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United States v. Sainz

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

August 12, 2019

United States of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
David James Sainz, Defendant-Appellant.

          Argued and Submitted November 16, 2018 San Francisco, California

          Appeals from the United States District Court Nos. 5:11-cr-00894-BLF-1 5:11-cr-00712-BLF-2 5:11-cr-00640-BLF-3 for the Northern District of California Beth Labson Freeman, District Judge, Presiding

          Carman A. Smarandoiu (argued), Chief, Appellate Unit; Steven G. Kalar, Federal Public Defender; Office of the Federal Public Defender, San Francisco, California; for Defendant-Appellant.

          Merry J. Chan (argued), Assistant United States Attorney; J. Douglas Wilson, Chief, Appellate Division; United States Attorney's Office, San Francisco, California; for Plaintiff-Appellee.

          Before: A. Wallace Tashima and Milan D. Smith, Jr., Circuit Judges, and Lawrence L. Piersol, [*] District Judge.

         SUMMARY[**]

         Criminal Law

         Reversing the district court's denial of a motion for a sentence reduction under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2) and remanding for further proceedings, the panel held that a district court may not sua sponte raise a defendant's waiver of the right to file a § 3582(c)(2) motion and deny the motion on that ground.

          OPINION

          PIERSOL, DISTRICT JUDGE.

         In this case of first impression, we consider whether a district court may sua sponte raise a defendant's waiver of the right to seek relief under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2) and deny the defendant's motion for resentencing on that ground. We hold that it may not. Accordingly, we reverse the district court's denial of David Sainz's motion for a sentence reduction.

         I. Background

         In July 2012, Sainz pleaded guilty to six drug offenses. Sainz's advisory sentence range under the United States Sentencing Guidelines was 188-235 months in prison. The district court sentenced Sainz to 188 months in prison.

         Sainz filed a notice of appeal, but later dismissed his appeals when he and the government entered into a post-conviction cooperation agreement. That agreement stated that Sainz's sentence would be reduced if he provided substantial assistance to the government. The agreement contained an express waiver of Sainz's right to seek relief under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2).

         The government abided by its promise. It filed a motion to reduce Sainz's sentence under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 35(b)(2), and recommended a 151-month prison sentence. Sainz asked the court for the mandatory minimum sentence of 120 months in prison.

         On October 21, 2014, the district court held a resentencing hearing. Sainz raised "the prospect of [an] additional two-point reduction for . . . the congressional amendment, which doesn't take [e]ffect until Congress's failure to act on November 1st. Which I guess we can all expect." Sainz was referring to a forthcoming amendment to USSG § 2D1.1, which would lower by two levels the base offense level for Sainz's convictions. Although the amendment had not yet been enacted, the court agreed that the amendment was likely to take effect on November 1 because "[y]ou can expect Congress to do nothing." Sainz and the sentencing judge then engaged in a colloquy about whether the court could sentence Sainz below the 120-month mandatory minimum sentence. The court concluded that "Rule 35 opens the door to [a sentence] below the mandatory minimum . . . . The power of the court is such that I could reduce the sentence [below the mandatory minimum]."

         The court sentenced Sainz to 120 months in prison. Following the imposition of the sentence, the government asked the court whether the sentence was "in contemplation of the expected two-level guideline ...


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