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United States v. Melendez

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

April 20, 2016

United States of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
Jose Melendez and Denise Lambert, Defendants-Appellants.

Argued September 28, 2015

Appeals from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Western Division. Nos. 13 CR 50006-7 & 13 CR 50006-5 - Frederick J. Kapala, Judge.

Before Flaum, Kanne, and Sykes, Circuit Judges.

Kanne, Circuit Judge.

Defendants-Appellants Jose Melendez ("Melendez") and Denise Lambert ("Lambert") both pled guilty to participating in a heroin distribution conspiracy with Michael Craig ("Craig") and others. Melendez challenges his within-guidelines range sentence of 135 months' imprisonment, disputing the district court's finding that he is liable for between three and ten kilograms of jointly purchased heroin. Lambert challenges her within- guidelines range sentence of 80 months' imprisonment as substantively unreasonable on several grounds. We affirm both sentences.

I. Background

From approximately March 2011 to November 2011, Melendez traveled with Craig to Chicago every two to three days to jointly purchase heroin from a supplier that Melendez introduced to Craig. For these purchases, Melendez and Craig pooled their money together to obtain a discounted bulk rate. After each purchase, they would return to Rock-ford, Illinois, to weigh and divide the heroin for separate distribution.

From approximately October 2010 to January 2012, Lambert, in addition to taking care of Craig's children, rented an apartment and vehicles that Craig used to store and transport heroin and heroin trafficking proceeds. During this time, Lambert delivered heroin mixtures and heroin trafficking proceeds between Craig and his co-conspirators. Lambert also agreed to transmit messages regarding drug sales activity between Craig and an individual who was cooperating with the FBI.

On November 26, 2013, a federal grand jury returned a superseding three-count indictment against Melendez, Lambert, and Craig. Count 1 charged Melendez, Lambert, and Craig with conspiring to possess with the intent to distribute and to distribute heroin, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846. Counts 2 and 3 charged Craig with distributing heroin, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1).

On April 2, 2014, Melendez and Lambert each pled guilty to one count of conspiring to possess with the intent to distribute and to distribute heroin, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846.

A. Melendez's Sentencing

On November 13, 2014, the district court held Melendez's sentencing hearing.

After hearing witness testimony, the district court determined that the most reliable facts were found in Melendez's admissions made in his plea agreement and January 10, 2012 written statement, which supported and supplemented his plea agreement. Relying on these written admissions, the district court found Melendez accountable for all the heroin jointly purchased by Melendez and Craig.

Next, the district court found, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the amount of heroin involved in Melendez's offense was greater than 3 kilograms but less than 10 kilograms. In reaching this conclusion, the court made two estimates of the drug quantities. For its first estimate, the court used Melendez's admissions in his plea agreement to assess an approximate amount of 4.8 kilograms of heroin. For its second estimate, the court used Melendez's admissions in his January 10, 2012 written statement to assess an approximate amount of 3.315 kilograms of heroin. The court found that both estimates supported a determination that the amount of heroin involved in Melendez's offense was greater than 3 kilograms but less than 10 kilograms.

Having so concluded, the district court adopted the presentencing report's assessment of a criminal history category of IV and offense level of 29, which yielded a guidelines range of 121 to 151 months. The court then sentenced Melendez to 135 months' imprisonment, a within-guidelines range sentence, and entered judgment against him on November 21, 2014. Melendez's appeal follows.

B. Lambert's Sentencing

On December 31, 2014, the district court held Lambert's sentencing.

The district court began by correcting a typographic error in the presentencing report and finding that Lambert's proper sentencing guidelines range was 78 to 97 months, based on a criminal history category of II and offense level of 27. Both parties agreed.

The district court then found that the guidelines calculations provided an appropriate baseline for evaluation of the ยง 3553(a) factors and these computations accounted for Lambert's responsibility for between one to three kilograms of heroin, ...


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