By Lauren D. Emery

On March 3, 2015, in the published criminal opinion, U.S. v. Flores-Alvarado, the Fourth Circuit vacated and remanded for re-sentencing the district court’s conviction against Marco Antonia Flores-Alvarado’s (“Flores-Alvarad0”).  Flores-Alvarado had previously plead guilty to a charge for conspiracy to distribute 5 kilograms or more of cocaine and 1000 kilograms or more of marijuana–for which he was sentenced to life imprisonment– and possession with intent to distribute more than 100 kilograms of marijuana–for which he was sentenced to a concurrent term of 480 months.

Quantity of Drugs Seized in Conspiracy Attributed to Flores-Alvarado

Flores-Alvarado and his co-defendant ran two drug trafficking organizations in North Carolina and used multiple sources in Mexico and the U.S. for marijuana and cocaine.  Due to his involvement in a conspiracy with his co-defendant, Flores-Alvarado was credited with trafficking 31,111.16 kilograms of marijuana which was seized from homes in Stokesdale, North Carolina and Lexington, Kentucky.

Because of the amount of drugs seized, his presentence report (“PSR”) assigned him a base level offense of 38, which after adjusting for additional factors, became an offense level of 43.  As a result of this level, and his Category II criminal history, the advisory sentencing range for both of his crimes was life imprisonment–but since the maximum sentence for the possession charge for 40 years it became 480 months.  If the drug quantities involved in the two home seizures were excluded, his offense level would drop to 41 and his sentencing range to 360 months to life.  During the lower court proceedings, the “government did not call any witnesses or present any other evidence about the drug quantities or the Stokesdale and Lexington Seizures.”

Presentence Reports are not Suffiicnet Evidence of Quantity of Drugs Trafficked by Defendant

The Fourth Circuit held that the information contained in the PSR is insufficient in and of itself to attribute the seized quantities of marijuana to Flores-Alvarado.  Instead, additional evidence must be presented to allow the court to make that factual determination.

Attributing Drug Quantities in a Conspiracy Inolves Specific Evidentiary Requirement

The Fourth Circuit reviews factual determinations of a sentencing court for clear error.  Here, it held that the dispute over the drug amounts seized in Lexington and Stokesdale “were not mere quibbles over the PSR’s drug totals, but were specific and factually grounded enough to raise legal and factual questions about whether the event described in the PSR supported attributing the seized quantities to Flores-Alvarado.”  This factual issue was left unresolved by the district court.

The Fourth Circuit held that, in order to attribute the “acts of others in jointly-undertaken criminal activity” the State would need to prove the scope of Flores-Alvarado’s agreement to the conduct and the foreseeability of the conduct.  The court declared that the district court had failed to make any such findings regarding Flores-Alvarado’s agreement to jointly undertake this criminal activity and that the PSR alone is insufficient to attribute the amounts from the two seizures to him.

Sentence Vacated and Remanded for Re-Sentencing

On remand, the district court must make specific factual determinations regarding Flores-Alvarado’s “agreement to jointly undertake criminal activity and whether those drug quantities were reasonably foreseeable to Flores-Alvarado.”