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United States v. Carrasquillo-Penaloza

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

June 21, 2016

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Appellee,
v.
BETSIAN CARRASQUILLO-PEÑALOZA, Defendant, Appellee.

         APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF PUERTO RICO [Hon. Juan M. Pérez-Giménez, U.S. District Judge]

          Alejandra Bird López for appellant.

          Juan Carlos Reyes-Ramos, Assistant United States Attorney, with whom Nelson Pérez-Sosa, Assistant United States Attorney, Chief, Appellate Division, and Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez, United States Attorney, were on brief, for appellee.

          Before Howard, Chief Judge, Torruella and Lynch, Circuit Judges.

          LYNCH, Circuit Judge.

         Betsian Carrasquillo-Peñaloza pleaded guilty to one count of violating 18 U.S.C. § 2423(a) by attempting to prostitute a fourteen-year-old girl to undercover federal agents. On appeal, Carrasquillo-Peñaloza argues that her conviction must be reversed because the application of 18 U.S.C. § 2423(a) to conduct wholly within Puerto Rico exceeds Congress's legislative authority. But Carrasquillo-Peñaloza waived her right to bring this challenge when she entered an unconditional guilty plea and executed a waiver-of-appeal clause. We affirm.

         I.

         On October 10, 2012, Carrasquillo-Peñaloza was indicted for one count of transportation of a minor with the intent that she engage in prostitution, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2423(a), [1]and one count of sex trafficking of a child, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1591(a). A substantially similar superseding indictment was issued on October 24, 2012.

         On December 7, 2012, Carrasquillo-Peñaloza filed a motion to dismiss the superseding indictment, arguing, inter alia, that the application of 18 U.S.C. § 2423(a) to conduct wholly within Puerto Rico exceeded Congress's legislative authority. On April 20, 2013, the district court denied the motion on the basis, inter alia, that the constitutionality of that particular application of 18 U.S.C. § 2423(a) had already been settled in Crespo v. United States, 151 F.2d 44, 45 (1st Cir. 1945).

         On October 11, 2013, Carrasquillo-Peñaloza pleaded guilty to the first count of the superseding indictment, for violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2423(a). Her potential sentencing exposure was ten years to life imprisonment. The plea agreement contained a joint recommendation that Carrasquillo-Peñaloza be sentenced to the statutory minimum sentence of 120 months of imprisonment. The plea agreement also contained a waiver-of-appeal clause.[2]

         On July 7, 2014, Carrasquillo-Peñaloza was sentenced to 120 months of imprisonment, as jointly recommended. This appeal followed.

         II.

         Carrasquillo-Peñaloza contends that the argument she wishes to raise on appeal -- that the application of 18 U.S.C. § 2423(a) to conduct wholly within Puerto Rico exceeds Congress's legislative authority under the Commerce Clause -- is not barred by her unconditional guilty plea or the waiver-of-appeal clause in her plea agreement. Because that is not so, we do not reach the merits of her argument of unconstitutionality, save to point out that it would be an uphill battle in light of precedent.

         "It is well-established that an unconditional guilty plea results in the waiver of errors preceding the plea." United States v. Castro-Vazquez, 802 F.3d 28, 32 (1st Cir. 2015) (citing Tollett v. Henderson, 411 U.S. 258, 267 (1973)). "So long as the unconditional guilty plea is knowing and voluntary, " id. at 33, it "effectuates a waiver of any and all independent non-jurisdictional lapses that may have marred the case's progress up to that point, " id. (quoting United States v. Cordero, 42 F.3d 697, 699 (1st Cir. 1994)).

         Carrasquillo-Peñaloza does not contest the knowing and voluntary character of her guilty plea. Rather, she argues that her appeal can proceed notwithstanding her unconditional guilty plea because her constitutional challenge to the statute of her conviction casts doubt on the district court's ...


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