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United States v. Robles-Alvarez

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

October 18, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Appellee,
v.
DELFIN ROBLES-ALVAREZ, a/k/a El Indio, a/k/a Delfo, Defendant, Appellant.

         APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF PUERTO RICO Hon. Juan M. Perez-Gimenez, U.S. District Judge

          Osvaldo Carlo-Linares, with whom Carlo Law Office, LLC was on brief, for appellant.

          Mariana E. Bauzá-Almonte, Assistant United States Attorney, Chief, Appellate Division, with whom Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez, United States Attorney, and Julia M. Meconiates, Assistant United States Attorney, were on brief, for appellee.

          Before Howard, Chief Judge, Lipez and Thompson, Circuit Judges.

          HOWARD, CHIEF JUDGE.

         Defendant-Appellant Delfin Robles-Alvarez appeals his convictions and sentence stemming from his participation in a large-scale cocaine trafficking conspiracy. We reject the appellant's two claims of trial error, and therefore affirm his convictions. However, because the district court did not address the appellant's potentially persuasive argument in favor of a sentence varying from the advisory guideline range, we vacate his sentence.

         I.

         According to the evidence presented at trial, the appellant became involved in drug trafficking through his cousin Orlando Robles-Ortiz. Robles-Ortiz himself began trafficking drugs at the invitation of his co-worker Ivan Ortega. Robles-Ortiz and Ortega imported cocaine into Puerto Rico from Santo Domingo, St. Thomas, St. Martin, Tortola, and Antigua. When Ortega passed away in 2005, Robles-Ortiz's role escalated. He contacted Eduardo Pérez-Figueroa, another associate of Ortega's, and proposed an operation to smuggle 105 kilograms of cocaine into Puerto Rico from Antigua.

         The night before his scheduled departure, Robles-Ortiz met with the appellant, explained the details of the upcoming trip, and offered him the chance to participate. The appellant accepted. The two traveled to Antigua by boat, purchased 105 kilograms of cocaine, and transported it back to Puerto Rico. During their return trip, Robles-Ortiz and the appellant stopped in St. Martin to meet with Enrique Rodríguez, Ortega's former supplier. Robles-Ortiz offered Rodríguez his services, and the two agreed to speak again once Robles-Ortiz arrived in Puerto Rico.

         Within days of his return from Antigua, Robles-Ortiz began making smuggling trips to St. Martin, working with both Pérez and Rodríguez. Robles-Ortiz completed approximately twenty of these voyages prior to his 2012 arrest, and the appellant joined him on more than ten. On average, the group imported about 100 kilograms of cocaine on each trip. The members of the conspiracy also engaged in a variety of schemes to launder the proceeds of these smuggling operations.

         Ultimately, the appellant was arrested and charged with conspiracy to distribute narcotics, see 21 U.S.C. §§ 959(a), 960(a)(3) & (b)(1)(B), 963; conspiracy to import controlled substances, see 21 U.S.C. §§ 952(a), 960(a)(1) & (b)(1)(B), 963; and conspiracy to launder monetary instruments, see 18 U.S.C. § 1956(h). The indictment specifically alleged a conspiracy to import cocaine from St. Martin. It did not mention the Antigua smuggling incident. After a four-day trial, the jury convicted the appellant on all counts. The appellant moved for judgment of acquittal pursuant to Fed. R. Crim. P. 29, arguing that the government had presented insufficient evidence to support the charges, but the district court denied that motion.

         The Presentence Investigation Report prepared by the probation officer indicated that the appellant's guideline sentencing range was life imprisonment. The appellant agreed that this calculation was procedurally correct, but he also argued for a downward variance to avoid sentencing disparities among co-defendants. The appellant represented that his co-conspirators were all sentenced to between forty-six and 210 months' imprisonment. The court nonetheless imposed a life sentence, without so much as mentioning the disparity argument. This timely appeal followed.

         II.

         The appellant presses three arguments on appeal: (1) that the trial evidence was insufficient to support his convictions; (2) that the district court erred in admitting evidence of his participation in the drug smuggling expedition to Antigua; and (3) that his life sentence was procedurally ...


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