United States v. Suarez

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Sentencing
  • Date Filed: 06-22-2012
  • Case #: 10-10393
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge A. Wallace Tashima; Circuit Judge Silverman and District Judge Adelman
  • Full Text Opinion

Mandatory minimum sentencing under 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(A) does not apply when the prior conviction did not result from a final judgment or a legally cognizable sentence resulting in a final judgment. A guilty plea with entry in a deferral program requiring treatment, but without a probation or imprisonment, does not qualify as a final judgment or a legally cognizable sentence.

Rodolfo Suarez, Jr. pled guilty to drug possession in 2003, and subsequently entered and completed a rehabilitation deferral program under California Penal Code § 1000, which resulted in a dismissal of the charge on March 2, 2005. Suarez was arrested again for possession and conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and cocaine in 2009. The jury found Suarez guilty of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, but not guilty on the other charges. The government sought a mandatory minimum sentence of twenty years under 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(A), which was imposed based on the 2003 arrest and guilty plea. Suarez challenged the validity of the inconsistent verdicts, as well as the mandatory minimum sentence. The Court, noting its previous refusal to review inconsistent jury verdicts, upheld Suarez’s conviction. However, § 841(b)(1)(A) requires that a prior conviction be final to qualify for the mandatory minimum sentence. To do so, “a guilty plea must either: (1) ripen into a final judgment; or (2) result in a legally cognizable sentence.” Because Suarez’s conviction was deferred and later dismissed, it was never an appealable final verdict under California law. Further, because Suarez was not sentenced to any probation or prison term, no legally cognizable sentence existed. Thus, no prior conviction existed under § 841(b)(1)(A). Conviction AFFIRMED; sentence VACATED and REMANDED.

Advanced Search