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Media Alerts - Second Circuit - United States v. Sanchez
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December 4, 2014
  Second Circuit - United States v. Sanchez
Headline: Second Circuit Holds that Erroneous Consideration of Prior State Narcotics Conviction in Calculating Mandatory Minimum Sentence Constituted Plain Error

Area of Law: Criminal

Issue(s) Presented: Whether the district court's miscalculation of defendant's mandatory minimum sentence based upon erroneous consideration of a prior state narcotics conviction constituted plain error.

Brief Summary: Appellant Sanchez pled guilty to conspiring to possess, with intent to distribute, over 1,000 grams of heroin and was sentenced based on his guilty plea and his status as a second-offender. Taking into considering Sanchez's prior Connecticut conviction for narcotics possession, the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut found that Sanchez's mandatory minimums sentences increased from 10 years' imprisonment and 5 years' supervised release to 20 years' imprisonment and 10 years' supervised release. Sanchez was ultimately sentenced to 288 months' imprisonment and 10 years' supervised release. The Second Circuit held that the lower court erred in considering Sanchez's prior conviction and therefore miscalculated Sanchez's mandatory minimum sentences. Finding the calculation constituted plain error, the Court vacated and remanded for resentencing.

The full text of the opinion may be found at: http://www.ca2.uscourts.gov/de...c8d329f53e03/2/hilite/

Extended Summary: Appellant Sanchez pled guilty to one count of conspiring to possess, with intent to distribute, over 1,000 grams of heroin. In sentencing Sanchez, the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut found Sanchez was subject to enhanced penalties because of a prior Connecticut conviction for possession of narcotics. Based on Sanchez's prior-conviction, the District Court found that mandatory minimum sentences for Sanchez's crime increased from 10 years' imprisonment and 5 years' supervised release to 20 years' (360 months) imprisonment and 10 years' supervised release. Sanchez was ultimately sentenced to 288 months' imprisonment and 10 years' supervised release.

Sanchez failed to object at his sentencing hearing but, on appeal, argued that the District Court's imposition of a prior-conviction enhancement, which raised the mandatory minimum sentence, constituted plain error. The Second Circuit agreed with Sanchez and vacated and remanded for resentencing.

Plain error exists where (1) there is an error; (2) the error is clear or obvious, rather than subject to reasonable dispute; (3) the error affected the appellant's substantial rights, which in the ordinary case means it affected the outcome of the district court proceedings; and (4) the error seriously affects the fairness, integrity or public reputation of judicial proceedings. The government did not dispute that prongs one and two were satisfied because considering Sanchez's prior Connecticut conviction as a prior drug felony for sentencing was a clear error, not subject to reasonable dispute, because the Government could not prove Sanchez was convicted under a qualifying federal narcotics laws. Accordingly, the mandatory minimum should have been a shorter term of imprisonment and supervised release. The Government likewise did not dispute that the remaining prongs were satisfied with regard to Sanchez's sentence to supervised release of 10 years, the mandatory minimum considering the prior conviction, and that that portion of the sentence constituted plain error.

The Government did argue, however, that the imprisonment term should stand and did not constitute plain error. The Second Circuit disagreed, holding that the erroneous calculation substantially affected Sanchez's rights and reflected a lack of fairness and integrity of the judicial proceedings. Adopting a narrower reading of the holding in its prior decision in United States v. Deandrade than either the Government or defense, the Court found no bright-line test existed and that, evaluating the case record as a whole as Deandrade dictated, the erroneously calculated mandatory minimum did affect Sanchez's sentence. The Court found that, unlike in Deandrade, the assumption of a higher mandatory minimum permeated the record in this case and both sides relied on the erroneous mandatory minimum throughout Sanchez's sentencing hearing, affecting his substantial rights.

As to whether the error seriously affected the fairness, integrity, or public reputation of judicial proceedings, the Court found that the District Court relied on the erroneous mandatory minimum and, if this error were to stand uncorrected, Sanchez would face a longer sentence than he otherwise would, seriously affecting the fairness and integrity of the judicial proceedings. Accordingly, the Court vacated and remanded for resentencing.

The full text of the opinion may be found at: http://www.ca2.uscourts.gov/de...c8d329f53e03/2/hilite/
Panel: Circuit Judges Cabranes, Straub, and Livingston.

Argument Date: 08/19/2014

Date of Issued Opinion: 12/04/2014

Docket Number: 11-2429-cr

Decided: Vacated and Remanded.

Case Alert Author: Sam Kopf

Counsel: Devin McLaughlin, Langrock Sperry & Wool, LLP, Middlebury, VT, for Appellant Edwin Sanchez; Alina P. Reynolds, Assistant United States Attorney (Edward Chang, Assistant United States Attorney, on the brief), for Deirdre M. Daly, United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut, Bridgeport, CT, for Appellee United States of America.

Author of Opinion: Judge Cabranes

Circuit: 2nd Circuit

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor: Elyse Diamond Moskowitz

    Posted By: Elyse Diamond @ 12/04/2014 01:23 PM     2nd Circuit  

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