Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Monday, March 25, 2013

Carillo-Ayala: Firearms sales make drug trafficker safety-valve ineligible

In U.S. v. Carillo-Ayala, No. 11-14473 (March 22, 2013), the Court held that a defendant who sold drugs and firearms was not eligible for a “safety-valve” sentence reduction, because of the “connection” between the firearms and the drugs.

Defendants like Carillo-Avala, who are convicted of trafficking in certain quantities of drugs are subject to statutory mandatory minimum sentences – unless they qualify for the “safety-valve.” Carillo-Avala’s safety-valve eligibility turned on whether there was a “connection” between his drug trafficking offense and his possession of firearms, when his involvement with firearms was limited to his sale of firearms to a drug dealer.

The Court noted that only a “narrow class” of defendants are eligible for the safety-valve. Though rejecting the government’s argument that a “connection” between drugs and firearms existed simply because the firearms were part of the “relevant conduct” for the drug offense, the Court found that a “connection” requires less proof than a showing that firearms were possessed “in furtherance” of a drug offense. The “connection” is established if the defendant possesses a firearm “in close proximity” to drugs, or the firearm “facilitates” the drug offense by “emboldening” the defendant, or instills confidence in others, or helps the defendant avoid detection.

For Carillo-Ayala, the “connection” was established not because the firearms transactions created trust for the drug transactions – “greased” the drug transactions – but because he might have put the money from his firearms transactions to work in his drug enterprise, because the firearms he was selling to a drug dealer would help this drug dealer continue in the drug business and come back to Carillo-Ayala for more drugs, and because of the proximity of the firearms to the drugs. Carillo-Ayala did not bear his burden of showing that the firearms did not facilitate his drug transactions.