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United States v. Angeles-Moctezuma

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

June 24, 2019

United States of America Plaintiff - Appellee
Israel Angeles-Moctezuma Defendant-Appellant

          Submitted: June 10, 2019

          Appeal from United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri - St. Louis

          Before LOKEN, KELLY, and ERICKSON, Circuit Judges.

          ERICKSON, Circuit Judge.

         In 2018, Israel Angeles-Moctezuma pled guilty to Conspiracy to Distribute and Possession with Intent to Distribute Actual Methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), 841(b)(1)(A), and 846. Angeles-Moctezuma objected to the Presentence Investigation Report's ("PSIR") description of the offense conduct and its proposed Sentencing Guidelines calculations.

         The district court[1] held a contested evidentiary sentencing hearing on October 5, 2018, and after considering the evidence, overruled Angeles-Moctezuma's objections, found a Guidelines range of 360 months to life, and imposed a low-end sentence of 360 months' imprisonment. Angeles-Moctezuma appeals asserting the district court erred in three ways: (1) by basing its Guidelines calculations on unreliable hearsay evidence, (2) by denying his motion for a downward departure pursuant to U.S.S.G. §5H1.6, and (3) by denying his motion for a downward variance. We affirm.

         I. Background

         In 2015, the Drug Enforcement Agency ("DEA") began investigating a large-scale drug-trafficking ring that transported methamphetamine from California and Kansas City, Missouri, to the St. Louis, Missouri, area for distribution. The investigation revealed that Angeles-Moctezuma and Alan Cardenas served as sources of supply of the methamphetamine.

         On October 12, 2016, a grand jury returned a 21-count Superseding Indictment against 42 defendants. Angeles-Moctezuma was charged in Count One with conspiracy to distribute and possess methamphetamine. On the morning of the first day of trial, he entered an open plea of guilty. In the factual basis Angeles-Moctezuma admitted that he agreed with other people to bring methamphetamine to Missouri and distribute it, he knew the quantity was 50 grams or more of actual methamphetamine, and he understood that his conduct was illegal.

         A PSIR was prepared in anticipation of sentencing that detailed Angeles-Moctezuma's extensive involvement in the conspiracy. The PSIR recommended a base offense level of 38 based on a drug quantity of at least 4.5 kilograms of actual methamphetamine, a two-level enhancement for possession of a dangerous weapon under U.S.S.G. §2D1.1(b)(1), and a four-level aggravating role enhancement under U.S.S.G. §3B1.1(a). Angeles-Moctezuma filed objections to the PSIR's description of the offense conduct, calculation of the drug quantity and corresponding base offense level, and application of sentencing enhancements. He also filed motions for a downward departure under U.S.S.G. §4A1.3 for overstated criminal history and U.S.S.G. §5H1.6 for his difficult upbringing in Mexico. In addition to the departures Angeles-Moctezuma sought a downward variance based on his acceptance of responsibility and his lack of violence in the conspiracy.

         The sentencing hearing consisted of the testimony of a single witness, DEA Special Agent David Wilmsmeyer ("SA Wilmsmeyer"), who served as the primary case agent for most of the investigation. SA Wilmsmeyer's testimony touched upon a number of law enforcement operations, seizures of drugs and money, and interviews with cooperating witnesses. Defense counsel objected on hearsay grounds to testimony about co-conspirator Judy Collins's statements to the Utah Highway Patrol, arguing that the hearsay evidence lacked significant indicia of reliability. The court overruled the objection. Later when SA Wilmsmeyer began to testify about incriminating statements made by Angeles-Moctezuma, defense counsel made a continuing objection on hearsay grounds. The court overruled the objection.

         At the close of testimony, the court overruled Angeles-Moctezuma's objections to the PSIR and adopted the PSIR, finding "that the Government has shown by way more than a preponderance of the evidence that the calculations in the [PSIR] are not only correct but conservative" and that "when you take [Angeles-Moctezuma's] admission of the elements of the crime along with [the government's] evidence, it's overwhelming." The district court found a total offense level of 42 and a criminal history category of II, which placed Angeles-Moctezuma in an advisory Guidelines range of 360 months to life.

         The court denied Angeles-Moctezuma's motions for a downward departure and a downward variance and sentenced him to the low-end 360 months' imprisonment, followed by five years of supervised release. During the sentencing the district court addressed each of Angeles-Moctezuma's motions in turn. The court rejected Angeles-Moctezuma's argument that his criminal history was overstated, noting that he had three unscored prior convictions. The court acknowledged that Angeles-Moctezuma had a difficult upbringing, but after considering it, determined that his upbringing did not warrant a downward departure.

         II.Discus ...

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