United States v. Angel Carrasquillo-Sanchez (1st Cir. August 2021)

The Federal Docket

September 8, 2021

Sentencing – A district court varying upwards from the Guidelines must articulate adequate reasons for its upwards variance that are specific to the defendant’s conduct and not otherwise covered by the Guidelines.

Angel Carrasquillo Sanchez pleaded guilty to possession of a firearm by an unlawful drug user and was sentenced to 48 months in prison, an upwards variance from his applicable Guidelines range. His offense level had been based in part on his possession of a machine gun, and the district court had cited this fact and the “problem of criminality” in Puerto Rico in varying upwards from Carrasquillo’s Guidelines range.

On appeal, the First Circuit reviewed the procedural reasonableness of the sentence under plain error review. The Court vacated Carrasquillo’s sentence, holding that the district court failed to adequately explain its basis for the upwards variance.

The district court plainly erred in basing its upwards variance on the nature of the firearm possessed since that fact had been accounted for in the Guidelines and “when a 3553(a) consideration is already accounted for in the guideline range, a sentencing Court must articulate specifically the reasons that this particular defendant’s situation is different from the ordinary situation covered by the guidelines calculation.

The Court noted that the district court had also expressed concern with specific instances of gun violence in Puerto Rico and an apparent increase in general criminality, and acknowledged that “geographical considerations” and “the incidence of particular crimes in the relevant community” are relevant for sentencing purposes, the district court failed to adequately tie these community-based concerns to the defendant’s specific conduct.

The Court concluded that “we meant what we had previously said about the obligation of district courts when varying upward to offer explanations for the deviation that are commensurate in their depth with the magnitude of that deviation.”

Appeal from the District of Puerto Rico
Opinion by Barron, joined by Howard and McAuliffe

Click here to read the opinion.

Tom Church - Tom is a trial and appellate lawyer focusing on criminal defense and civil trials. Tom is the author of "The Federal Docket" and is a contributor to Mercer Law Review's Annual Survey in the areas of federal sentencing guidelines and criminal law. Tom graduated with honors from the University of Georgia Law School where he served as a research assistant to the faculty in the areas of constitutional law and civil rights litigation. Read Tom's reviews on AVVO. Follow Tom on Linkedin.

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