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United States v. Delgado-Lopez

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

September 21, 2016

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Appellee,
v.
JEFFREY DELGADO-LÓPEZ, Defendant, Appellee.

         APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF PUERTO RICO [Hon. José Antonio Fusté, U.S. District Judge]

          Linda Backiel on brief for appellant.

          Mainon A. Schwartz, Assistant United States Attorney, Nelson Pérez-Sosa, Assistant United States Attorney, Chief, Appellate Division, and Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez, United States Attorney, on brief for appellee.

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

          LYNCH, Circuit Judge.

         Charged with being an armed member of a drug-dealing conspiracy, Jeffrey Delgado-López pleaded guilty. The district court accepted Delgado-López's plea and sentenced him to 33 months in prison for the drug count of the indictment, as well as 60 consecutive months for the accompanying weapons count. Delgado-López did not attempt to withdraw his plea before the district court.

         Delgado-López now seeks to vacate both his guilty plea and his sentence. He argues that we must vacate his plea on Count Six, the weapons charge, because it was neither "knowing" nor rooted in a factual basis. He also asserts that the district court erred by augmenting his Guidelines sentencing range on a mistaken belief that Delgado-López was on probation for a separate offense when he committed the crimes at issue here. Finding no error on either score, we affirm.

         I.

         Delgado-López was indicted on April 23, 2014, as one of 48 defendants who had allegedly conspired to sell heroin, cocaine, and marijuana at public-housing projects in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico. The government agreed to abandon Counts Two through Five of the indictment if Delgado-López would agree, in exchange, to plead guilty to Count One, which charged him with participating in the conspiracy to possess illegal drugs with intent to distribute, see 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), 846, 860, and Count Six, which charged him with using or carrying a firearm in furtherance of the conspiracy, see 18 U.S.C. §§ 2, 924(c)(1)(A).

         Delgado-López took the deal. On October 29, 2014, at his change-of-plea hearing, he stated that he was competent to plead, felt satisfied with his attorney, understood that he was waiving his constitutional right to a trial, and understood the nature and consequences of each charge to which he was pleading guilty. With respect to the weapons count, he told the district judge that he understood the charge but that the underlying allegation -- that he had used or carried a weapon -- was "a lie." The judge then explained that, "[w]hether [the allegation was] completely true or not completely true, " Delgado-López was choosing to plead guilty to avoid the possibility that the government had enough evidence to prove the weapons charge at trial -- in which case, as the judge had explained earlier, Delgado-López would likely receive a considerably harsher sentence. Delgado-López confirmed that he understood that choice, that his attorney had explained the situation to him, and that he wanted to go forward with the plea.

         Sentencing took place months later on February 12, 2015. Delgado-López did not object in court to the Presentence Investigation Report ("PSR"), which contained, in pertinent part, two additional criminal-history points in the calculation of his Guidelines range for participating in the conspiracy while he was on probation. See U.S.S.G. § 4A1.1(d). That enhancement moved Delgado-López from Criminal History Category I to Category II, thereby shifting his Guidelines range for Count One upward from 30-37 months to 33-41 months. See id. ch. 5, pt. A. The district court chose to impose a 33-month sentence for Count One, at the bottom of the agreed-upon Guidelines range, as well as a mandatory-minimum 60-month sentence for Count Six. See 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A)(i).

         This timely appeal under 28 U.S.C. § 1291 followed.

         II.

         Delgado-López failed to object to either of the two purported errors he now identifies. So he faces the "heavy burden" of plain-error review and must prove not only a clear error but also that the error "affected [his] substantial rights [and] seriously impaired the fairness, integrity, or public reputation of judicial proceedings." United States v. Ramos-Mejía, 721 F.3d 12, 14 (1st Cir. 2013) (quoting United States v. Duarte, 246 F.3d 56, 60 (1st Cir. 2001)). He cannot meet this burden. A. Guilty Plea

         Delgado-López first claims that his guilty plea was not "knowing" with respect to Count Six. At the outset, we agree with Delgado-López that the appeal waiver in his plea agreement does not bar this claim. "After all, if a plea is invalid, the plea agreement (and, thus, the waiver provision contained within it) disintegrates." Id. But we need not dwell further on a moot point. We find no error, much less plain error, [1] in the district court's decision to accept Delgado-López's plea. See, e.g., United Statesv.Chambers, 710 F.3d 23, 27, ...


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