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United States v. Jesus

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

July 18, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Appellee,
v.
ANGEL MORALES-DE JESUS, a/k/a Maca, a/k/a Macarron, a/k/a El Gordo, a/k/a David Morales, Defendant, Appellant.

          APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF PUERTO RICO [Hon. Carmen Consuelo Cerezo, U.S. District Judge]

          John E. Mudd and Law Offices of John E. Mudd, by appointment of the court, on brief for appellant.

          B. Kathryn Debrason, Assistant United States Attorney, Mariana E. Bauzá-Almonte, Assistant United States Attorney, Chief, Appellate Division, and Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez, United States Attorney, on brief for appellee.

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

          LYNCH, Circuit Judge.

         This is a sentencing appeal. Angel Morales-De Jesus ("Morales") pleaded guilty to leading a large drug distribution conspiracy in Puerto Rico housing projects over a five-year period and to the use and carrying of a firearm in connection with that drug offense. His plea agreement calculated an offense level of 31 for the conspiracy charge and recommended a total sentence of 180 months' imprisonment.

         The calculations in the presentence report (PSR) and the later addendum to the PSR were far less generous to Morales in the offense level and recommendations. The first PSR also recounted that the estimated gross drug proceeds were just under $5 million. At sentencing, the district court calculated a higher offense level than the plea agreement: 33, and imposed a longer total sentence: 228 months' imprisonment.

         On appeal, Morales challenges first the district court's application of a four-level leadership enhancement under U.S.S.G. § 3B1.1(a) and second the sentence's substantive reasonableness. There was no error at all on either assertion and so we affirm.

         I.

         From at least 2010 until 2015, Morales led a drug trafficking organization. His organization distributed crack cocaine, cocaine, marijuana, and other controlled substances in public housing projects in Patillas, Puerto Rico. Morales was arrested on April 22, 2015.

         In September 2016, Morales entered into a plea agreement. He pleaded guilty to possession of, among other things, between five and fifteen kilograms of cocaine with intent to distribute it, and to using or carrying a firearm in relation to that drug offense. The parties agreed to recommend that Morales receive a two-level leadership enhancement for the conspiracy charge, [1] putting his offense level at thirty-one. The parties also agreed to recommend the applicable mandatory minimum sentences: 120 months for the conspiracy charge and 60 months for the firearm charge, to be served consecutively, for a total of 180 months' imprisonment. At the close of Morales's change of plea hearing, the magistrate judge recommended that the district court accept the guilty plea.

         Two months later, a probation officer prepared Morales's PSR. That report listed twenty-eight co-defendants alongside Morales. Unlike the plea agreement, the PSR recommended a four-level leadership enhancement -- bringing Morales's offense level to 33 -- based on his actions as "the main leader of the drug trafficking organization, which involved five or more participants." See U.S.S.G. § 3B1.1(a). The PSR listed 28 co-conspirators in addition to Morales by name and position. Morales's criminal history category at that time was III, but that did not include a state offense described below.

         In February 2017, before federal sentencing, Morales pleaded guilty to Puerto Rico offenses unrelated to the federal offenses. The state plea agreement exposed Morales to thirteen years' state imprisonment. In light of this development, the probation office filed an addendum to the original PSR. This addendum noted that "[Morales's] criminal history category substantially under-represents the seriousness of the [sic] his criminal history or the likelihood that he will commit other crimes." It observed that the inadequacy of Morales's criminal history category might warrant an upward departure.

         The district court sentenced Morales in May 2017. It applied the four-level leadership enhancement, ...


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