United States v. Christian Delgado-Lopez (10th Cir. September 2020)

The Federal Docket

October 26, 2020

Sentencing/Reductions – A minor-role reduction under § 3B1.2(b) requires assessing a defendant’s role using totality of circumstances, and a district court’s speculation based on its own questioning of the defendant’s economic motives is clear error.

Christian Delgado-Lopez was convicted and sentenced to 120 months imprisonment followed by three years of supervised release for possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine.  Delgado-Lopez argued that a 2-level minor-reduction role under § 3B1.2(b) was warranted since he worked part-time as a disc jockey and was merely a drug courier who picked up the car, drove it to the destination, and did not load or unload the drugs.  Delgado-Lopez was paid $1,000 per trip and covered his own expenses during the trips.

The Court vacated Delgado-Lopez’s sentence, holding that the district court plainly erred by not considering the evidence to determine whether the mitigating role adjustment was warranted under § 3B1.2(b).  The Court held the lack of an evidentiary hearing and the sentencing judge’s personal inquiry into defendant’s financial gain under the arrangement resulted in an adjustment denial based on the court’s own speculation.  The judge found defendant’s testimony lacked credibility by surmising that the defendant risked life imprisonment for very little profit under the arrangement instead of assessing credibility based on evidence in the record.  The judge also considered the lack of credit for government cooperation in denying the minor role reduction.

Judge Eid dissented on grounds the record contained sufficient evidence to support the district court’s decision to deny defendant’s minor-role adjustment based on his financial decisions and lack of cooperation, so the sentence should be upheld.

Appeal from the District of Kansas

Opinion by Lucero, joined by Holmes.

Dissent by Eid.

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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