United States v. Flores

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Criminal Law
  • Date Filed: 08-02-2013
  • Case #: 12-30078
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Alarcon for the Court; Circuit Judges Gilman and Ikuta
  • Full Text Opinion

Courts shall “exercise caution” when estimating the amount of drugs distributed by a defendant, and when imposing a sentencing enhancement, courts must support conclusions with evidence and have the ability to adequately explain its decision.

Billy Flores was arrested and eventually charged with eight counts following his possession, distribution, and conspiracy to distribute oxycodone on tribal land in Washington State. Flores appealed in order to challenge his 240 month sentence. He argued that the district court erred in estimating the drug quantity sold throughout the conspiracy and a sentencing enhancement imposed for his alleged use of a minor to commit the crime. In terms of the estimation, the Ninth Circuit sought to determine whether the district court made a material error. The panel determined the district court was correct to use an estimate of the amount of distributed drugs because drugs were never seized in this case. Most importantly, since an estimate ultimately helps determine which Sentencing Guideline range to apply, courts must “exercise caution” when making an estimate. Further, the panel expressed its approval of the “multiplier method,” which uses a period of time that the defendant was most likely dealing a specific quantity and multiplies those factors to determine the estimate. Although this case was difficult because Flores’s dealers distributed at different times and increased their individual sales over time, the panel affirmed the district court’s estimate. As for the sentencing enhancement, the panel stated that a court must establish by a preponderance of the evidence that the facts prove a sentencing enhancement is necessary. Because the district court did not point to any supporting evidence or sufficiently justify its conclusion through an “adequate explanation,” the sentencing enhancement was remanded for reconsideration. VACATED and REMANDED for resentencing.

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