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United States v. Heindenstrom

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

December 30, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Appellee,
v.
LUCAS HEINDENSTROM, Defendant, Appellant.

          APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF MAINE [Hon. Nancy Torresen, U.S. District Judge]

          Robert C. Andrews, with whom Robert C. Andrews Esquire P.C. was on brief, for appellant.

          Julia M. Lipez, Assistant United States Attorney, with whom Halsey B. Frank, United States Attorney, was on brief, for appellee.

          Before Lynch, Selya, and Barron, Circuit Judges.

          SELYA, Circuit Judge.

         Defendant-appellant Lucas Heindenstrom pleaded guilty to a single count charging him with drug distribution in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1). The district court, relying heavily on a finding that a death resulted from the offense of conviction, imposed an above-the-range term of immurement, justifying the sentence both as an upward departure and an upward variance. Concluding that the sentence is supportable when viewed as the an upward variance, we affirm.

         I. BACKGROUND

         We start by rehearsing the relevant facts and travel of the case. When - as in this case - an appeal trails in the wake of a guilty plea, we normally "draw the facts from the change-of-plea colloquy, the uncontested portions of the presentence investigation report (PSI Report), and the transcript of the disposition hearing." United States v. Narváez-Soto, 773 F.3d 282, 284 (1st Cir. 2014). Here, however, there is a wrinkle: the district court conducted an evidentiary hearing as part of the disposition hearing. Thus, we draw some additional facts from the court's supportable findings following the evidentiary hearing. See United States v. Caramadre, 807 F.3d 359, 369 (1st Cir. 2015).

         On March 31, 2016, local police responded to an unattended death in York, Maine. Officers determined that the decedent, Kyle Gavin, had been dead for some time and found a substance that contained fentanyl, an empty needle, a metal spoon, and other drug paraphernalia near his body. The officers then spoke with Gavin's roommates and learned that Gavin, an Army veteran, had met a friend named "Lucas" on the night he died and had given Lucas money.

         The officers contacted the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). The DEA discovered a series of text messages between Gavin and the appellant, sent on the night that Gavin died. Toward the end of this exchange, Gavin indicated that the drugs the appellant had sold him tasted like "sugar." The appellant responded by assuring Gavin that the drugs were "good" and suggesting that the sweet taste came from fentanyl.

         The next day, the DEA used Gavin's cellphone to set up a heroin purchase with the appellant and arrested him when he arrived. After waiving his Miranda rights, see Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 444-45 (1966), the appellant admitted that he had sold a gram of heroin to Gavin on March 30.

         Subsequent investigation revealed that the substance trafficked by the appellant contained fentanyl, and the text-message exchange indicated that the appellant was aware of the presence of fentanyl. The appellant admitted that he had procured heroin for Gavin on two or three earlier occasions.

         A toxicology report indicated that there were 121 mg/dL of ethanol, 120 mg/dL of methanol, and 5.7 ng/mL of fentanyl in Gavin's system. These revelations were consistent with the report of the medical examiner, who determined that the cause of Gavin's death was "[a]cute intoxication" from the "combined effects of ethanol, methanol and fentanyl."

         In due course, a federal grand jury sitting in the District of Maine charged the appellant with distribution of a substance or mixture containing fentanyl. After some preliminaries, not relevant here, the appellant pleaded guilty to the single count of the indictment. Following receipt of the PSI Report, the district court conducted an evidentiary hearing as a subset of the disposition hearing.

         During the evidentiary hearing, Jonathan L. Arden, M.D., testified on the appellant's behalf. Dr. Arden discussed each of the substances found in Gavin's system and their contributions to Gavin's death. His opinion was that ethanol, methanol, and fentanyl "all . . . played a meaningful role" in Gavin's death, that is, all of them were "contributory." But Dr. Arden could not identify any one among the three toxins as "the sole cause" of death. He explained that the levels of both methanol and fentanyl ...


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