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United States v. Mercado-Moreno

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

August 28, 2017

United States of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
Raul Mercado-Moreno, AKA Raul, AKA El Ranchero, AKA Margarito Pacheo Gonzalez, AKA Junga, AKA Javier Mercado Maldonado, AKA Raul Mercado Moreno, AKA Monster, AKA Raul Monstruo, AKA Talegas, AKA Talegon, Defendant-Appellant.

          Argued and Submitted May 18, 2017 San Francisco, California

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California D.C. No. 1:04-cr-05185-AWI-1 Anthony W. Ishii, Senior District Judge, Presiding

          Sean Riordan (argued) and Ann C. McClintock, Assistant Federal Defenders; Heather E. Williams, Federal Defender; Office of the Federal Public Defender, Sacramento, California; for Defendant-Appellant.

          Kathleen A. Servatius (argued), Assistant United States Attorney; Camil A. Skipper, Appellate Chief; United States Attorney's Office, Fresno, California; for Plaintiff-Appellee.

          Before: Richard C. Tallman and Sandra S. Ikuta, Circuit Judges, and Solomon Oliver, Jr., [*] Chief District Judge.

         SUMMARY [**]

         Criminal Law

         The panel affirmed the district court's denial of a motion for reduction of sentence under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2) in light of retroactive Sentencing Guidelines Amendment 782, which raised from 1.5 to 4.5 kilograms the quantity of actual methamphetamine required to trigger the maximum base offense level.

         The panel held that a district court in § 3582(c)(2) proceedings may make supplemental findings of drug quantity if they are necessary to determine the defendant's eligibility for a sentence reduction in light of a retroactive Guidelines amendment, but that in doing so, the district court may not make supplemental findings that are inconsistent with the findings made by the original sentencing court.

         The panel held that a district court has broad discretion in how to adjudicate § 3582(c)(2) proceedings, including whether to hold a hearing when making supplemental findings of drug quantity. The panel rejected the defendant's argument that the district court was required to hold a contested hearing when making its supplemental findings. The panel explained that when the district court does not consider any evidence outside of the record at sentencing, an evidentiary hearing will not always be necessary. The panel rejected the defendant's contention that the district court was required to hold a hearing pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 6A1.3, which applies only in original sentencing proceedings, not in § 3582(c)(2) proceedings.

         The panel rejected the defendant's contention that the sentencing court's finding that he distributed a total of 4.2 kilograms of methamphetamine was a specific finding of drug quantity that precluded the district court from engaging in any supplemental fact-finding. Because the original sentencing court did not make any findings regarding the amount of manufactured methamphetamine attributable to the defendant, it was necessary for the district court to make those supplemental findings in order to rule on the defendant's later motion. The panel held that the district court's conclusion that the defendant was responsible for at least 4.5 kilograms of actual methamphetamine was not clearly erroneous.

         The panel held that the district court therefore did not err in concluding, without a hearing, that the defendant was ineligible for a sentence reduction under § 3582(c)(2) because Amendment 782 did not lower his applicable guideline range.

          OPINION

          TALLMAN, Circuit Judge.

         Defendant Raul Mercado-Moreno appeals the district court's denial of his motion for a sentence reduction under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2). Defendant led and managed a large-scale methamphetamine manufacturing and distribution enterprise in Eastern California from 2000 until 2004. In 2006, Defendant pled guilty to conspiring to manufacture and distribute 50 grams or more of methamphetamine. At sentencing, the court found that Defendant distributed 4.2 kilograms of actual methamphetamine during the course of the conspiracy. Because the threshold to trigger the maximum base offense level under the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines (USSG, or Guidelines) at the time of sentencing was 1.5 kilograms or more, the sentencing court properly applied the maximum base offense level without finding the precise quantity of actual methamphetamine that Defendant had manufactured during the course of the conspiracy. Defendant ultimately received 210 months of imprisonment.

         After Guidelines Amendment 782 raised the threshold to trigger the maximum base offense level from 1.5 kilograms to 4.5 kilograms, Defendant moved for a sentence reduction under § 3582(c)(2) before a new district judge since the original sentencing judge had retired. In determining Defendant's eligibility for a sentence reduction under § 3582(c)(2), the second district judge found that Defendant was responsible for at least 4.5 kilograms of actual methamphetamine during the course of the conspiracy and, thus, Amendment 782 did not lower his applicable guideline range. Defendant's § 3582(c)(2) motion was denied. On appeal, Defendant argues that § 3582(c)(2) does not authorize the district court to re-determine the drug quantity found at his original sentencing or to make new quantity findings without conducting a hearing.

         As a matter of first impression, we hold that when deciding a § 3582(c)(2) motion, a district court may supplement the original sentencing court's quantity findings only when supplemental findings are necessary to determine the defendant's eligibility for a sentence reduction in light of a retroactive Guidelines amendment. However, the district court may not make supplemental findings that are inconsistent with the findings made by the original sentencing court. We also hold that a district court has broad discretion in how to adjudicate § 3582(c)(2) proceedings, including whether to hold a hearing when making supplemental findings of drug quantity.

         There was no abuse of discretion here and we affirm the district court's denial of Defendant's motion for a sentence reduction under § 3582(c)(2).

         I

         A

         We first set forth the general statutory framework for deciding motions under § 3582(c)(2). Ordinarily, courts may not modify a term of imprisonment once it has been imposed. 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c). Section 3582(c)(2) recognizes a narrow exception to the general rule of sentencing finality. It allows courts to modify a term of imprisonment to give defendants "the benefit of later enacted adjustments to the judgments reflected in the [Sentencing] Guidelines." Dillon v. United States, 560 U.S. 817, 828 (2010). The Supreme Court has emphasized that § 3582(c)(2) permits "only a limited adjustment to an otherwise final sentence and not a plenary resentencing proceeding." Id. at 826.

         When deciding whether to reduce a defendant's sentence under § 3582(c)(2), courts conduct a "two-step inquiry." Id. First, a court must determine the defendant's eligibility for a sentence reduction. Id. at 827. A defendant is eligible for a reduction only if (1) the defendant's term of imprisonment was based on a sentencing range that has subsequently been lowered by a retroactive amendment to the Guidelines, and (2) the reduction is consistent with USSG § 1B1.10, the policy statement that implements § 3582(c)(2). See id. at 826-27; USSG § 1B1.10(a)(1) (2014).[1]

         To decide whether a retroactive Guidelines amendment lowers a defendant's sentencing range, the court must determine "the amended guideline range that would have been applicable to the defendant if the [relevant amendment] had been in effect at the time the defendant was sentenced." USSG § 1B1.10(b)(1) (2014). When making this determination, the court must substitute only the relevant amendment for the "corresponding guideline provisions that were applied when the defendant was sentenced" and must "leave all other guideline application decisions unaffected." Id.; see Dillon, 560 U.S. at 827. A defendant is ineligible for a sentence reduction if the relevant amendment "does not have the effect of lowering the defendant's applicable guideline range." USSG § 1B1.10(a)(2)(B) (2014).

         If a defendant is eligible for a sentence reduction because the retroactive amendment lowers the defendant's applicable guideline range, the court proceeds to the second step of the inquiry. The court must determine whether, in its discretion, "the authorized reduction is warranted, either in whole or in part, according to the factors set forth in" 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) and "under the particular circumstances of the case." Dillon, 560 U.S. at 826-27. "Because reference to § 3553(a) is appropriate only at the second step of this circumscribed inquiry, it cannot serve to transform the proceedings under § 3582(c)(2) into plenary resentencing proceedings." Id. at 827.

         B

         For federal drug offenses, a defendant's base offense level generally depends on the type and quantity of drugs attributable to the defendant. See USSG § 2D1.1(a)(5), (c) (2016). The Drug Quantity Table in USSG § 2D1.1(c) specifies the base offense levels for quantity ranges of various drugs, with a maximum of 38 levels. In 2014, Amendment 782 modified the Drug Quantity Table to reduce by two points the base offense levels for specific drug types and quantities. See USSG supp. app. C, amend. 782 (Nov. 1, 2014). At the same time, Amendment 788 made Amendment 782 retroactive for all previously sentenced defendants.[2] See id., supp. app. C, amend. 788 (Nov. 1, 2014); see also id. § 1B1.10(d) (2014) (specifying all retroactively applicable Guidelines amendments).

         Amendment 782 increased the quantity of actual methamphetamine required to trigger the maximum base offense level from 1.5 kilograms to 4.5 kilograms. Id. § 2D1.1(c)(1) (2014). Because the maximum base offense level of 38 still applied to defendants responsible for at least 4.5 kilograms of actual methamphetamine, Amendment 782 had no effect on those defendants. However, Amendment 782 reduced the base offense level to 36 for defendants who were responsible for at least 1.5 kilograms but less than 4.5 kilograms of actual methamphetamine. Id. § 2D1.1(c)(2) (2014).

         II

         A

         Defendant led and managed a widespread methamphetamine manufacturing and distribution enterprise based in Stanislaus County in Eastern California from 2000 until 2004. Defendant was allegedly the kingpin who headed the drug trafficking organization. In 2005, the Government charged Defendant and several others with various drug offenses in a twenty-eight-count superseding indictment. In 2006, Defendant pled guilty, pursuant to a written plea agreement under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11, to conspiring to manufacture and distribute 50 grams or more of methamphetamine in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2 and 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), 846.

         As the factual basis for his guilty plea, Defendant stipulated in his plea agreement and under oath at his plea colloquy that he distributed more than 4, 376.1 grams of actual methamphetamine in furtherance of the conspiracy. In addition, he stipulated that he managed other individuals who were involved in making methamphetamine and caused them to obtain pseudoephedrine pills used to make methamphetamine at a laboratory found by law enforcement on April 12, 2004, in Turlock, California. Specifically, Defendant stipulated in his written plea agreement that:

Defendant will plead guilty because he is in fact guilty of the crime set forth in Count Two of the Fourth Superseding Indictment. The defendant also agrees that the following are the facts of this case . . . .
Beginning at a time unknown but no later than April, 2000, and continuing to June 30, 2004, in the County of Stanislaus, State and Eastern District of California, and elsewhere, the defendant conspired with other individuals to make methamphetamine. The defendant knowingly assisted other individuals to extract pseudoephedrine in preparation for making methamphetamine in Stanislaus County in April 2000 and he ...

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