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United States v. Zayas

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

October 3, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
SOPHIA MONIQUE ZAYAS, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          ROBERT C. BRACK, SENIOR U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Ms. Zayas's Amended Sentencing Memorandum, filed on September 5, 2018. (Doc. 248.) The Court held a hearing on September 27, 2018. (See Doc. 252.) The primary issue is whether the Court has discretion to impose a sentence above the “basic sentence” of 18 years imprisonment provided for in N.M. Stat. Ann. § 31-18-15. Having considered the arguments and relevant law, the Court finds that it does not have discretion to consider aggravating factors to impose a sentence higher than 18 years. After careful consideration of the factors in 18 U.S.C. § 3553 and various mitigating factors pursuant to N.M. Stat. Ann. § 31-18-15.1(A), the Court will impose a sentence of 15 years.

         I. Background

         “On October 22, 2007, Annalicia Zayas, Ms. Zayas's daughter, died just two months after she was born.” (Doc. 201 at 1 (citation omitted).) “Annalicia's autopsy showed she suffered multiple skull fractures, hemorrhages, and scalp contusions two to three hours before she died.” (Id. (citation omitted); see also Doc. 236 (PSR) at 4-5.) There were, in addition, multiple other injuries, all in various stages of healing, that Annalicia had sustained throughout her short life. (Doc. 201 at 1-2; see also Doc. 223-5; PSR at 4-5.)

         Ms. Zayas pleaded guilty to Negligent Child Abuse resulting in great bodily harm, and aiding and abetting the same, in violation of N.M. Stat. Ann. §§ 30-6-1(D)(1), (D)(2), and (E), pursuant to the Assimilative Crimes Act (ACA), 18 U.S.C. § 13(a). (See Doc. 150.) The ACA “fills in gaps in federal criminal law by” borrowing from state law to punish offenses committed on federal enclaves. See United States v. Chapman, 839 F.3d 1232, 1241 (10th Cir. 2016) (quoting United States v. Garcia, 893 F.2d 250, 253 (10th Cir. 1989) (internal citations omitted)). The ACA mandates that a federal court must impose a punishment “like” that an offender would have received under state law. See 18 U.S.C. 13(a). Thus, Ms. Zayas, who lived on Holloman Air Force Base at the time she committed the crimes, is subject to federal prosecution under the applicable state statutes.

         II. State Sentencing Statutes

         The parties agree that there are two relevant state statutes in play. First, section 31-18-15 defines the “basic sentence” for a person convicted of a noncapital, first degree felony as 18 years imprisonment. See N.M. Stat. Ann. § 31-18-15(A)(3). Second, section 31-18-15.1 allows the sentencing court to “alter the basic sentence” by up to one-third, which in this case sets a possible range of 12-24 years. See N.M. Stat. Ann. § 31-18-15.1(G).

         This second statute also outlines the procedure state courts must use when departing from the basic sentence within that range, as well as an offender's constitutional protections. See §§ 31-18-15.1(A)-(F). Specifically, state courts must find beyond a reasonable doubt (either by judge or jury) “any aggravating circumstances surrounding the offense or concerning the offender” that the sentencing court will use to impose an increase above the basic sentence. See §§ 31-18-15.1(A) & (A)(2). Additionally, the state must give an offender a minimum of five days' “notice that it intends to seek an increase to . . . [the] basic sentence based upon aggravating circumstances. The notice shall state the aggravating circumstances upon which the sentence increase is sought.” § 31-18-15.1(D).

         III. Discussion

         It is these two statutory protections that Ms. Zayas asserts in her Sentencing Memorandum. She argues: (1) the Government has not provided notice that it intends to seek an increase above the “basic sentence” based on aggravating circumstances, thus, the Court may not impose a sentence over 18 years; and (2) if the Court were inclined to impose a sentence over 18 years, the state must first prove any aggravating factors beyond a reasonable doubt. (See Doc. 248 at 2-4.) Ultimately, Ms. Zayas contends that the “sentencing range” in this case is 12-18 years, not 12-24 years, because of the Government's failure to provide notice that it seeks an increase to the basic sentence based on identified aggravating factors. (See Id. at 4.)

         A. Section 31-18-15.1 does not create a “sentencing range” analogous to those found in the federal sentencing guidelines.

         The Government contends that the ACA's requirement that the Court impose a “like” punishment only extends to the relevant state statutory sentencing range defined by sections 31-18-15 and 31-18-15.1. (Doc. 251 at 4.) Thus, the Government argues the Court need not employ the state sentencing act procedures and may disregard section 31-18-15.1's requirements of notice and the reasonable doubt standard New Mexico courts must use to alter a basic sentence based on aggravating factors. (See id.) The Government relies primarily on two cases: United States v. Garcia, 893 F.2d 250 (10th Cir. 1989) and United States v. Peebles, 375 Fed.Appx. 288 (4th Cir. 2010).

         In Garcia, the Tenth Circuit held that the federal “sentencing guidelines apply to assimilative crimes, but . . . the sentence imposed may not exceed any maximum sentence and may not fall below any mandatory minimum sentence that is required under the law of the state in which the crimes occur.” 893 F.2d at 251-52. In rendering its decision, the court stated that “[e]fforts to duplicate every last nuance of the sentence that would be imposed in state court has never been required.” Id. at 254. “For example, federal courts need not follow state parole policies, including provisions for good time credits.” Id. (citations omitted). Thus, the Tenth Circuit held, federal courts must “impose sentences for assimilative crimes that fall within the maximum and minimum terms established by state law[, ]” keeping in mind that “within the range of discretion permitted to a state judge, a federal judge should apply the federal sentencing guidelines to the extent possible.” Id. In Garcia, the court specifically looked at a “basic sentence” for involuntary manslaughter as defined in section 31-18-15(A), and the state Criminal Sentencing Act's (CSA) authorization for sentencing courts to alter the basic sentence based on mitigating or aggravating circumstances pursuant to section 31-18-15.1(A). See Id. at 255. Specifically, the “basic sentence” set in section 31-18-15 was 18 months, with a “range” of 12- 24 months under section 31-18-15.1.[1] See Id. The federal judge sentenced the defendant to 18 months, and the Tenth Circuit stated that the “sentence [was] clearly within the range permitted under New Mexico law . . . .” Id. The Government argues that the Tenth Circuit, by noting that the sentence was “within the range permitted, ” approved of using section 31.18.15.1 to set a “sentencing range” of 12-24 months. (See Doc. 251 at 5.)

         There are two fatal flaws in the Government's conclusion. First, the Tenth Circuit did not specifically consider whether section 31-18-15.1 creates a “sentencing range” analogous to those in the federal sentencing guidelines. Second, the language the Government quotes-that the federal judge must apply the guidelines “within the range of discretion permitted to a state judge”-is determinative in this case. (See Doc. 251 at 5 (quoting Garcia, 893 F.2d at 254).) As the Court explains in Section ...


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