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5th Circuit Increases Defendant’s Sentence for “Importation” of Narcotics in Routine Distribution Case

Posted On: June 8, 2012 by Marc Neff

In U.S. v. Rodriguez, 666 F.3d 944; 2012 U.S. App. LEXIS 202, Defendant Melanie Marie Rodriguez pled guilty to possession with intent to distribute more than fifty grams of a mixture and substance containing methamphetamine in violation of 21 U.S.C.S. § 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(B). The United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas sentenced defendant to 180 months’ imprisonment and five years of supervised release. Defendant’s sentence was enhanced under U.S.S.G. § 2D1.1(b)(4) because the district court determined that the offense “involved the importation of amphetamine or methamphetamine. . . .” On appeal, Defendant argued that the offense did not involve the importation of methamphetamine, because the importation was complete before she came into possession, and she was not involved in the importation.

The record established that the methamphetamine in question was transported from Mexico to the Dallas area by the La Familia drug trafficking organization, then stored in the “stash house” of its local leader, Arnulfo Hernandez. Hernandez sold the methamphetamine to a man named Rolando Vasquez, who sold it to Defendant on about six to ten instances over the course of approximately two to three months. Hernandez sometimes accompanied Vasquez to deliver the drugs to Defendant.

With regard to Defendant’s arguments, the appellate court determined that Defendant’s offense involved the importation of methamphetamine because (1) even if the appellate court accepted her narrower interpretation of “importation,” it meant only that she did not import the drugs, not that her possession did not involve importation, and (2) her proximity, familiarity, and repeated business with the importers justified the enhancement.

The court found that there was sufficient evidence to support the finding that Defendant knew the drugs were imported. The Court noted that Defendant and her husband had an established relationship with Vasquez, from whom they had been buying drugs weekly for at least nine months. Defendant had been buying from Vasquez for only about three months, but she took over for her husband after he was incarcerated. Furthermore, Hernandez, the local leader of a drug-trafficking organization based in Mexico, would sometimes accompany Vasquez to Defendant’s house to deliver drugs. The appellate court affirmed the judgment of sentence.

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Posted in: Drug Crimes