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United States v. Garay-Sierra

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

August 5, 2016

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Appellee,
v.
WILFREDO GARAY-SIERRA, Defendant, Appellee.

         APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF PUERTO RICO [Hon. Francisco A. Besosa, U.S. District Judge]

          Kendys Pimentel Soto and Kendys Pimentel Soto Law Office on brief for appellant.

          Leslie R. Caldwell, Assistant Attorney General, Sung-Hee Suh, Deputy Attorney General, Amanda B. Harris, Attorney, Criminal Division, Appellate Section, United States Department of Justice, Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez, United States Attorney, Nelson Pérez- Sosa, Assistant United States Attorney, Chief, Appellate Division, and Kelly Zenón-Matos, Assistant United States Attorney, on brief for appellee.

          Before Torruella, Selya, and Thompson, Circuit Judges.

          THOMPSON, Circuit Judge.

         Stage Setting

         A grand jury indicted Wilfredo Garay-Sierra (Garay) for carjacking a "Mitsubishi Nativa, " with intent to cause death and serious bodily harm, see 18 U.S.C. § 2119(2), and carrying and brandishing a firearm during a crime of violence, see id. § 924(c)(1)(A)(ii). Pursuant to a binding plea agreement, see Fed. R. Crim. P. 11(c)(1)(C), Garay pled guilty to carjacking and to possessing - but not brandishing - the firearm.[1]

         In projecting Garay's total offense level, the parties (among other things) agreed to a series of enhancements - including, pertinently, a 4-level enhancement because a victim of the carjacking suffered "serious bodily injury." See USSG § 2B3.1(b)(3)(B).[2] The parties did not agree on a particular guideline sentencing range for the carjacking count. But they did agree that Garay would recommend a 40-month prison sentence, and that the government would recommend a sentence within the to-be- calculated sentencing range. Because Garay accepted responsibility for possessing a firearm, the parties also agreed to recommend the mandatory-minimum sentence of 60 months in prison - the mandatory-minimum sentence for brandishing a firearm is 84 months, by the way. See 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A)(i), (ii). The parties also agreed that the sentences had to run consecutively. And Garay agreed to waive his right to appeal if the judge "accept[ed]" the agreement and "sentenc[ed] him according to its terms, conditions, and recommendations."

         The probation office's PSR recommended (among other things) that Garay get the 4-level enhancement for the carjacking count, noting that "the victims suffered serious bodily injury." Skipping over details not relevant to the issues on appeal, we note that the PSR then suggested that the judge use a 70-87 month sentencing range for this count. The PSR also incorrectly indicated that 84 months - section 924(c)'s mandatory minimum for brandishing - applied. Neither party objected to the PSR.

         At the sentencing hearing - and consistent with the plea agreement - Garay's counsel asked the judge for a 40-month prison term on the carjacking count, saying his client's youth, being a father, struggles with drug addiction and depression, and below-average IQ justified a downwardly-variant sentence. Living up to the terms of the agreement, the government asked for a sentence within the range for that count. And both Garay and the government asked for the 60-month mandatory minimum for the firearm crime.

         After listening to the parties' sentencing pitches, the judge accepted the PSR's calculations for the counts - i.e., the judge adopted the PSR's 70-87 month sentencing range for the carjacking count and the mandatory minimum of 84 months for the firearm count. The judge then ran through the relevant sentencing factors, see 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a), including Garay's characteristics and history (his youth, drug addiction, limited intellectual capacity, bouts with depression, etc.), the seriousness of the offense (noting, for example, that an accomplice of Garay had sexually assaulted one of the carjacked victims in Garay's presence), plus the need to deter criminal conduct, protect the public, promote respect for the law, and deliver just punishment. And when all was said and done, the judge imposed a within-guidelines prison sentence of 70 months for the carjacking crime, and a consecutive 84-month prison sentence for the firearm crime.

         From this 154-month sentence, Garay appeals. He first argues that the appeal waiver provision in his plea agreement is not enforceable, noting for example that the judge's sentence for the firearm offense (84 months) differed from what the parties recommended in the agreement (60 months). He then argues that the 70-month prison stint for the carjacking offense is procedurally unreasonable - first, because the judge wrongly concluded that the serious-bodily-injury enhancement applied and second, because the judge neither adequately considered factors favoring a lower sentence nor satisfactorily explained the reasons for the sentence. And last he argues that because he pled guilty to possessing a firearm rather than brandishing a firearm, the judge botched matters by sentencing him for brandishing a firearm (again, brandishing carries a higher mandatory minimum than possessing).

         For its part, the government agrees with Garay that, when it comes to the firearm count, the judge reversibly erred in imposing a sentence for brandishing a gun. And when it comes to the carjacking count, the government says, we should enforce the waiver-of-appeal clause because the sentence imposed by the judge jibed with the parties' recommendation - but even if it did not, the government adds, the judge erred neither in applying the serious-bodily-injury enhancement nor in explaining the sentence's length.

         Garay argues in reply that because the judge did not follow "all" of the plea agreement's terms (because the judge chose a sentence for the firearm count that exceeded the parties' recommendation), "the waiver of appeal is inapplicable in toto." And to the extent there is any ambiguity about the way in which the appeal-waiver clause works, he ...


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