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Date: 08-21-2019

Case Style:

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, v. JOSÉ GUZMÁN-VÁZQUEZ, a/k/a Alexis Cumba-Espinosa,

Case Number: 18-1153

Judge: Lipez

Court: United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit on appeal from the District of Puerto Rico (San Juan County)

Plaintiff's Attorney: Rosa Emilia Rodriguez-Velez

Defendant's Attorney: Alex Omar Rosa-Ambert

Description:




José Guzmán-Vázquez challenges,
on procedural and substantive grounds, his within-guideline,
115-month sentence for carjacking in violation of 18 U.S.C.
§ 2119(1). After carefully considering the record and the parties'
arguments, we affirm.
I.
Guzmán-Vázquez approached an 84-year-old man in a Wendy's
parking lot and threatened to shoot him if he did not hand over
his car keys. After grabbing the keys and taking money from the
man's wallet, Guzmán-Vázquez fled the scene in the man's car. He
was apprehended ten days later after crashing the vehicle.
Guzmán-Vázquez pleaded guilty to a one-count indictment
pursuant to a plea agreement in which he stipulated with the
government to a total offense level ("TOL") of 21. The parties
did not stipulate to a criminal history category ("CHC") but noted
the guidelines ranges for various CHCs, including a range of 77 to
96 months' imprisonment for a CHC of VI. The parties agreed to
each recommend a sentence within these applicable guidelines
ranges based on Guzmán-Vázquez's CHC.
In the amended presentence report ("PSR"), the probation
officer followed the parties' offense level calculations, except
he included a two-level enhancement based on Guzmán-Vázquez's
knowledge that the victim was vulnerable due to age, see U.S.S.G.
§ 3A1.1(b)(1), resulting in a TOL of 23. The probation officer
- 3 -
calculated Guzmán-Vázquez's criminal history score to be 20,
resulting in a CHC of VI, based on Guzmán-Vázquez's extensive
history of convictions, including for vehicular theft offenses.
The probation officer's guidelines calculations thus yielded a
sentencing guidelines range of 92 to 115 months' imprisonment.
Guzmán-Vázquez did not object to the PSR.
At sentencing, Guzmán-Vázquez did not contest the PSR's
guidelines calculations but requested a 77-month sentence based
on, inter alia, the contention that his extensive criminal history
and the carjacking were rooted in long-term, untreated drug
addiction. The government requested a 96-month sentence based on
the circumstances of the offense and Guzmán-Vázquez's extensive
history of criminal activity. The district court agreed with the
PSR's guidelines calculations. Considering the 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a)
sentencing factors, the court noted, inter alia, Guzmán-Vázquez's
long-term, untreated drug abuse. Concluding that the parties'
recommended sentences did not adequately reflect the seriousness
of the offense, promote respect for the law, protect the public
from future crimes by Guzmán-Vázquez, or address the issues of
deterrence and punishment, the district court sentenced
Guzmán-Vázquez to 115 months' imprisonment. The district court
also recommended a 500-hour drug treatment program. At the
hearing's conclusion, Guzmán-Vázquez's counsel challenged the
procedural and substantive reasonableness of his sentence. The
- 4 -
district court noted the objection but stated: "[T]he sentence
remains as is. You have got to remember that he threatened this
gentleman when he committed this carjacking." This timely appeal
followed.1
II.
A. Procedural Reasonableness
Guzmán-Vázquez contends that the district court abused its
discretion by failing to consider the 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a)
sentencing factors, including his long-term drug abuse and lack of
treatment. See 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a)(1) (sentencing court must
consider the defendant's "history and characteristics"); United
States v. Flores-Machicote, 706 F.3d 16, 20 (1st Cir. 2013)
(sentencing court commits procedural error by failing to consider
the § 3553(a) sentencing factors). Contrary to his contention,
however, "[o]n this record, there is simply no reason not to
'credit the district court's statement that it considered all of
the relevant sentencing factors.'" United States v.
Hassan-Saleh-Mohamad, 930 F.3d 1, 3 (1st Cir. 2019) (quoting United
States v. Clogston, 662 F.3d 588, 592 (1st Cir. 2011)).
Guzmán-Vázquez argued before the district court that his criminal
history should be considered in the context of his untreated drug
1 The government concedes that the appellate waiver in the
plea agreement does not apply because Guzmán-Vázquez was not
sentenced in accordance with the parties' sentencing
recommendations and guidelines calculations.
- 5 -
abuse. Hence, we readily infer that the district court considered
that factor but was simply unconvinced that he warranted a lighter
sentence on that basis. See United States v. Lozada-Aponte, 689
F.3d 791, 793 (1st Cir. 2012) ("The potentially mitigating factors
[the defendant] identifies on appeal were thoroughly discussed in
the presentence report; that the district court did not explicitly
mention them during the sentencing hearing suggests they were
unconvincing, not ignored."). Indeed, the district court
explicitly acknowledged Guzmán-Vázquez's history of drug abuse and
lack of treatment when discussing his background.
Guzmán-Vázquez's argument that the district court
impermissibly refused to consider a specific sentencing factor --
"the need for the sentence imposed . . . to provide the defendant
with . . . correctional treatment," 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a)(2)(D) --
is at odds with the record. Contrary to Guzmán-Vázquez's
contention, the district court did not state that it would ignore
his need for drug treatment in fashioning the sentence. Rather,
the district court stated that it could not determine the length
of the sentence based on how long it would take Guzmán-Vázquez to
complete drug treatment. As the district court explained, this
position is consistent with Supreme Court precedent holding that
sentencing courts "may not impose or lengthen a prison sentence to
enable an offender to complete a treatment program or otherwise to
promote rehabilitation." Tapia v. United States, 564 U.S. 319,
- 6 -
335 (2011). The district court correctly considered
Guzmán-Vázquez's rehabilitative needs, and in fact recommended
that he be placed in a drug treatment program, without
impermissibly indexing the sentence to the length of time needed
to complete any treatment program. Cf. United States v. Del
Valle-Rodríguez, 761 F.3d 171, 174 (1st Cir. 2014) (explaining
that Tapia error occurs where "a sentencing court's reference to
rehabilitative needs was causally related to the length of the
sentence" rather than being "merely one of a mix of sentencing
consequences and opportunities" considered by the court).2
B. Substantive Reasonableness
Assuming, favorably to Guzmán-Vázquez, that he fully
preserved his substantive reasonableness challenge, we discern no
abuse of discretion because his sentence "rests on a 'plausible
sentencing rationale' and embodies a 'defensible result.'" United
States v. Ruiz-Huertas, 792 F.3d 223, 228 (1st Cir. 2015) (quoting
2 Guzmán-Vázquez affirmatively waived any argument that he
was entitled to a criminal history departure when his counsel
represented to the district court that Guzmán-Vázquez was "not
making the argument that [he] is entitled to a departure." See
United States v. Walker, 538 F.3d 21, 23 (1st Cir. 2008) ("Where
an appellant has waived an objection below, we will not review
[his] argument, even for plain error."). Guzmán-Vázquez has also
waived any argument that the district court did not adequately
explain the sentence or consider sentencing disparities by failing
to develop these arguments on appeal. United States v. Zannino,
895 F.2d 1, 17 (1st Cir. 1990). Additionally, he has not preserved
any argument that the district court improperly calculated the
guidelines range.
- 7 -
United States v. Martin, 520 F.3d 87, 96 (1st Cir. 2008)). In
light of the district court's focus on the serious nature of the
offense and Guzmán-Vázquez's extensive criminal history, we cannot
say that the within-guideline sentence imposed by the district
court was "outside of the expansive universe of reasonable
sentences." United States v. Severino-Pacheco, 911 F.3d 14, 21
(1st Cir. 2018) (internal quotation marks omitted). Indeed,
because the sentence is within a properly calculated guidelines
range, it enjoys a presumption of reasonableness, United States v.
Llanos-Falero, 847 F.3d 29, 36 (1st Cir. 2017), which
Guzmán-Vázquez can only rebut by "adduc[ing] fairly powerful
mitigating reasons and persuad[ing] us that the district court was
unreasonable in balancing pros and cons despite the latitude
implicit in saying that a sentence must be reasonable," Clogston,
662 F.3d at 593 (internal quotation marks omitted). He has not
done so. It was well within the court's substantial discretion to
determine that the sentence it imposed was justified despite
Guzmán-Vázquez's acceptance of responsibility, his history of drug
abuse and lack of treatment, and his difficult background,3 or the
3 We note that the record paints a more nuanced picture of
Guzmán-Vázquez's background than he presents in his appellate
brief. For example, although he suggests that his criminal
behavior is in some part attributable to an absentee biological
father and the lack of a "stable family environment," the PSR
contains the unchallenged statement that "[h]e was reared by his
mother and stepfather[,] who instilled good moral values and
provided proper counseling."
- 8 -
fact that he may not have actually had a gun when he threatened to
shoot the carjacking victim. See Flores-Machicote, 706 F.3d at 20
("Appellate review of federal criminal sentences is characterized
by a frank recognition of the substantial discretion vested in a
sentencing court.").4
To the extent Guzmán-Vázquez specifically contends that his
sentence was substantively unreasonable because the district court
did not give sufficient mitigatory weight to his history of drug
abuse, this argument is foreclosed by the substantial deference we
afford district courts in weighing the § 3553(a) sentencing
factors, including potentially mitigating factors. See United
States v. Joubert, 778 F.3d 247, 256 (1st Cir. 2015) ("The
significance given to each relevant factor is for the district
court, not an appellate court, to decide."); see also Clogston,
662 F.3d at 593 ("That the sentencing court chose not to attach to
certain of the mitigating factors the significance that the
appellant thinks they deserved does not make the sentence
unreasonable."). In sum, we see no reason to disturb the district
4 We also reject Guzmán-Vázquez's suggestion that his sentence
is substantively unreasonable because it is higher than the
sentence recommended by the government. As we recently explained,
"we have consistently refused to accord any decretory significance
to [the parties'] non-binding [sentencing] recommendations -- or
even to require a sentencing court to explain why it decided to
eschew those recommendations." Hassan-Saleh-Mohamad, 930 F.3d at
3 n.7 (quoting United States v. Cortés-Medina, 819 F.3d 566, 573
(1st Cir. 2016)).
- 9 -
court's determination that the sentence it imposed was appropriate
in light of the seriousness of the offense and Guzmán-Vázquez's
extensive criminal history. See United States v. Gibbons, 553
F.3d 40, 47 (1st Cir. 2009) ("We will not disturb a well-reasoned
decision to give greater weight to particular sentencing factors
over others . . . .").

Outcome: Rejecting Guzmán-Vázquez's challenges to his sentence, we
affirm.
So ordered.

Plaintiff's Experts:

Defendant's Experts:

Comments:



 
 
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