Posted On: June 13, 2012

Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit Upholds Defendant’s Classification as a “Career Offender”

In U.S. v. Marrero, No. 11-2351 2012 U.S. App. LEXIS 8386, Defendant Ricardo Marrero appealed his judgment of sentence after pleading guilty to two counts of bank robbery. Marrero claimed the District Court erred in classifying him as a "career offender" under § 4B1.1 of the United States Sentencing Guidelines, arguing that under Pennsylvania law neither his prior third-degree murder nor his simple assault conviction qualified as a crime of violence because "a conviction for mere recklessness cannot constitute a crime of violence." The “career offender” designation resulted in a final Guidelines range of 151 to 188 months' imprisonment. Had Defendant Marrero not been deemed a career offender, his Guidelines range would have been 57 to 71 months.

The appellate court held that the district court properly examined defendant's simple assault plea colloquy transcript to determine that defendant's conviction was for intentional (or, at the very least, knowing) simple assault. Defendant had admitted to placing his hands around his wife's neck and attempting to pull her up a flight of stairs. This constituted intent to cause bodily injury, which qualified as a crime of violence.

The Court found that whether defendant's third-degree murder conviction also qualified as a crime of violence depended on the enumeration of "murder" in U.S. Sentencing Guidelines Manual § 4B1.2 application n. 1. Applying a Taylor analysis, the court determined that it was. Because defendant's prior third-degree murder and simple assault convictions both qualified as "crimes of violence" under § 4B1.2, he was properly designated a career offender under § 4B1.1. Thus, his Guidelines range was properly calculated.

The appellate court affirmed defendant's sentence.

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Posted On: June 8, 2012

5th Circuit Increases Defendant’s Sentence for “Importation” of Narcotics in Routine Distribution Case

In U.S. v. Rodriguez, 666 F.3d 944; 2012 U.S. App. LEXIS 202, Defendant Melanie Marie Rodriguez pled guilty to possession with intent to distribute more than fifty grams of a mixture and substance containing methamphetamine in violation of 21 U.S.C.S. § 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(B). The United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas sentenced defendant to 180 months' imprisonment and five years of supervised release. Defendant’s sentence was enhanced under U.S.S.G. § 2D1.1(b)(4) because the district court determined that the offense "involved the importation of amphetamine or methamphetamine. . . ." On appeal, Defendant argued that the offense did not involve the importation of methamphetamine, because the importation was complete before she came into possession, and she was not involved in the importation.

The record established that the methamphetamine in question was transported from Mexico to the Dallas area by the La Familia drug trafficking organization, then stored in the "stash house" of its local leader, Arnulfo Hernandez. Hernandez sold the methamphetamine to a man named Rolando Vasquez, who sold it to Defendant on about six to ten instances over the course of approximately two to three months. Hernandez sometimes accompanied Vasquez to deliver the drugs to Defendant.

With regard to Defendant’s arguments, the appellate court determined that Defendant's offense involved the importation of methamphetamine because (1) even if the appellate court accepted her narrower interpretation of "importation," it meant only that she did not import the drugs, not that her possession did not involve importation, and (2) her proximity, familiarity, and repeated business with the importers justified the enhancement.

The court found that there was sufficient evidence to support the finding that Defendant knew the drugs were imported. The Court noted that Defendant and her husband had an established relationship with Vasquez, from whom they had been buying drugs weekly for at least nine months. Defendant had been buying from Vasquez for only about three months, but she took over for her husband after he was incarcerated. Furthermore, Hernandez, the local leader of a drug-trafficking organization based in Mexico, would sometimes accompany Vasquez to Defendant’s house to deliver drugs. The appellate court affirmed the judgment of sentence.

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Posted On: June 6, 2012

3rd Circuit Rules That Tip From Reliable Source Plus Dark Window Tint Does Not Provide Reasonable Suspicion to Stop and Search a Vehicle

The Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit recently handed down a significant decision concerning evidence suppression in U.S. v. Lewis.

After receiving a tip from a reliable source that individuals in a white Toyota Camry were carrying firearms, police officers in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands initiated a traffic stop of the vehicle. During the traffic stop, a firearm was discovered on the driver, Defendant Ahmoi Lewis. The source provided no details about the legal status of the firearms, and when making the stop, an officer testified that the tints on the vehicle's windows exceeded the threshold permissible under Virgin Islands law. The officer who initiated the traffic stop did not testify. Before pleading guilty to two firearm offenses, Lewis unsuccessfully moved to suppress the firearm as the fruit of an unlawful search and seizure. Defendant appealed the denial of his motion.

The appellate court determined that suppression was warranted under the Fourth Amendment because (1) the excessive tints did not provided a legal justification for the traffic stop since the only logical conclusion was that the tints were a contrived, after-the-fact explanation for the traffic stop, and there was no testimony that any officer observed a traffic violation prior to the initiation of the traffic stop, and (2) absent any information about the criminality of the firearms, the tip that individuals in the vehicle were carrying firearms in the Virgin Islands, in and of itself, did not provide officers with reasonable suspicion to conduct a Terry stop.

The appellate court vacated defendant's judgment of conviction and sentence, reversed the denial of his motion to suppress, and remanded for further proceedings.

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