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United States v. Sanchez

April 3, 2009

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
ERIC SANCHEZ, A/K/A "E", APPELLANT.



On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania (D.C. No. 00-cr-00300-002) District Judge: Honorable Sylvia H. Rambo.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Jordan, Circuit Judge.

PRECEDENTIAL

Submitted Under Third Circuit LAR 34.1(a) February 2, 2009

Before: RENDELL, JORDAN and ROTH, Circuit Judges.

OPINION OF THE COURT

Eric Sanchez appeals the order of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania denying his motion for a sentence reduction under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2), the statutory provision allowing a court to reduce a sentence which is "based on a sentencing range that has subsequently been lowered by the Sentencing Commission ... ." Id. The District Court determined that Sanchez was convicted of an offense that carried a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment and that he was therefore ineligible for the requested relief. For the following reasons, we will affirm.

I. Background

On August 8, 2001, Sanchez was charged in a seven-count superseding indictment with various federal offenses related to the distribution of crack cocaine.*fn1 He originally pled not guilty, but, after three days of trial, he appeared before the District Court to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute 50 grams or more of crack cocaine. At the change-of-plea hearing, Sanchez reported, through counsel, that he and the government had reached a plea agreement which they wanted to be binding under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(e)(1)(C),*fn2 and pursuant to which, in exchange for Sanchez's plea, the government promised to drop the remaining counts of the indictment. In addition, the prosecutor told the Court that the parties stipulated that the quantity of crack cocaine involved in the conspiracy was "between 35 to 50 grams." (App. at 35.)

Most significantly, the prosecutor explained that "the intent of the plea agreement [was] that the defendant w[ould] receive a sentence of ten years." (Id.)

The Court responded by acknowledging its understanding "that the amount of drugs ... is agreed to be between 35 and 50 grams." (Id. at 36.) Then, at the specific request of Sanchez's counsel, the Court further acknowledged that the terms of the agreement, if accepted by the Court, were to be binding under Rule 11(e)(1)(C). Later in the hearing, the Court asked the government to put on the record the facts supporting its case against Sanchez. The prosecutor said that the government would be able to prove that "the quantity of crack cocaine that was conspired to be distributed or possessed with intent to distribute was between 35 and 50 grams." (Id. at 38.) Sanchez orally agreed to the amount and entered a guilty plea, which the Court accepted. Then, although the binding agreement provided that Sanchez would receive a sentence involving ten years' imprisonment, the Court rightly deferred sentencing pending its receipt of a presentence report ("PSR").*fn3

The parties had not reduced their agreement to writing by the time of the change-of-plea hearing, and nothing in the record indicates that they ever did, but the District Court apparently shared their understanding that the agreement was binding. Accordingly, it instructed the government to indicate "in your plea agreement, when it is drafted, ... that this is pursuant to Rule 11(e)(1)(C), and that the Court has accepted this plea agreement." (App. at 39.)

Sanchez was sentenced on August 30, 2002. The probation officer who prepared the PSR calculated the sentencing range -- based on a drug weight of 50 grams or more of crack cocaine -- at 121 to 151 months, but he acknowledged that, pursuant to the parties' agreement, Sanchez would be sentenced to ten years' imprisonment. Although Sanchez objected to the amount of drugs attributed to him in the PSR, he and his counsel expressly agreed at sentencing that the objection was rendered moot by the stipulated term of imprisonment in the plea agreement. In keeping with that agreement, the Court sentenced Sanchez to 120 months' imprisonment. In its Statement of Reasons in support of the sentence, the Court adopted the factual findings in the PSR and stated that it was departing from the Guidelines range due to the binding plea agreement under Rule 11(e)(1)(C).

Subsequently, the U.S. Sentencing Commission announced a two-level reduction on crack cocaine offenses and made that amendment retroactive. Sanchez then moved pro se for a sentence reduction under 18 U.S.C. ยง 3582(c)(2). On March 12, 2008, the District Court denied his motion on the basis that he had received a mandatory minimum sentence -- ten years imprisonment -- for conspiracy to distribute 50 grams or more of crack cocaine. Such sentences, according to the ...


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