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United States v. Laracuent

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

February 17, 2015

UNITED STATES, Appellee,
v.
ANDY LARACUENT, Defendant, Appellant

Page 348

APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF PUERTO RICO. Hon. Aida M. Delgado-Colón, U.S. District Judge.

Elaine Mittleman on brief for appellant.

Rosa Emilia Rodríquez-Vélez, United States Attorney, Nelson Pérez-Sosa, Assistant United States Attorney, and Tiffany V. Monrose, Assistant United State Attorney, on brief for appellee.

Before Thompson, Kayatta, and Barron, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 349

THOMPSON, Circuit Judge.

Defendant Andy Laracuent pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. His appeal seeks to vacate this plea on grounds of factual insufficiency. Following careful consideration, we reject Laracuent's claim of error.

BACKGROUND

On January 26, 2012, law enforcement officials observed a Nissan Armada, along with two other vehicles, driving into a bay area in Santa Isabel, Puerto Rico.[1] At the same time, a vessel was seen traveling into the bay. Several individuals were observed offloading bales from the vessel into the vehicles, including Laracuent. The vehicles then exited the bay area, where they were stopped by DEA agents who conducted a traffic stop and arrested the individuals inside of the vehicles, including Laracuent, who was inside the Nissan Armada. The substance in the bales was subsequently analyzed and confirmed to be cocaine. Additionally, during the traffic stop, law enforcement found three firearms inside the Nissan Armada.

In connection with these events, a grand jury returned a three-count indictment against Laracuent and thirteen co-defendants. Laracuent was charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine in violation of 21 U.S.C. § § 841(a)(1),(b)(1)(A)(ii), 846 (Count 1); possession with intent to distribute five kilograms or more of a substance containing a detectable amount of cocaine in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(A)(ii) and 18 U.S.C. § 2 (Count 2); and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A) (Count 3).

Laracuent pleaded guilty to Count One and Count Three. Count Two was dismissed. He was subsequently sentenced to a prison term of one hundred twenty months on Count One and sixty months on Count Three, to be served consecutively, along with a supervised release term of five years. Laracuent timely appealed, seeking to vacate his conviction on Count Three only by challenging the court's acceptance of his plea.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Typically, we review the district court's acceptance of a guilty plea for abuse of discretion. United States v. Negrón-Narváez, 403 F.3d 33, 37 (1st Cir. 2005). However, where, as here, a defendant is silent as to alleged errors in the district court proceedings, and seeks to withdraw his plea for the first time on appeal, we review his claim for plain error. Id.; United States v. Ramos-Mejía, 721 F.3d 12, 14 (1st Cir. 2013). Plain error review puts a heavy burden on the defendant; he must show " (1) that an error occurred (2) which was clear or obvious and which not only (3) affected the defendant's substantial ...


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