United States v. Mario Alberto Montenegro (11th Cir. June 2021)

The Federal Docket

Sentencing Guidelines/Firearm Enhancement – The enhancement under USSG 2D1.1(b)(1) for possessing a firearm was properly applied over both parties’ objections where a rifle was found in a “very small trailer” where the defendant also kept his drugs and sold his drugs, and the gun was in “very close proximity” to the drugs.

Mario Montenegro appealed his 62-month sentence, challenging the 2-point enhancement the district court imposed based on a firearm that was found in Montenegro’s trailer when he was arrested for distributing drugs. At sentencing, the government conceded it could not meet its burden in proving the enhancement, but the district court applied the enhancement anyway.

On appeal, the Court held that the district court, not the Government, makes findings of fact and conclusions of law regarding whether an enhancement applies notwithstanding any agreement between the parties. Here, the firearm enhancement properly applied because Montenegro’s firearm was found in a “very small trailer,” where he kept drugs and sold them, and “in very close proximity” to the drugs themselves.

Montenegro also argued that the enhancement’s improper application precluded him from safety-valve relief. The Court held that Montenegro waived this argument and noted that the safety valve inquiry is separate from the enhancement under 2D1.1(b)(1).

On appeal from the Middle District of Florida
Opinion by Branch, joined by Grant and Tjoflat

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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