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United States v. Garcia

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

December 26, 2019

United States of America Plaintiff-Appellee
v.
Jose Alonso Garcia Defendant-Appellant

          Submitted: September 26, 2019

          Appeals from United States District Court for the Western District of Arkansas - Ft. Smith

          Before GRUENDER, BENTON, and SHEPHERD, Circuit Judges.

          SHEPHERD, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         Appellant Jose Garcia entered a conditional guilty plea to one count of aiding and abetting the distribution of five grams or more of methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(B)(viii) and 18 U.S.C. § 2, related to his role in a methamphetamine distribution scheme in Northwest Arkansas. The district court[1]sentenced Garcia to 188 months imprisonment. Garcia appeals, asserting that the district court erred by denying Garcia's motion for retesting of drug quality and quantity and approval of expenditures, as well as in imposing his sentence. Garcia asserts the district court erroneously sentenced him as a career offender, failed to apply a minimal role or minor participant reduction, and imposed a sentence that was substantively unreasonable. Having jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, we affirm.

         I.

         Following his involvement in a methamphetamine distribution scheme, including participation in a controlled buy with undercover officers, Garcia was indicted on one count of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and one count of aiding and abetting distribution of five grams or more of methamphetamine. Garcia challenged the results of the government's subsequent testing of the seized methamphetamine, seeking both retesting of the drug quality and quantity and the approval of expenditures for these purposes. Garcia's co-defendant, Jose Escalante, filed a similar motion seeking retesting. The district court denied both motions, concluding that no reasonable basis existed to question the results of the government's testing. The only reason offered in the motions for retesting was a statement of the subjective belief of the defendants that the drug quality and quantity was incorrect and a vague reference to Escalante's assertion in a prior hearing that, as a methamphetamine user who had tried the methamphetamine, he could tell that it was not as pure as the government's testing revealed.

         After the district court denied his motion for retesting and approval of expenditures, Garcia entered a guilty plea to the aiding and abetting count, which stemmed from one controlled buy with undercover officers. At sentencing, the district court determined that the career offender sentencing enhancement applied based on Garcia's previous convictions, under Arkansas law, for aiding and abetting the distribution of methamphetamine and for being an accomplice to second-degree battery. The district court also determined that Garcia was not entitled to a minimal role or minor participant reduction and calculated Garcia's Guidelines range at 188 to 235 months imprisonment. The district court then imposed a bottom-of-the-Guidelines-range sentence of 188 months. This appeal follows.

         II.

         A.

         Garcia first asserts that the district court erroneously denied his motion for retesting of drug quality and quantity and for approval of expenditures because the purity of the drugs was in question and the district court, at the very least, should have conducted an ex parte hearing on the motion. For the reasons we set forth today in United States v. Escalante, No. 18-3033, we conclude the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying this motion.

         B.

         Garcia next challenges the district court's application of the career offender enhancement and the denial of a minor participant or minimal role reduction in calculating the offense level. As to the career offender designation, Garcia argues that his previous conviction for aiding and abetting distribution of methamphetamine is not a controlled substance offense and that his previous conviction for accomplice to second-degree battery is not a crime of violence so as to trigger application of the career offender sentencing enhancement. "We review de novo a district court's interpretation and application of the guidelines." United States v. Rice, 813 F.3d 704, 705 (8th Cir. 2016).

         Under the United States Sentencing Guidelines § 4B1.1, a defendant is subject to a sentencing enhancement as a career offender if he has at least two previous felony convictions for either a crime of violence or a controlled substance offense. Garcia asserts that his previous aiding and abetting distribution of methamphetamine conviction is not a controlled substance offense because the Guidelines definition of controlled substance offense includes only the primary offense, not aiding and abetting the offense. Garcia asserts that classifying his prior ...


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