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Media Alerts - United States v. Figueroa-Labrada -- Tenth Circuit
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March 27, 2015
  United States v. Figueroa-Labrada -- Tenth Circuit
Case Name: United States v. Figueroa-Labrada

Headline: Tenth Circuit Holds Defendants Eligible for Reduced Sentences After Providing Helpful Information Upon Remand of Proceedings

Areas of Law: Criminal Procedure, Sentencing

Issue Presented:

1. Does the "safety valve" sentence reduction apply when a defendant provides information to the government for the first time on remand, but before a resentencing hearing?

Brief Summary:

The majority determined that when a defendant provides information to the government for the first time on remand but before resentencing, the district court must consider the information provided in determining whether the defendant qualifies for a reduced sentence under the "safety-valve" provision of 18 U.S.C. § 3553(f).

Judge Phillips issued a dissenting opinion. He stated that although he agreed that a defendant may first request safety-valve relief for the first time at resentencing, a defendant could not rely on information provided after the initial sentencing hearing as the basis for the request.

Extended Summary:

The defendant was convicted of conspiracy to possess methamphetamine with intent to distribute and was sentenced to 120 months in prison. The court attributed to Figueroa the entire 746.19 grams of a substance containing a detectable amount of methamphetamine that was involved in the incident, without making a particularized finding as to why this amount was attributed to him. On appeal, the court noted that 56.7 grams was a reasonably probable amount of the substance to attribute to Figueroa, and that amount is what the district court attributed to Figueroa on remand.

Before the re-sentencing hearing, Figueroa asserted that he was entitled to a lower sentencing range than the district court's determination that the range should be 63 to 78 months, because he had provided the government with all of the information that he had about his offenses. This information, he alleged, entitled him to a sentencing range of 51 to 63 months. The government supported Figueroa's safety valve request due to the nature of the information he provided. The court denied the request, however, because he did not provide the information before his initial sentencing hearing. Figueroa was sentenced to 63 months.

The majority held that the plain language of the statute directed that a defendant is eligible for a safety-valve reduction when information is provided before a resentencing hearing.

The court noted that there are five requirements for a reduced sentence using the safety-valve provision of § 3553(f). The only requirement that was at issue is the last one, which says the court is to impose a sentence within the sentencing guidelines "without regard to any statutory minimum sentence, if the court finds at sentencing, after the Government has been afforded the opportunity to make a recommendation that" not later than the time of the sentencing hearing that the defendant provided all information or evidence he has about an offense. 18 U.S.C. § 3553(f). The defendant has complied with the requirement, even if the government is already aware of all of the information the defendant has shared, or does not find the information useful. Id.

The district court stated that the language in § 3553(f) precluded information provided before a resentencing hearing, because the statute says "not later than the time of the sentencing hearing." On appeal, Figueroa argued that the word "sentencing" also included "resentencing" hearings.

The majority noted that a district court's legal interpretation of the safety-valve provision is subject to de novo review. It began by looking to the plain language of the statute. It explained that the words "the sentencing hearing" referred to whichever sentencing hearing was at issue - not just the initial sentencing hearing. The government conceded that point and did not give a reason for why the word should be interpreted differently in § 3553(f)(5).

The majority stated that there was nothing in the text to suggest that the phrase "sentencing hearing" should be construed as the initial sentencing hearing, and that doing so ignores the statutory context. It explained that the phrase "not later than the time of the sentencing hearing" refers back to the generic phrase "at sentencing," which, as the court stated above, is a generic phrase that can refer to any sentencing hearing.

The majority also explained that reading § 3553(f) as a whole supports their position that the information simply needs to be provided before a resentencing hearing. Section 3553(c) provides that the reasons for imposing a particular sentence shall be given in open court. Thus, if resentencing hearings were supposed to be excluded, a court could impose a sentence without providing reasons for doing so, as long as it was a resentencing hearing.

The majority stated that the government conceded that § 3553 generally applies at resentencing hearings. However, the government argued that 18 U.S.C. § 3742(f)(1) should guide the meaning of "the sentencing hearing." This interpretation would essentially make a resentencing hearing simply a continuation of the initial sentencing hearing. The majority responded by noting that § 3742(g) actually directs the court to resentence the defendant in accordance with § 3553.

The majority stated that its interpretation of the statute means that the defendant must make disclosures before the hearing so that the government has the opportunity to make the recommendation. Thus, the disclosures cannot be made at the sentencing hearing.

The majority noted that precedential opinions from this circuit and others do not directly address the question presented here. The government attempted to rely on United States v. Galvon-Manzo, 642 F.3d 1260 (10th Cir. 2011) and United States v. Acosta-Olivas, 71 F.3d 375 (10th Cir. 1995). Galvon-Manzo involved defendants who tried to make disclosures during the sentencing hearings to alter untruthful statements they had previously made, thus failing to satisfy the requirements for the safety-valve reduction. In Acosta-Olivas, the district court stated that § 3553(f) only required a defendant to reveal information about his own crime, not that of participants. The Tenth Circuit panel reversed and remanded the case, giving the defendant the opportunity to provide all of the information he had. The court stated that in several opinions of sister circuits, courts have assumed without deciding that the safety-valve exception applies at resentencing hearings.

The majority also stated that a Ninth Circuit opinion relied on by the government, United States v. Ferret-Castellanos, 108 F.3d 339, 1996 WL 733198 (9th Cir. 1996) (Table) (unpublished) was distinguishable. In that case, the court's primary concern was the truthfulness of the information, rather than the timeliness.

Finally, the majority made a finding that the district court's error was not harmless. After reviewing the transcript, the majority disagreed with the government that the district court would have denied the safety-valve reduction based on the merits of the request. The case was remanded for resentencing, including a determination on Figueroa's eligibility for safety-valve relief.

Judge Phillips issued a dissenting opinion. He stated that although a defendant was entitled to request a safety-valve reduction for the first time at a resentencing hearing, he disagreed with the majority that the defendant could rely on information provided to the government for the first time after the initial sentencing.

To read the full opinion, please visit:
https://www.ca10.uscourts.gov/opinions/13/13-6278.pdf

Panel: Matheson, Phillips, Moritz

Date of Issued Opinion: March 24, 2015

Docket Numbers: 13-6278

Decided: Remanded to district court for resentencing.

Counsel:

Virginia L. Grady, Federal Public Defender, Interim, and O. Dean Sanderford, Assistant Federal Public Defender, Denver, Colorado, for Defendant-Appellant Jesus Figueroa-Labrada, a/k/a Chuy.

Sanford C. Coats, United States Attorney, Steven W. Creager, Special Assistant U.S. Attorney, and David P. Petermann, Assistant U.S. Attorney, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, for Plaintiff-Appellee United States of America.

Author: Moritz

Case Alert Author: Ashley L. Funkhouser

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor: Barbara Bergman

    Posted By: Dawinder Sidhu @ 03/27/2015 06:59 PM     10th Circuit  

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