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United States v. Ibarra-Sandoval

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

September 26, 2017




         “Since controlled substances are often diluted and combined with other substances as they pass down the chain of distribution, the fact that a defendant is in possession of unusually pure narcotics may indicate a prominent role in the criminal enterprise and proximity to the source of the drugs.” U.S.S.G. § 2D1.1, cmt. n.27(c). Commensurate with that theory, the United Sentencing Commission imposed harsher sentencing Guidelines ranges for crimes involving drugs of high purity, which is why Defendant Cecilio Ibarra-Sandoval faces a Guidelines range of 63-78 months imprisonment for trafficking methamphetamine instead of the 46-57 month range he would have faced had the methamphetamine been less pure. The problem, however, is that Mr. Ibarra-Sandoval neither played a prominent role in the drug enterprise, nor was he in close proximity to the source of the drugs-he was a low level courier who didn't even know what drug he was transporting. Because the Court refuses to punish a low-level courier with a sentence intended for high-level criminals, the Court uses the 46-57 month Guidelines range and imposes a sentence of 46 months, as well as a mandatory assessment of $200.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Born in Mexico, Defendant Cecilio Ibarra-Sandoval moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, when he was 17. (Presentence Investigative Report (PSR) ¶¶ 40-41.) During his time in New Mexico, Mr. Ibarra-Sandoval ran his own furniture business for ten years and also worked in construction. (Doc. 39 at 3.) Mr. Ibarra-Sandoval is a husband and the father of two young children, one 11 years old and the other eight. (See PSR ¶ 43.) In 2007, Mr. Ibarra-Sandoval and his wife lost a third child at childbirth due to physician negligence. (PSR ¶ 44.) Mrs. Sandoval, Mr. Ibarra-Sandoval's wife, receives Social Security Disability Insurance for low back pain and diabetes, and she also relies on food stamps to support herself and the couple's two children. (PSR ¶ 43.) Mr. Ibarra-Sandoval's family has endured severe financial difficulties since his arrest on July 14, 2016. (See Doc. 39 at 3.)

         On July 14, 2016, Jose Luis Adriano-Mascarro picked up Mr. Ibarra-Sandoval to go to El Paso, Texas. (See Id. at 2.) Mr. Adriano-Mascarro was a friend of Mr. Ibarra-Sandoval, and the two men had previously worked together to smuggle undocumented aliens. (See id.) On this occasion, Mr. Ibarra-Sandoval thought he was going with Mr. Adriano-Mascarro to pay off an alien smuggler. (Id.) Unbeknownst to Mr. Ibarra-Sandoval, Mr. Adriano-Mascarro had arranged to pick up drugs in El Paso and to deliver the drugs to Las Cruces, New Mexico. (See id.) In El Paso, Mr. Adriano-Mascarro drove to a gas station and told Mr. Ibarra-Sandoval to retrieve a package-two clear plastic containers wrapped in black electrical tape-from another vehicle. (Id.) At this point, Mr. Ibarra-Sandoval knew that he was picking up contraband, but he didn't know the contents of the package. (See id.) Mr. Ibarra-Sandoval collected the package from a light blue vehicle at the gas station, and he and Mr. Adriano-Mascarro headed for Las Cruces. (PSR ¶ 14.) On their way to Las Cruces, a Metro Narcotics officer pulled over Messrs. Adriano- Mascarro and Ibarra-Sandoval. (Id. ¶ 10.) The officer discovered a small amount of cocaine on Mr. Ibarra-Sandoval and 2.27 kilograms of methamphetamine in the package. (See id.) Both Messrs. Adriano-Mascarro and Ibarra-Sandoval were arrested and indicted.

         On February 1, 2017, Mr. Ibarra-Sandoval pled guilty to Conspiracy to Possess with Intent to Distribute 500 Grams and More of a Substance Containing a Detectable Amount of Methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 846, 841(b)(1)(A), and Possession with Intent to Distribute 500 Grams and More of a Mixture and Substance Containing a Detectable Amount of Methamphetamine and Aiding and Abetting, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1)(A) and 18 U.S.C. § 2. (Doc. 42 at 1.) Initially, the Government used the methamphetamine-mixture formula to calculate the recommended Guidelines range of 46-57 months. (Id.) After receiving a laboratory report indicating that the methamphetamine in the package was 98.1 percent pure, however, the Government recalculated the recommended Guidelines range based on the purity of the methamphetamine, leading to a new range of 63-78 months. (Id. at 1-2.) Mr. Ibarra-Sandoval now asks the Court to reject the new 63-78 month range and base his sentence on the methamphetamine-mixture range of 46-57 months.


         As a matter of administration and to ensure consistency, a district court should begin all sentencing proceedings by calculating the applicable Guidelines range. Gall v. United States, 552 U.S. 38, 49 (2007). Post United States v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220 (2005), the Guidelines are advisory, see Id. at 227, and serve as a “starting point” and “initial benchmark, ” see Gall, 552 U.S. at 49. Although the Guidelines are afforded “respectful consideration, ” see Kimbrough v. United States, 552 U.S. 85, 101 (2007), a district court must not presume that the Guidelines range is reasonable. See Gall, 552 U.S. at 50. Instead, the district court must independently consider all the sentencing factors in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) to determine the appropriate sentence. See Id. at 49-50.

         If the district court finds that the § 3553(a) factors support an outside-Guidelines sentence, it may deviate from the Guidelines. See Rita v. United States, 551 U.S. 338, 351 (2007). Permissible deviations include variations “based solely on policy considerations, including disagreements with the Guidelines.” See Kimbrough v. United States, 552 U.S. 85, 101 (2007). The Supreme Court emphasized this last point in Spears v. United States, 555 U.S. 261 (2009), when it reiterated that policy deviations from the Guidelines need not be based on a particular defendant's individual circumstances; all that is needed to justify a variance-even in a mine-run case-is the sentencing court's disagreement with the Guidelines. See Id. at 263-64.

         Any sentence the district court imposes must be reasonable. See Gall, 552 U.S. at 51 (appellate courts review district court sentences for reasonableness). If the court imposes a sentence outside the Guidelines, it “must consider the extent of the deviation to ensure that the justification is sufficiently compelling to support the degree of variance.” See Id. The sentencing court “must adequately explain the chosen sentence to allow for meaningful appellate review and to promote the perception of fair sentencing.” See id.


         a. The Guidelines range

         A district court's sentencing analysis begins with the Guidelines range. See Gall, 552 U.S. at 49. Based on Mr. Ibarra-Sandoval's guilty plea, his initial base offense level is 36. See U.S.S.G. § 2D1.1(c). Following § 2D1.1(a)(5), the Court lowers Mr. Ibarra-Sandoval's base offense level by three because he qualifies for a mitigating role adjustment under § 3B1.2. Next, the Court finds that Mr. Ibarra-Sandoval meets the criteria set forth in § 3553(f) and § 5C1.2(a)(1)-(5), and the Court lowers his offense level by two pursuant to § 2D1.1(b)(17) and sentences Mr. Ibarra-Sandoval without regard to any mandatory minimum sentence. Because Mr. Ibarra-Sandoval was a minor participant, the Court lowers the offense level by two, see U.S.S.G. § 3B1.2(b), and the Court further lowers the offense level by two because Mr. Ibarra-Sandoval accepted responsibility for the offense, see U.S.S.G. § 3E1.1(a). Finally, following U.S.S.G. § 3E1.1(b), the Court lowers the offense level by one because Mr. Ibarra-Sandoval notified authorities in a timely manner of his intention to enter a guilty plea. Mr. Ibarra-Sandoval's resulting total offense level is 26. Mr. Ibarra-Sandoval has no prior criminal convictions, so he is in criminal history category one. A total offense level of 26 and a criminal history category of one correspond with a Guidelines range of 63-78 months imprisonment.

         b. The methamphetamine Guidelines are not based ...

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