Wednesday, July 30, 2014

U.S. v. Hurtado (9th Cir. - July 29, 2014)

Inserting pop culture references or funny little asides into opinions doesn't always work for me.  But I nonetheless liked what Judge Silverman did here.

Yeah, they were unnecessary.  But they seemed entirely apt and not unnecessarily distracting.  One of 'em even brought forth an audible chuckle.

Here's the first:

"Hector Hurtado appeals the 46-month sentence imposed by the district court following his guilty plea to intentionally and knowingly importing 11.64 kilograms of cocaine into the United States from Mexico in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 952 and 960. Hurtado was caught driving a truck loaded with cocaine across the border, for which he was paid $3,500. Hurtado argues that the district court erred when it held that he was not entitled to the 'minor role' reduction provided for in United States Sentencing Guideline § 3B1.2(b).

Hurtado’s argument is essentially this: Just as all children in Lake Wobegon are above average, all drug couriers are, by definition, below average and entitled to the minor role reduction. Like the district court, we reject that argument. We hold today that the district court applied the correct legal standard, did not abuse its discretion in its application of the guideline to the facts of the case, and did not clearly err when it found that Hurtado was a typical commercial drug smuggler – no better, no worse – and not entitled to a minor role reduction. The district court was not clearly erroneous in finding that although Hurtado may have been a cog in some larger wheel, he was an essential cog who, solely for a sizeable sum of money, knowingly smuggled a large quantity of narcotics into the United States via a hidden compartment in his truck."

Now, I'm not a monster Garrison Keillor fan, and know a personal detail or two about the guy from a firsthand source that aren't too flattering, but I nonetheless thought the reference meaningful as well as enlightening.

Here's the second:

"There’s an old saying:  Crime doesn’t pay, but at least you’re your own boss. In this case, Hurtado wasn’t even his own boss; he was paid by others to commit the crime. However, the mere fact that Hurtado may have been doing criminal work for hire does not itself establish that he was a minor participant. That Hurtado’s supervisors, organizers, recruiters, and leaders may have above-average culpability – and thus are subject to aggravating role enhancements under U.S.S.G. § 3B1.1 – doesn’t mean that Hurtado is “substantially less culpable than the average participant.” U.S.S.G. § 3B1.2 n.3(A) (emphasis added). The requisite comparison is to average participants, not above-average participants."

I smiled at how that paragraph began.  Good inclusion.