FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF
PUERTO RICO [Hon. Pedro A. Delgado-Hernández, U.S.
Alexander Vos, Federal Public Defender, Vivianne M. Marrero,
Assistant Federal Public Defender, and Liza L. Rosado-
Rodriguez, Research and Writing Specialist, on brief for
Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez, United States Attorney,
Thomas F. Klumper, and Francisco A. Besosa-Martínez,
Assistant United States Attorneys, on brief for appellee.
Howard, Chief Judge, Selya and Barron, Circuit Judges.
REDACTED OPINION [*]
Ynocencio Arias-Mercedes challenges his 87-month
incarcerative sentence as procedurally flawed and
substantively unreasonable. Among other things, his appeal
poses questions about how a district court should apply the
Sentencing Commission's revised commentary regarding
mitigating role adjustments. See USSG App. C, Amend.
794. After careful consideration of these questions and the
other issues raised on appeal, we affirm the challenged
appeal follows a guilty plea and, thus, we draw the facts
from the plea colloquy, the undisputed portions of the
presentence investigation report (PSI Report), and the
transcript of the sentencing hearing. See United
States v. Fields, 858 F.3d 24, 27 (1st
Cir. 2017); United States v.
Dietz, 950 F.2d 50, 51 (1st Cir. 1991). On April 24,
2015, the Coast Guard intercepted a 20-foot vessel off the
coast of Dorado, Puerto Rico. Aboard the vessel were 72.5
kilograms of cocaine and three men: the defendant, Victor
Mercedes-Guerrero (Mercedes), and Juan A.
Initially, the trio claimed to be Dominican nationals headed
to Puerto Rico in search of work. Later, the defendant
changed his tune and admitted his participation in a
21, 2015, a federal grand jury sitting in the District of
Puerto Rico returned a four-count indictment. The indictment
charged all three men with conspiracy to import five
kilograms or more of cocaine into the United States, aiding
and abetting that conspiracy, conspiracy to possess with
intent to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine, and
aiding and abetting that conspiracy. See 18 U.S.C.
§ 2; 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), 952(a),
960(a)(1), 963. In due course, the defendant entered a
straight guilty plea to all four counts.
probation office prepared a PSI Report. Because the offenses
of conviction involved more than 50 kilograms but less than
150 kilograms of cocaine, the PSI Report recommended a base
offense level of 34. After factoring in a three-level credit
for acceptance of responsibility, see USSG
§3E1.1, the PSI Report suggested a total offense level
of 31. Coupled with a criminal history category of I, this
offense level yielded a guideline sentencing range (GSR) of
108-135 months. The GSR, however, was trumped in part by a
statutory mandatory minimum of 120 months. See 21
U.S.C. §§ 841(b)(1)(A), 960(b)(1).
defendant countered by moving for a downward departure or
variance, making clear his objection to certain aspects of
the PSI Report. Pertinently, he argued that he had played
only a minor role in the criminal activity and, therefore,
should receive a two-level role-in-the-offense reduction.
See USSG §3B1.2. [redacted]
defendant took the position that, because he was a "mere
transporter of the contraband," he deserved a mitigating
role adjustment. He argued that he was less culpable than
Mercedes and other unindicted coconspirators (though he did
not claim to be less culpable than Concepción). He
also sought a downward departure or variance.
disposition hearing, the district court accepted the PSI
Report's recommendations, except that it reduced the GSR
to 87-108 months. The court then determined that the
defendant was not entitled to a minor participant reduction.
Considering the newly constituted GSR and the factors
delineated in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a), the court proceeded
to reject the defendant's entreaty for a downward
departure or variance. Instead, it imposed concurrent
87-month terms of immurement on all four counts of
conviction. This timely appeal followed.
evaluate claims of sentencing error by means of a
"two-step pavane." United States
v. Matos-de-Jesús, 856 F.3d 174, 177
(1st Cir. 2017); see United States v.
Martin, 520 F.3d 87, 92 (1st Cir. 2008). At the
first step, we address claims of procedural error. See
Gall v. United States, 552 U.S. 38, 51
(2007); Matos-de-Jesús, 856 F.3d at 177. If
the sentence passes procedural muster, we then address
challenges to its substantive reasonableness. See
Matos-de-Jesús, 856 F.3d at 177. Here, we are
confronted with claims of both procedural and substantive
error. We discuss them sequentially.
Alleged Procedural Flaws.
general matter, "claims of sentencing error are reviewed
for abuse of discretion." United States
v. Pérez, 819 F.3d 541, 545 (1st
Cir. 2016). This standard is not monolithic. "Within it,
'we assay the district court's factfinding for clear
error and afford de novo consideration to its interpretation
and application of the sentencing guidelines.'"
Id. (quoting United States v.
Flores-Machicote, 706 F.3d 16, 20 (1st Cir. 2013)).