Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Sanchez: Errors in 3559 sentence enhancements

In U.S. v. Sanchez, No. 06-15143 (Oct. 30, 2009), the Court affirmed convictions of several defendants relating to the attempted burglary of a marijuana grow-house.

The Court rejected defense challenges to the admission of cell phone records, finding them to be reliable business records. The Court also rejected challenges to the use of summaries of this evidence during trial, pointing out that the trial court had instructed the jury that the summaries were not evidence and that the evidence was the call records.

Turning to sentencing, on plain error review, the Court vacated sentences based on the federal “three strikes” law, 18 U.S.C. § 3559(c). As the government conceded, one defendant’s prior drug-trafficking conviction did not qualify as a prior drug trafficking offense for purposes of § 3559 because the drug quantity was unspecified, and § 3559 requires prior convictions of quantities above a specified amount in the cross-referenced federal drug statute.

The Court remanded to the district court another defendant’s argument that his prior “escape” conviction did not qualify as a crime of violence for § 3559 purposes. The Court noted that the district court had erroneously believed that the defendant could not raise this challenge to his sentence.

Finally, the Court found no procedural or substantive error in the district court’s upward departure and upward variance based on his criminal history. The Court noted that the district court had stated that it had considered the § 3553 factors.