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United States v. Perez

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

April 22, 2016

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Appellee,
v.
ENGLIS PÉ REZ, t/n ENGLIS EDUARDO PÉREZ, Defendant, Appellant

          APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF PUERTO RICO. Hon. Jay A. Garcí a-Gregory, U.S. District Judge.

         Michael R. Hasse on brief for appellant.

         Rosa Emilia Rodrí guez-Vé lez, United States Attorney, Nelson Pé rez-Sosa, Assistant United States Attorney, Chief, Appellate Division, and Thomas F. Klumper, Assistant United States Attorney, Senior Appellate Counsel, on brief for appellee.

         Before Kayatta, Selya and Stahl, Circuit Judges.

          OPINION

         SELYA, Circuit Judge.

         This sentencing appeal embodies four discrete claims of error. Having scrutinized these claims in light of the record as a whole, we affirm the appellant's sentence.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The critical facts are largely uncontested. Defendant-appellant Englis Pé rez, a Dominican national, journeyed to Venezuela in early 2014 to undertake a cocaine-smuggling venture. Shortly after midnight on March 4, 2014, federal authorities intercepted a 30-foot speedboat -- operating without lights, powered by two outsized outboard engines, and equipped with 23 extra fuel tanks -- that had left port in Venezuela and was approaching the coast of Puerto Rico. The vessel was carrying 38 bales, which contained in the aggregate approximately 1,056 kilograms of cocaine.

         Only two persons were aboard the vessel when it was intercepted: the appellant and an individual later identified as Gregorio Rodrí guez. A federal grand jury sitting in the District of Puerto Rico returned a six-count indictment against the pair, charging them with conspiracy to import 5 or more kilograms of cocaine into the United States, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § § 952(a), 960, and 963 (count 1); conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute 5 kilograms or more of cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § § 841(a)(1) and 846 (count 2); aiding and abetting in the possession with intent to distribute 5 kilograms or more of cocaine, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2 and 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) (count 3); aiding and abetting in the importation of 5 kilograms or more of cocaine, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2 and 21 U.S.C. § § 952 and 960 (count 4); conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute 5 or more kilograms of cocaine on board a vessel subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, in violation of 46 U.S.C. § § 70502(c)(1)(D), 70503(a)(1), 70504(b)(1) and 70506(a) and (b) (count 5); and aiding and abetting in the possession with intent to distribute 5 kilograms or more of cocaine on board a vessel subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2 and 46 U.S.C. § § 70502(c)(1)(D), 70503(a)(1), 70504(b)(1) and 70506(a) (count 6). Although the appellant originally maintained his innocence, he shortly entered a straight guilty plea to all six counts of the indictment.

         Following the preparation of a presentence investigation report and some related skirmishing, the district court convened the disposition hearing on January 27, 2015. The November 2014 edition of the sentencing guidelines controlled. See United States v. Harotunian, 920 F.2d 1040, 1041-42 (1st Cir. 1990). The court calculated the appellant's guideline sentencing range (GSR) as 135-168 months and imposed a sentence at the bottom of that range: 135 months. This timely appeal ensued.

         II. ANALYSIS

         In this case, the appellant challenges both the procedural underpinnings and the substantive reasonableness of his sentence. Overall, claims of sentencing error are reviewed for abuse of discretion. See Gall v. United States, 552 U.S. 38, 51, 128 S.Ct. 586, 169 L.Ed.2d 445 (2007); United States v. Martin, 520 F.3d 87, 92 (1st Cir. 2008). With respect to procedural claims, however, the abuse-of discretion standard of review is not monolithic. Within it, " we assay the district court's factfinding for clear error and afford de novo consideration to its interpretation and application of the sentencing guidelines." United States v. Flores-Machicote, 706 F.3d 16, 20 (1st Cir. 2013).

         Against this backdrop, we turn to the appellant's asseverational array. Because a reviewing court, in the sentencing context, should first address claims of procedural error, see Martin, 520 F.3d at 92, we start there.

         A. ...


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