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United States v. Sanchez-Romo

United States District Court, S.D. California

September 4, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent/Plaintiff,
JUAN CARLOS SANCHEZ-ROMO, Petitioner/Defendant.


          HAYES, JUDGE

         The matter before the court is the motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to vacate, set aside, or correct sentence by a person in federal custody filed by the Defendant. (ECF No. 49).

         On August 2, 2016, an indictment was filed in the Southern District of California charging Defendant with Conspiracy to Distribute Cocaine Intended for Importation in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 959, 960 and 963; and Conspiracy to Possess with Intent to Deliver Cocaine on Board a Vessel in violation of 46 U.S.C. §§ 70503 and 70506(b). Defendant was arrested and extradited from Spain to the Southern District of California.

         On September 19, 2017, Defendant entered a plea of guilty to Conspiracy to Distribute Cocaine Intended for Importation in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 959, 960 and 963 as charged in Count 1 of the Indictment. Prior to the entry of the plea, Defendant and the Government entered into a Plea Agreement. (ECF No. 24). The Plea Agreement provided that the “crime to which Defendant is pleading guilty in Count 1 carries the following penalties: A. a maximum of life in prison, and a mandatory minimum 10 years.” Id. at 5. The parties jointly agreed to recommend a departure under the United States Sentencing Guidelines of 2 levels for “Safety Valve, ” and 2 levels for “Appeal Waiver and/Early Resolution.” Id. at 9. The Plea Agreement stated:

*If Defendant truthfully discloses to the government all information and evidence Defendant has concerning the offense and relevant conduct, and if Defendant otherwise qualifies for the "safety valve" reduction contained in § 5Cl.2, the government will recommend a two-level reduction under § 2Dl.l(b)(l 7) and relief from any statutory mandatory minimum sentence pursuant to § 5Cl.2. If Defendant does not qualify under § 5Cl.2, Defendant may be subject to a statutory mandatory minimum sentence.

Id. The Government agreed to “recommend that defendant be sentenced within the advisory guideline range recommended by the Government at sentencing.” Id. at 10. Defendant agreed to waive “all rights to appeal and to collaterally attack every aspect of the conviction and sentence, including any restitution order. The only exception is that Defendant may collaterally attack the conviction or sentence on the basis that Defendant received ineffective assistance of counsel.” Id. at 11. Defendant signed the Plea Agreement and initialed each page.

         On September 19, 2017 the Magistrate Judge conducted a plea hearing. The Magistrate Judge stated in part:

THE COURT: Mr. Sanchez, as we discussed earlier, based on the type and amount of drugs involved in your case, federal law imposes a mandatory minimum sentence of ten years. The sentencing judge may impose that mandatory minimum sentence even though the advisory sentencing guidelines might suggest a lower sentence. Do you understand that? THE DEFENDANT THROUGH THE INTERPRETER: Yes, sir. THE COURT: Has each of you discussed the sentencing guidelines with your attorney? THE DEFENDANT THROUGH THE INTERPRETER: Yes.

(ECF No. 54-1 at 10). The Magistrate Judge confirmed that the Plea Agreement had been translated to the Defendant in Spanish prior to the plea hearing, and that Defendant had the opportunity to consult with defense counsel prior to the plea hearing. Defendant stated that he was satisfied with the advice he had received from his counsel. The Magistrate Judge found that Defendant knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently entered his plea agreement with the assistance of his counsel.

         On October 31, 2017, this Court adopted the findings of the Magistrate Judge and accepted the plea.

         On March 12, 2018, the Government filed sentencing summary chart stating that the guideline range was 135 to 168 months and recommending that the Court impose a sentence of 168 months. The Government indicated that Defendant did not qualify for safety valve pursuant to §§ 2D1.1(b)(17) and 5C1.2.

         On April 3, 2018, Defendant participated in a safety valve debrief with agents from the DEA, the Assistant United States Attorney, and his defense counsel. During the debrief, Defendant was informed by the Assistant United States Attorney that he would have to talk about the offense in its entirety in order to be eligible for safety valve. Defendant continued to decline to answer questions. The interview ended.

         On May 14, 2018, Defendant filed sentencing summary chart recommending a two level departure for safety valve pursuant to §§ 2D1.1(b)(17) and 5C1.2, resulting in a guideline range of 63-78 months.

         On May 21, 2018, the Court held a sentencing hearing and scheduled an evidentiary hearing to address Defendant's compliance with the requirements of the safety valve provision. At the hearing, the United States called DEA Special Agent Eric Leach to testify regarding the April 3, 2018 debrief with the Defendant. Agent Leach testified that Defendant declined to answer specific questions posed regarding the cocaine shipments he directed and that he falsely denied sending GPS coordinates to a co-conspirator who used the screenname, Simon. (ECF No. 54-3 at 6-16). Defense counsel cross-examined Agent Leach regarding this debrief. Defendant did not call any witnesses.

         The Court heard extensive arguments from the United States and Defendant regarding Defendant's eligibility for safety valve. Id. at 22-29. Defense counsel extensively argued that Defendant had provided all information regarding the offense of conviction and satisfied the requirements of safety valve. The United States argued that Defendant did not meet the requirements of safety valve because he declined to answer specific questions citing the safety of his family members in Mexico and falsely denying sending GPS coordinates to a co-conspirator. The Court found that Defendant did not met the requirements for safety valve under § 5C1.2. The Court specifically found that Defendant elected not to provide responsive information to relevant questions from the Government concerning his participation in the offense.

         The Court concluded that the applicable guideline range was 168 to 210 months and applied the two level departure for appeal waiver and early resolution for a final guideline range of 135 to 168 months. After considering all of the sentencing factors under 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a), the Court imposed the mandatory minimum ...

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