleaded guilty to both counts pursuant to the Agreement. As part of the Agreement, the appellant stipulated to having handled between 112 and 196 grams of crack cocaine, and both sides agreed that the appellant's drug-distribution convictions in the Puerto Rico courts should be considered overt acts with respect to the federal drug-conspiracy charge. The parties jointly recommended a sixty-month sentence on count one to run consecutive to a sixty-month mandatory minimum sentence on count two. The Agreement did not address whether the federal sentences should run consecutive to or concurrent with the state sentences.

         The parties agree that the November 2014 edition of the sentencing guidelines applies in this case. Using that version of the guidelines, the PSI Report recommended that the appellant's base offense level be adjusted upward to reflect his involvement in Ruiz-Vegas's murder - an adjustment that would have yielded a guideline sentencing range of 360 to 480 months. See USSG §§2A1.1, 2D1.1(d)(1). At the disposition hearing, the district court declined to treat the Ruiz-Vega murder as relevant conduct, see id. §1B1.3, and therefore eschewed the murder cross-reference. But since the appellant had at least two prior felony convictions for crimes of violence, the court concluded that he was a career offender, see id. §4B1.1 - a determination that resulted in a guideline range of 262 to 327 months. The court proceeded to impose a below-the-range sentence of 202 months on count one and a mandatory minimum sentence of sixty months on count two, with these sentences to run consecutive to one another and to the undischarged portions of the state sentences.

         This timely appeal ensued. Although the Agreement contains a waiver-of-appeal provision, the government concedes - as it must - that this appeal falls outside the margins of that provision.

         II. ...


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