US v. Jose Garcia
UNPUBLISHED PER CURIAM OPINION filed. Originating case number: 1:16-cr-00017-MR-DLH-1. Copies to all parties and the district court/agency . [16-4448]
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UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS
FOR THE FOURTH CIRCUIT
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
Plaintiff - Appellee,
JOSE JIMENEZ GARCIA,
Defendant - Appellant.
Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of North Carolina, at
Asheville. Martin K. Reidinger, District Judge. (1:16-cr-00017-MR-DLH-1)
Submitted: March 23, 2017
Decided: March 31, 2017
Before MOTZ and SHEDD, Circuit Judges, and DAVIS, Senior Circuit Judge.
Vacated and remanded by unpublished per curiam opinion.
John Parke Davis, Interim Executive Director, Joshua B. Carpenter, FEDERAL
DEFENDERS OF WESTERN NORTH CAROLINA, INC., Asheville, North Carolina, for
Appellant. Jill Westmoreland Rose, United States Attorney, Amy E. Ray, Assistant United
States Attorney, Asheville, North Carolina, for Appellee.
Unpublished opinions are not binding precedent in this circuit.
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Jose Jimenez Garcia appeals his sentence of 48 months imposed following
conviction for illegal reentry by an aggravated felon, in violation of 8 U.S.C. § 1326(a),
(b)(2) (2012). He contends that the district court committed procedural error by failing to
explicitly address his nonfrivolous argument for a lower sentence based on a not-yeteffective Guideline amendment. See U.S. Sentencing Guidelines Manual app. C. supp.,
amend. 802 (amending illegal reentry guideline, USSG § 2L1.2). We vacate Garcia’s
sentence and remand this case to the district court for further proceedings.
We generally review a sentence for reasonableness “under a deferential abuse-ofdiscretion standard.” United States v. McCoy, 804 F.3d 349, 351 (4th Cir. 2015) (quoting
Gall v. United States, 552 U.S. 38, 41 (2007)), cert. denied, 137 S. Ct. 320 (2016). If a
sentence is unreasonable, reversal is required unless the government shows that the error
was harmless. United States v. Martinovich, 810 F.3d 232, 242 (4th Cir. 2016). However,
when a defendant raises a sentencing issue that was not properly preserved in the district
court, we review the issue for plain error only. United States v. Aplicano-Oyuela, 792 F.3d
416, 422 (4th Cir. 2015) (citing United States v. Lynn, 592 F.3d 572, 577 (4th Cir. 2010)).
The parties dispute the proper standard of review. Garcia contends that he properly
preserved this issue, and thus, we should review for abuse of discretion. The Government
contends that Garcia did not preserve his claim, and thus, we should review for plain error.
A party need not “formulaic[ally]” object to a perceived error in order to preserve
that issue for appellate review. Lynn, 592 F.3d at 577. Instead, a party “may preserve a
claim of error by informing the court—when the court ruling or order is made or sought—
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of the action the party wishes the court to take.” Id. (quoting Fed. R. Crim. P. 51(b))
We conclude that Garcia has sufficiently preserved his claim for appellate review.
Garcia’s counsel spent a significant amount of time discussing the then-proposed Guideline
and its effect on Garcia’s sentence. Counsel proffered what Garcia’s new offense level and
Guidelines range would be: with an adjusted offense level of 15, and after applying a 2level reduction for a total offense level of 13, the Guidelines range would be 24 to 30
months. Furthermore, counsel stated, “And I point this out because the Court can consider
it, I believe, in whether or not a variance is appropriate in this case.” (J.A. 54). Although
it perhaps would have been preferable had Garcia, through his counsel, explicitly moved
for a variance, such a motion was not necessary. Instead, Garcia was required to “draw
arguments from § 3553 for a sentence different than the one ultimately imposed,” as doing
so “sufficiently alerts the district court of its responsibility to render an individualized
explanation addressing those arguments.” Lynn, 592 F.3d at 578. Counsel’s argument did
just that. Thus, we review Garcia’s claim for abuse of discretion.
In determining procedural reasonableness of the sentence, we must consider
whether the district court properly calculated the Guidelines range, treated the Guidelines
as advisory rather than mandatory, gave the parties an opportunity to argue for an
appropriate sentence, considered the 18 U.S.C. § 3353(a) factors, selected a sentence not
based on clearly erroneous facts, and sufficiently explained the chosen sentence. Gall, 552
U.S. at 49-51.
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A district court “need not robotically tick through the § 3553(a) factors.” United
States v. Helton, 782 F.3d 148, 153 (4th Cir. 2015) (internal quotation marks omitted). But
“[w]here the defendant or prosecutor presents nonfrivolous reasons for imposing a different
sentence than that set forth in the advisory Guidelines, a district judge should address the
party’s arguments and explain why he has rejected those arguments.” United States v.
Bollinger, 798 F.3d 201, 220 (4th Cir. 2015) (internal quotation marks omitted), cert.
denied, 136 S. Ct. 2448 (2016). We may not presume that “the district court has silently
adopted arguments presented by a party.” United States v. Carter, 564 F.3d 325, 329 (4th
Cir. 2009). As a result, we must review a sentence based on the reasons the district court
provided, and “may not guess at the district court’s rationale, searching the record for
statements by the Government or defense counsel or for any other clues that might explain
a sentence.” Id. at 329-30.
Here, as the Government concedes, the district court did not explicitly consider
Garcia’s argument that it should apply the proposed Guideline to Garcia’s sentence. The
Government is correct that the court discussed the “sentencing factors it found most
relevant to its determination.” (Appellee’s Br. at 12). But the court must also indicate that
it “has considered the parties’ arguments” in imposing a sentence, Rita v. United States,
551 U.S. 338, 356 (2007), and there is simply nothing in the record to show that the court
considered Garcia’s nonfrivolous argument that the proposed Guideline should apply to his
sentence. With the district court having failed to articulate why it rejected Garcia’s
argument, we are unable to provide “meaningful appellate review” of Garcia’s sentence.
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See Gall, 552 U.S. at 50. As a result, we conclude that the district court committed
procedural error. See Carter, 564 F.3d at 330.
Furthermore, we conclude the error was not harmless. Garcia proffered the expected
Guidelines range of 24 to 30 months if the court applied the proposed Guideline, which is
lower than the 48-month sentence he ultimately received. See Martinovich, 810 F.3d at
243. As a result, we cannot say, with “fair assurance, that the district court’s explicit
consideration of the defendant’s arguments would not have affected the sentence imposed.”
United States v. Boulware, 604 F.3d 832, 838 (4th Cir. 2010) (ellipsis and internal quotation
Accordingly, we vacate Garcia’s sentence and remand this case to the district court
for further proceedings. We express no opinion, however, as to the sentence to be imposed
on remand. We dispense with oral argument because the facts and legal contentions are
adequately presented in the materials before this court and argument would not aid the
VACATED AND REMANDED
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