United States v. Rivera-Constantino

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Criminal Law
  • Date Filed: 08-19-2015
  • Case #: 14-10314
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Clifton for the Court; Circuit Judge Duffy; Dissent by Circuit Judge Paez
  • Full Text Opinion

The standard definition of a crime should be used for sentencing when legislative intent informs the court what the definition was meant to be.

In 2011, Juan Manuel Rivera-Constantino was convicted of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute marijuana a violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 846, 841(a)(1). Rivera-Constantino was deported, but returned and was arrested in 2013. In 2014, the district court found Rivera-Constantino guilty of illegal reentry, and he was punished more severely under 16-level sentencing guidelines for his prior drug conspiracy conviction. Rivera-Constantino contended that the district court erred in considering his previous conspiracy conviction when ordering his sentencing. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit found that the district court did not error in factoring a past conspiracy conviction into sentencing. The panel reasoned that U.S.S.G. § 2L1.2 note 5 clearly states that a drug trafficking conspiracy counts for 16-level sentencing. Additionally, the panel explained that the notes of statutes are in fact binding authority. Next, Rivera-Constantine argued that the definition of conspiracy under state and federal statutes are different; states require an overt act and federal does not. The panel rejected the argument, stating that the general definition of conspiracy should be used, which does not require an overt act. Finally, the panel analyzed the legislative intent of 21 U.S.C. § 846, finding that the legislature intended for conspiracy to be defined without an overt act. The panel stated that if the legislature intended for conspiracy to not require an overt act, then the sentencing requirements incorporating conspiracy convictions also would not require an overt act and the definitions should match. AFFIRMED.

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