US v. Jesus Antonio

Filing 920090223

Opinion

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UNPUBLISHED UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FOURTH CIRCUIT No. 07-4791 UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff - Appellee, v. JESUS ESTEVEZ ANTONIO, a/k/a Jesus Antonio Estevez, Defendant - Appellant. Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, at Alexandria. Claude M. Hilton, Senior District Judge. (1:06-cr-00500-CMH) Argued: December 5, 2008 Decided: February 23, 2009 Before MICHAEL, MOTZ, and KING, Circuit Judges. Vacated and remanded by unpublished per curiam opinion. ARGUED: Richard Donald Dietz, KILPATRICK & STOCKTON, L.L.P., Winston-Salem, North Carolina, for Appellant. Richard Daniel Cooke, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Richmond, Virginia, for Appellee. ON BRIEF: Adam Howard Charnes, KILPATRICK & STOCKTON, L.L.P., Winston-Salem, North Carolina, for Appellant. Chuck Rosenberg, United States Attorney, Alexandria, Virginia, for Appellee. Unpublished opinions are not binding precedent in this circuit. PER CURIAM: Jesus Estevez Antonio (Estevez) appeals his sentence for distribution of crack cocaine and conspiracy to distribute powder cocaine on the grounds that the district court erred in treating the sentencing guidelines for crack cocaine as mandatory. Estevez contends that he should be resentenced in light of Kimbrough v. United States, __ U.S. __, 128 S. Ct. 558 (2007), a case decided after he was sentenced by the district court. Kimbrough held that the crack sentencing guidelines, 128 S. Ct. at "like all other Guidelines, are advisory only." 564. We conclude that Estevez raised a Kimbrough-type objection at his sentencing hearing, thereby preserving for appeal the argument that the crack guidelines are advisory. Because Kimbrough requires that Estevez be resentenced, we vacate his sentence and remand for resentencing. I. In October 2006 Estevez and his codefendant, Ruben Chavez Paz, were arrested and charged in a criminal complaint with conspiracy to distribute cocaine. The substance seized from Estevez and Chavez Paz when they were arrested appeared to the naked eye to be powder cocaine. Chavez Paz pled guilty to a one-count information charging him with conspiracy to distribute powder cocaine in violation of 21 U.S.C. 846; he was sentenced 2 to 70 months in prison. After Chavez Paz's plea and sentence, but before Estevez's indictment, government lab results showed that the cocaine seized from the defendants was actually crack cocaine. Thereafter, Estevez was indicted for conspiring to distribute both powder and crack cocaine, see 21 U.S.C. 846 (count 1); distributing 5 or more grams of crack cocaine, see id. 841(a)(1) (count 2); distributing 50 or more grams of crack cocaine, see id. 841(a)(1) (count 3); and tampering with witnesses, see 18 U.S.C. 1512(a)(2)(C), 1512(b)(3) (counts 4 and 5). The jury convicted Estevez on the charge of conspiracy to distribute powder cocaine and the two charges of distributing crack cocaine; he was acquitted on the remaining charges. Estevez's presentence report calculated a guidelines range of 151 to 188 months in prison. At the sentencing hearing First, he Estevez made two arguments relevant to this appeal. contended that the district court should take into account the fact that his codefendant, Chavez Paz, had received a sentence of 70 months and that it would be improper for him to receive a substantially higher sentence for engaging in identical conduct. Second, he pointed out that the U.S. Sentencing Commission was seeking would congressional the approval of guideline for amendments crack and that powder reduce sentencing disparity cocaine offenses. Estevez's sentencing exposure on his crack At the time of cocaine convictions illustrate the disparity. 3 Estevez's sentencing, for example, a defendant, like Estevez, convicted of distributing 5 grams of crack cocaine faced the same sentence as a defendant who distributed 500 grams of powder cocaine. This disparity had come to be known as the "100:1 The guidelines for disparity" or the "crack/powder disparity." crack cocaine have since been amended to reduce this disparity. U.S. Sentencing Commission Guidelines Manual (U.S.S.G.), supp. to app. C, amend. 706 (2007); see U.S.S.G. 2D1.1 (2008). At the time of Estevez's sentencing, case law in this circuit did as not a permit basis a for district a court to use the below 100:1 the disparity variance sentence guidelines range for crack cocaine offenses. Eura, 440 F.3d 625, 632-34 (4th Cir. 2006). the district court found that "the United States v. In Estevez's case factors" for Guideline Estevez's crack and conspiracy convictions had been "properly assessed at a range of 151 to 188 months," J.A. 56, and the court imposed a sentence of 151 months. The court did not discuss the crack/powder disparity arguments made by Estevez. Estevez 2007, his trial appealed counsel his sentence, a and on November Anders 6, v. filed brief under California, 386 U.S. 738 (1967), stating that he believed that Estevez had no meritorious issues on appeal. 2007, the Supreme Court decided Kimbrough v. On December 10, United States, which held that "it would not be an abuse of discretion for a 4 district defendant `greater purposes, court that than even to the conclude when sentencing a particular a sentence crack/powder to disparity [18 yields U.S.C.] necessary' in a achieve case." 3553(a)'s Ct. at 575. mine-run 128 S. Kimbrough overruled United States v. Eura, which had made "the crack/powder disparity effectively mandatory." In January 2008 Estevez filed a Id. at 564. pro se brief We challenging his sentence as inconsistent with Kimbrough. ordered supplemental briefing on Kimbrough's effect on Estevez's appeal, and we twice appointed new counsel for him. The central issue is whether we should order a new sentencing hearing to allow the district court to reconsider Estevez's sentence in light of Kimbrough. II. The government argues that Estevez did not preserve a Kimbrough-type objection to the district court's treatment of the crack/powder guidelines disparity as mandatory. In order to preserve a claim of error, a party must "inform[] the court -when the court ruling or order is made or sought -- of the action the party wishes the court to take." 51. Fed. R. Crim. P. "While the Rule does not require surgical precision to preserve error, the objection must be sufficient to `bring into focus the precise nature of the alleged error.'" Exxon Corp. v. 5 Amoco Oil Col., 875 F.2d 1085, 1090 (4th Cir. 1989) (quoting Palmer v. Hoffman, 318 U.S. 109, 119 (1943)). Estevez made two arguments at his sentencing hearing that, taken together, were sufficient to preserve for appeal a challenge guidelines. commensurate engaged in to the crack/powder disparity in the sentencing First, he argued that he should receive a sentence with that of his codefendant, While this Chavez argument Paz, did who not identical activity. mention the 100:1 disparity in so many words, the difference in guidelines treatment for crack and powder cocaine offenses is in part the foundation for and the for the argument. between (70 One of the primary (151 reasons months) difference Paz's Estevez's was sentence that Chavez months) Estevez's conviction was for crack cocaine, while Chavez Paz's was for powder cocaine. This sentencing difference occurred despite the fact that the pair engaged in the exact same criminal behavior. Estevez contends, therefore, that his request for parity in sentencing with Chavez Paz should thus be viewed as an argument against treating powder and crack cocaine differently for sentencing purposes. by the fact was that that This argument is undercut to some extent the basic Paz reason was to for the difference with a in sentences cocaine Chavez mischarged plead powder the offense and managed guilty before 6 government's lab results were completed. Nevertheless, the argument was grounded in the 100:1 disparity. Estevez's position is bolstered by his second argument in district court. Commission Estevez to emphasized the the proposal by the Sentencing disparity. consider reduce crack/powder guidelines In doing so, he was asking the district court to Commission's proposal as confirmation that the the 100:1 disparity was excessive and that a downward variance was warranted. district This placed the crack/powder disparity before the and was enough to bring into focus Estevez's court assertion that a sentence within the then-existing guidelines range for crack offenses was greater than necessary to achieve the goals of 3553(a) in his case. In addition, Estevez's lawyer acknowledged, in obvious recognition of Eura, that he was "preserv[ing] th[e] argument for Mr. Estevez." J.A. 48. The government's response at the hearing reveals that it understood the gist of in Estevez's requesting argument. a lighter The government to said avoid that the Estevez, sentence disparity, was "asking the Court to ignore the statutory scheme as it exist[ed]" at the time. Estevez's objection mandatory. to arguments the J.A. at 53-54. were sufficient for to crack preserve cocaine his as treating guidelines Because Estevez preserved his objection, and because Kimbrough now makes clear that it was error for the district 7 court to treat the crack cocaine guidelines as mandatory, the burden is on the government to establish that the error was harmless. See United States v. Robinson, 460 F.3d 550, 557 (4th The government has not met its burden because it Cir. 2006). has not pointed to anything in the record to indicate that the district court would have imposed the same 151-month sentence on Estevez if it had had the benefit of Kimbrough at the time of sentencing. Estevez is therefore entitled to a new sentencing hearing, which will allow the district court to reconsider the sentence in light of Kimbrough. Estevez's sentence is vacated, and his case is remanded for resentencing. VACATED AND REMANDED 8

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