FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF
PUERTO RICO Hon. Francisco A. Besosa, U.S. District Judge
Vivianne M. Marrero, Assistant Federal Public Defender
Supervisor, Appeals Section, and Eric Alexander Vos, Federal
Public Defender, on brief, for appellant.
F. Klumper, Assistant United States Attorney Senior Appellate
Counsel, Mariana E. Bauzá-Almonte, Assistant United
States Attorney Chief, Appellate Division, and Rosa Emilia
Rodríguez-Vélez, United States Attorney, on
brief, for appellee.
Howard, Chief Judge, Torruella and Thompson, Circuit Judges.
THOMPSON, Circuit Judge.
the conductor of a grand symphony orchestra who sets tempos,
cues ensemble members, and modulates sounds, Wilfredo
Rodríguez-Rosado led his coworkers at American
Airlines (and others) in a decade-long, Puerto Rico-based,
drug-smuggling conspiracy. Performing as
Rodríguez's instruments of crime, the band of dope
peddlers each played different, though no less necessary,
roles. Some jam-packed suitcases with cocaine; others drove
the cases to airports. Some weaseled the cocaine-stuffed
suitcases aboard airplanes; others tiptoed them out for
distribution. With drugs and cash zipping up and down the
United States, Rodríguez and his squad of oh-so-sneaky
smugglers trafficked ultimately more than 9, 000 kilograms of
Up the Band
drug-smuggling isn't music to everyone's ears, least
of all law enforcement. In early 2009, after seizing six
suitcases, chockfull of cocaine, a combined federal and state
taskforce busted Rodríguez and his group. And later
that year, a grand jury charged them with various drug
offenses. These crimes carried serious time. Eventually,
Rodríguez owned up to the wrongdoings; he pleaded
guilty to participating in a conspiracy to possess with
intent to distribute between 15 to 50 kilograms of cocaine.
See 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1),
841(b)(1)(A)(ii), 846. Because Rodríguez accepted some
responsibility for the offense, the government in turn
recommended a sentence of 14 to 17.5 years - a substantial
sentence, yes - but a fraction of the time he could've
served otherwise. The judge, consistent with the
government's proposed sentence range, gave
Rodríguez 15 years' incarceration.
for a Better Deal
years later, Rodríguez got a shot at nabbing an even
lower sentence. In 2014, the U.S. Sentencing Commission
adopted Amendment 782. See United States Sentencing
Commission, Guidelines Manual, App. C Supp., Amend.
782 (reduction), 788 (retroactivity) (Nov. 2018). That
change, which applies retroactively, reduced by two levels
the base offense level for most drug offenses, including the
crime to which Rodríguez pleaded guilty. See
id. Days after Amendment 782 took effect, little wonder
Rodríguez filed a motion seeking a reduced
Rodríguez was not alone. Indeed, in the wake of
Amendment 782's ratification, thousands of prisoners
nationwide, jailed for drug crimes, suddenly became eligible
for reduced sentences. See United States v.
I"), 854 F.3d 122, 123 (1st Cir. 2017)(noting that
"Amendment 782, as expected, generated thousands of
sentence reduction motions"). That the possible early
release of tens of thousands of incarcerated people would
strain the criminal justice system was not lost on the
Sentencing Commission. See USSG App. C, Amend. 788
at 80-82 (imposing a one-year delay on the filing of
Amendment-782 motions to "permit courts and probation
offices to effectively supervise the increased number of
defendants," ensure released offenders' successful
reentry to society, and promote public safety). Nor was it
lost on the Puerto Rico federal court. See
Rodríguez I, 854 F.3d at 123 (indicating that
"the Puerto Rico District Court" had to brainstorm
how to "handl[e] the impending onslaught of
motions"). Indeed, just five days after Amendment
782's adoption, the Puerto Rico federal court devised a
way to keep pace with the motions - a formal, multi-step
procedure called Administrative Directive 14-426 ("AD
14-426"). See In Re: USSG Amend. 782, Misc. No.
14-426 (ADC)(D.P.R. Nov. 6, 2014).
procedure went something like this: After a defendant files a
motion seeking a reduced sentence under Amendment 782, the
clerk of the court automatically refers the case to a
magistrate judge for "initial screening." The
magistrate judge is tasked with figuring out whether the
defendant is eligible for a lower sentence, and nothing more.
Should the magistrate judge find the defendant ineligible for
less prison time, the motion fails. But if the magistrate judge
finds the defendant possibly eligible for an earlier release
date, the motion advances. At stage two, the
government, defense counsel and probation must "meet to
discuss the case" and attempt to "reach a
stipulat[ed]" agreement. And if that falls short, the
district court, based on the parties' memoranda, is
charged with resolving the motion.
To A Different Tune
14-426 process seems as clear as a bell. And yet, after
Rodríguez filed his motion, the district court - for
whatever reason - ignored the process: It leaped ahead of the
magistrate judge before he could chime in with an eligibility
determination, sua sponte denying the motion. As grounds for
rejecting the motion, the district court emphasized
Rodríguez's "maximum leader[ship]" role
in "an elaborate drug trafficking organization that
operated for many years packaging and transporting over 9,
000 kilos of cocaine."
so, about a month after the district court denied
Rodríguez's motion, the magistrate judge reviewed
Rodríguez's motion all the same. And he determined
Rodríguez may be eligible for a lower
sentence. So as AD 14-426 contemplates, the
magistrate judge handed the motion back to the district court
for the next stage of the process.
district court in a text order referencing its initial denial
again tossed Rodríguez's motion, rejecting the
magistrate judge's report and recommendation. Twice
spurned in his quest for a sentence reduction,
Rodríguez appealed his case to us. There, in
Rodríguez I, we faced the question, among
others, of whether the district court had struck the wrong
note by not following its own internal, administrative rules,
AD 14-426, when it denied Rodríguez's motion.
See Rodríguez I, 854 F.3d 122. And we said
yes. Against the case's backdrop of "unique
circumstances," we determined that "the prudent
course" was to vacate and remand, so the district court
could comply with its own administrative order in resolving
Rodríguez's motion. Id. at 126. In
explaining our reasoning, we noted that since Amendment 782
had taken effect, the Puerto Rico district court had gained a
good deal of experience handling sentence-reduction motions
under AD 14-426. Id. at 126. Therefore we reasoned
remand would permit the district court to apply "the
wealth of experience that it ha[d] gained adjudicating
motions to reduce sentences" under AD 14-426.
Id. And finally, because the ultimate issue of
whether to grant a sentence reduction is a question Congress
"committed to the sentencing court's sound
discretion," United States v.
Zayas-Ortiz, 808 F.3d 520, 523 (1st Cir. 2015), we
uttered not a word on "the proper outcome on
remand." Rodríguez I, 854 F.3d at 126.
very same day we handed down our judgment in
Rodríguez I, the district court, seemingly on
cue, swiftly heeded the guidance we spelled out. The district
court ordered the parties to "file their positions and
recommendations as to whether [Rodríguez's]
sentence may be reduced pursuant to Amendment 782." As
AD 14-426 provides, the parties met a few days later to
discuss the case, hoping to reach a stipulated agreement. But
to no avail. So, consistent with the district court's
administrative order, the parties filed memoranda hewing to
the court's deadline.
Marching To ...