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United States v. Sandoval-Enrique

United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit

September 12, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff - Appellee,
v.
MANUEL DE JESUS SANDOVAL-ENRIQUE, Defendant-Appellant.

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of New Mexico (D.C. No. 2:15-CR-01030-JB-1)

          Margaret A. Katze, Assistance Federal Public Defender, Office of the Federal Public Defender, Albuquerque, New Mexico, for Defendant-Appellant.

          C. Paige Messec, Assistant United States Attorney (Damon P. Martinez, United States Attorney, with her on the brief), Office of the United States Attorney, Albuquerque, New Mexico, for Plaintiff-Appellee.

          Before BRISCOE, EBEL, and MURPHY, Circuit Judges.

          EBEL, Circuit Judge.

         In this direct criminal appeal, Defendant-Appellant Manuel Sandoval-Enrique seeks to withdraw his guilty plea to one count of unlawfully reentering the United States after a previous removal. Sandoval-Enrique pled guilty without the benefit of any plea agreement. In seeking now to withdraw that plea, Sandoval-Enrique contends that the district court abused its discretion in rejecting two previous plea agreements he reached with the Government and then improperly inserted itself into the plea negotiations. Having jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291 and finding no error that would permit Sandoval-Enrique to withdraw his guilty plea, we AFFIRM his conviction.

         I. THIS APPEAL REMAINS JUSTICIABLE

         As a threshold jurisdictional matter, see United States v. Vera-Flores, 496 F.3d 1177, 1180 (10th Cir. 2007), the Government contends this appeal is moot because Sandoval-Enrique has fully served his prison sentence imposed in this case and has now been deported. We disagree with the Government's argument, and DENY the Government's motion to dismiss the appeal for mootness.

         The Government is correct that an appeal challenging a sentence becomes moot when the defendant fully serves that sentence, see Lane v. Williams, 455 U.S. 624, 631 (1982), unless he can show that he remains subject to collateral consequences even after completing the sentence, see United States v. Juvenile Male, 564 U.S. 932, 936 (2011).

         But Sandoval-Enrique is not challenging his sentence; instead he is seeking to withdraw his guilty plea and to have his conviction vacated.[1] Such relief would be available should he prevail on the grounds for relief he asserts on appeal. See Lane, 455 U.S. at 630-31 (recognizing defendant may seek to withdraw guilty plea and have conviction vacated to correct error in plea process); see also United States v. Vanderwerff, 788 F.3d 1266, 1267, 1279 (10th Cir. 2015) (vacating conviction and ordering that defendant be allowed to withdraw his guilty plea because district court abused its discretion in rejecting prior plea agreement); United States v. Cano-Varela, 497 F.3d 1122, 1123, 1135 (10th Cir. 2007) (vacating defendant's guilty plea because district court improperly participated in plea negotiations).

         An appeal such as this one challenging a conviction does not become moot when the defendant completes his prison sentence because we presume that a defendant remains subject to collateral consequences that continue to flow from the existence of the challenged conviction even after the sentence has been served. See Spencer v. Kemna, 523 U.S. 1, 8-12 (1998); Sibron v. New York, 392 U.S. 40, 50-58 (1968). The fact that a defendant has also been deported does not change that presumption. See United States v. Quezada-Enriquez, 567 F.3d 1228, 1232 n.2 (10th Cir. 2009).

         The Government argues that it can rebut this presumption if it can show that there is no possibility that any collateral legal consequences will be imposed on the basis of the challenged conviction. Assuming, without deciding, that the presumption is rebuttable and can be rebutted in this way, the Government has failed to make such a showing here.

         The Government contends that the existence of the conviction Sandoval-Enrique challenges in this appeal will not affect his immigration status because he has prior convictions that already bar him from seeking lawful admission to the United States for twenty years from the date of his most recent deportation and the conviction at issue here will not change that.[2] Accepting without deciding the accuracy of the Government's assertion, this still means that in twenty years Sandoval-Enrique could seek to reenter the United States lawfully. The Government has not shown that, at that time, "there is no possibility, " Sibron, 392 U.S. at 57, that the existence of the conviction he challenges here would subject Sandoval-Enrique to any collateral consequences.[3] Thus, the appeal is not moot.

         II. SANDOVAL-ENRIQUE IS NOT ENTITLED TO WITHDRAW HIS GUILTY PLEA

         We turn then to the merits of this appeal. Sandoval-Enrique seeks to withdraw his guilty plea, claiming that the district court 1) abused its discretion in rejecting two plea agreements he reached with the Government, and 2) improperly inserted itself into the plea negotiations. Neither argument warrants relief.

         A. Factual background

         Sandoval-Enrique, a citizen of Honduras, fled with his family from Honduras to Mexico, where they were granted asylum. From Mexico, Sandoval-Enrique then came to the United States unlawfully to work. On multiple occasions when authorities discovered Sandoval-Enrique in the United States illegally, he was deported without being charged criminally. But on three prior occasions (October 2001, May 2006, September 2006), Sandoval-Enrique was charged and convicted of unlawfully entering or reentering the United States after having been previously removed. On each of those occasions, Sandoval-Enrique served some time in jail and was then deported. As a result of his third conviction, Sandoval-Enrique served sixteen months in prison before being removed from the United States.

         This current criminal prosecution began when the Border Patrol discovered Sandoval-Enrique unlawfully in New Mexico in February 2015. The United States charged him with unlawfully reentering the United States after removal, in violation of 8 U.S.C. § 1326(a), (b). Pursuant to the District of New Mexico's "fast-track" program, Sandoval-Enrique entered into a Fed. R. Crim. P. 11(c)(1)(C) plea agreement with the Government that provided that he would plead guilty and waive his appeal rights in return for a four-level reduction in his base offense level and a sentence within the guideline range calculated using that lowered offense level, between two and eight months in prison.[4]

         This Rule 11(c)(1)(C) agreement would have been binding on the district court had the court accepted it. The district court, however, rejected the plea agreement. See Fed. R. Crim. P. 11(c)(3)(A). In doing so, the court noted that Sandoval-Enrique had previously received a sixteen-month sentence for his most recent unlawful reentry conviction, in 2006, and in light of that, the sentencing range to which the parties had agreed in this case, two to eight months in prison, did not give the district court the ability to impose a sentence that promotes respect for the law, affords adequate deterrence, or provides a just punishment, as 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) requires.

         At the defense's request, the district court continued the sentencing proceeding.[5] Three months later, the parties entered into a second Rule 11(c)(1)(C) plea agreement, this time agreeing to a ten-month sentence. The district court rejected that agreement, too, because it did not

give the Court the options that it needs to sentence [Sandoval-Enrique] correctly. Sixteen months [served on his third conviction] did not keep him out of the United States; 145 days [served on his first conviction] didn't keep him out; 43 . . . days [served on his second conviction] didn't keep him out. He's had six deportations.
I don't think a sentence of ten is sufficient to reflect the 3553(a) factors. It's not deterring him. And I don't think a sentence of ten months is appropriate. . . .

(III R. 92.) The district court again informed Sandoval-Enrique that he had the "right to withdraw" his "plea of guilty and proceed to trial." (Id.)

         Defense counsel then asked the court if it could "possibly share any more of its thoughts on what would be a fair sentence and also the reason behind it? Is it just the fact that he had a 16 month sentence and came back after that, and therefore, anything less than 16 months would not be satisfactory?" (Id. 93.) The court responded:

Well, as I indicated, I didn't think the sentences that were being presented last time, which would have been eight months-so you've given me two more months-I don't think that either one of those [is] adequate. He has arrests in the country for other things. I know he hasn't been convicted of those, but he has had interactions with law enforcement when he's been in the United States. So I think with some interaction with law enforcement, the sentence needs to reflect the seriousness of the offense. And I don't think giving him something in the eight month range or ten month range that's been presented twice to the Court promotes respect for the law or provides a just punishment, affords adequate deterrence, either at a specific or general level. I can't use supervised release. I'm comfortable ...

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