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United States v. Vazquez

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

April 20, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Appellee,
v.
CARLOS VAZQUEZ, Defendant, Appellee.

         APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF PUERTO RICO [Hon. Francisco A. Besosa, U.S. District Judge]

          Andrew S. McCutcheon, Research and Writing Specialist, Eric Alexander Vos, Federal Public Defender, and Vivianne M. Marrero-Torres, Assistant Federal Public Defender, Supervisor, Appeals Section, on brief for appellant.

          Juan Carlos Reyes-Ramos, Assistant United States Attorney, Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez, United States Attorney, and Mariana E. Bauzá-Almonte, Assistant United States Attorney, Chief, Appellate Division, on brief for appellee.

          Before Torruella, Lipez, and Thompson, Circuit Judges.

          TORRUELLA, Circuit Judge.

         Defendant Carlos Vázquez appeals his sentence for possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug-trafficking offense and possession with intent to distribute controlled substances. We affirm.

         BACKGROUND

         On October 31, 2014, local and federal agents searched the residence where Vázquez lived with his girlfriend and their two-year-old child; they also searched four vehicles belonging to him. The agents discovered cocaine, crack cocaine and marijuana, drug paraphernalia, two loaded assault rifles, a loaded pistol, and more than one hundred fifty rounds of ammunition. Some of the ammunition and "a large quantity of crack cocaine" were lying in plain view in the master bedroom, and marijuana, cocaine, and drug paraphernalia were lying on the dining room table.

         Pursuant to a plea agreement, Vázquez pled guilty to violating 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A)(i) ("Count 1") and 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(B)(iii) ("Count 5"). The parties recommended a sentence of sixty months' imprisonment for Count 1, the statutory minimum. For Count 5, Vázquez recommended a sentence of thirty-seven months, and the Government recommended sixty months. The imprisonment terms were to run consecutively.

         At sentencing, the district court calculated recommended sentences of sixty months for Count 1 and thirty-three to forty-one months for Count 5 under the United States Sentencing Guidelines (the "Guidelines"). The district court discussed Vázquez's possession of three guns, including "two assault weapons, " "high-capacity" magazines, and various drugs and drug paraphernalia "inside his house where a one-and-a-half-to-two-year-old minor lived" and in his vehicles. It also "considered Mr. Vázquez's upbringing" and the need for deterrence, "especially here in Puerto Rico, where . . . there is just too much crime." The district court recognized that murder rates had "gone down" substantially, which it attributed to "people like Mr. Vázquez [being] off the streets" and "the firearms initiative between the Department of Justice of Puerto Rico and the United States Attorney's Office."

         Weighing the sentencing factors set forth in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a), the district court determined that a sixty-month sentence for Count 1 was "not an appropriate sentence" because even "one pistol, one revolver, " would get a sixty-month minimum sentence, but Vázquez had "two assault weapons, a pistol, [and] a tremendous amount of ammunition." Thus, "sixty months [did] not reflect the seriousness of the offense, " "protect the public" from Vázquez, or promote deterrence.

         The district court therefore sentenced Vázquez to eighty-four months' imprisonment for Count 1. However, it expressed "concern" about the Government's above-Guidelines recommendation of sixty months' imprisonment for Count 5. It therefore sentenced Vázquez within the Guidelines, although it considered "a sentence at the higher end" of the Guidelines range "appropriate" given "the amount of drugs" and the presence of "a toddler" and imposed a sentence of forty-one months for Count 5. The sentences were to be served consecutively, for a total of 125 months of imprisonment.

         Vázquez timely ...


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