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United States v. De La Cruz-Garcia

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

November 16, 2016

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Appellee,
v.
PEDRO DE LA CRUZ-GARCÍA, a/k/a Boquita, a/k/a Pedro Aquiles-Cordones, a/k/a Pedro Aguiles-Cordones, Defendant, Appellee.

         APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF PUERTO RICO [Hon. José Antonio Fusté, U.S. District Judge]

          Johnny Rivera-González for appellant.

          John A. Mathews II, Assistant United States Attorney, with whom Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez, United States Attorney, and Nelson Pérez-Sosa, Assistant United States Attorney, Chief, Appellate Division, were on brief, for appellee.

          Before Howard, Chief Judge, Torruella and Kayatta, Circuit Judges.

          HOWARD, Chief Judge.

         Appellant Pedro De La Cruz-García pled guilty to illegally bringing aliens into the United States by boat in violation of 8 U.S.C. § 1324(a)(1)(A)(i). The district court sentenced De La Cruz to thirty-eight months in prison based, in part, on a ten-level enhancement for the death of a passenger who jumped from the boat. For the reasons discussed below, we affirm the sentence.

         I.

         On February 28, 2013, De La Cruz and two fellow citizens of the Dominican Republic crowded twenty-six passengers from Haiti onto their makeshift twenty-five-foot vessel named the "Don Tino." The group set sail for United States soil via the Mona Passage. Ultimately, the journey proved unsuccessful. Law enforcement agents observed the vessel approaching Mona Island, Puerto Rico, and reported the illegal migrant landing to the Department of Homeland Security.

         Upon being discovered by law enforcement, several passengers jumped from the Don Tino in a last-ditch effort to reach shore. The authorities apprehended all but one of the passengers. An unaccounted-for Haitian woman, however, remained in the water. After an unsuccessful rescue attempt, the missing passenger's body, later identified as Gedette Benjamin, was recovered off the coast of Mona Island.

          Once in custody, De La Cruz agreed to speak with authorities and described his plan to illegally enter the United States. The ensuing investigation revealed that the three Dominican Republic nationals, including De La Cruz, were responsible for navigating and operating the Don Tino. De La Cruz agreed to assist with the journey in return for free passage.

         De La Cruz ultimately entered into an agreement with the government and pled guilty to one count of bringing or attempting to bring an alien into the United States at a place other than a designated port of entry. See 8 U.S.C. § 1324(a)(1)(A)(i). The plea agreement expressly reserved De La Cruz's right to oppose the U.S.S.G. § 2L1.1(b)(7)(D) sentence enhancement, which applies "[i]f any person died" during the commission of the offense. Ultimately, the district court imposed the ten-level enhancement, resulting in a guideline range of forty-one to fifty-one months. The court varied below that range, sentencing De La Cruz to thirty-eight months in prison and a three-year term of supervised release.

         On appeal, De La Cruz challenges only the ten-level enhancement pursuant to § 2L1.1(b)(7)(D).

         II.

         We review the district court's fact-finding under the deferential "clear error" standard and its "resolution of legal questions" de novo. United States v. ...


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