United States v. Quentin Lee ( 2011 )


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  •                                                               NOT PRECEDENTIAL
    
                           UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS
                                FOR THE THIRD CIRCUIT
    
    
                                          No. 10-2594
                                         _____________
    
                               UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
    
    
                                                v.
    
                                        QUENTIN LEE,
                                               Appellant
    
    
    On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania
                             District Court No. 3-08-cr-00101-01
                       District Judge: The Honorable Edwin M. Kosik
    
    
                       Submitted Pursuant to Third Circuit L.A.R. 34.1(a)
                                      January 24, 2011
    
        Before: FUENTES, and CHAGARES, Circuit Judges and POLLAK, Senior District
                                      Judge
    
                                   (Filed: February 22, 2011)
    
                                         _____________
    
                                           OPINION
                                         _____________
    
    FUENTES, Circuit Judge.
    
    
    
    
     Hon. Louis H. Pollak, Senior Judge, United States District Court for the Eastern District
    of Pennsylvania, sitting by designation.
    
    
                                                1
            Defendant Quentin Lee appeals from the District Court’s imposition of sentence.
    
    On June 18, 2009, Lee pled guilty pursuant to a plea agreement to conspiracy to
    
    distribute and possession with intent to distribute in excess of 50 grams of
    
    methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), 841(b)(1)(A), and 846. As
    
    part of the plea agreement, the Government promised that for purposes of applying the
    
    United States Sentencing Guidelines, it would recommend to the sentencing court that
    
    Lee had trafficked between 350 to 500 grams of methamphetamine. On June 2, 2010,
    
    Lee was sentenced to a term of 87 months of incarceration. Lee argues on appeal that: (1)
    
    the District Court erred by failing to adequately consider the sentencing factors set forth
    
    in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) and (2) the Government breached the terms of the plea agreement
    
    by informing the District Court that Lee was responsible for trafficking more than 500
    
    grams of methamphetamine. A timely notice of appeal was filed on June 3, 2010.1 For
    
    the reasons below, we will affirm.
    
                                                 I.
    
            Because we write only for the parties, we will discuss only the facts and
    
    proceedings to the extent necessary for resolution of this case. On February 27, 2008, a
    
    federal grand jury returned an indictment charging Quentin Lee with conspiring to
    
    distribute and possess with intent to distribute more than 500 grams of methamphetamine
    
    in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), 841(b)(1)(A), and 846. Nearly one year later, on
    
    February 24, 2009, an eleven-count superseding indictment naming Joseph Smith as
    
    
    1
        We have jurisdiction over this appeal pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291.
    
                                                 2
    Lee’s coconspirator was filed. Under Count One of the superseding indictment, Lee was
    
    charged with intentionally distributing and possessing with intent to distribute more than
    
    500 grams of methamphetamine in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), 841(b)(1)(A), and
    
    846; Count Seven charged Lee with knowingly and intentionally using a telephone in the
    
    course of facilitating a conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance in violation of 21
    
    U.S.C. §§ 843(b) and 846; Count Eight charged Lee with knowingly and intentionally
    
    distributing and possessing with intent to distribute more than 50 grams of
    
    methamphetamine in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(A); and Counts
    
    Ten and Eleven also charged Lee with knowingly and intentionally using a telephone in
    
    the course of facilitating a conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance.
    
           Lee entered into a plea agreement in which he agreed to plead guilty to
    
    intentionally distributing and possessing with intent to distribute in excess of 50 grams of
    
    methamphetamine.2 In exchange, the Government agreed that, for purposes of the U.S.
    
    Sentencing Guidelines, Lee was responsible for trafficking between 350 grams to 500
    
    grams of methamphetamine as set forth in the plea agreement. The plea agreement also
    
    contained the several provisions touching on the government’s ability to recommend a
    
    sentence and respond to motions by the defense.
    
    
    
    2
      The Plea Agreement states that defendant agreed to plead guilty to “Count 1 of the
    Superseding Indictment, which charges the defendant with . . . conspiracy to distribute and
    possess with intent to distribute in excess of 50 grams of methamphetamine.” Supp. App. 1. In
    fact, Count 1 of the Superseding Indictment charges defendant with conspiracy to distribute and
    possess with intent to distribute in excess of 500 grams of methamphetamine. This mistake
    notwithstanding, the record is clear that the defendant actually plead guilty to, and intended to
    plead guilty to, conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute in excess of 50
    grams of methamphetamine.
    
                                                    3
           Lee was sentenced on June 2, 2010. At the sentencing hearing, Lee’s counsel
    
    discussed several factors that mitigated in favor of a lower sentence: (1) Lee’s relative
    
    youth; (2) his cooperation with the authorities; (2) his close relationship with his family
    
    and supportive family network; (3) his intelligence and determination to lead a productive
    
    life; (4) Lee’s personal history as a drug user for twelve years and need for drug
    
    rehabilitation; (5) the absence of a violent criminal history, including any violence related
    
    to this offense; and (6) Lee’s acknowledgement that what he did was wrong. App. 32(a)
    
    to 34(a). Defense counsel concluded by asking the district court to “consider a sentence
    
    in the range of 60 months.” App. 34(a).
    
           In response, the government argued that a guideline sentence between 87 to 108
    
    months was appropriate. The Government contested Lee’s assertion that he did not have
    
    a violent history, and pointed out that two of Lee’s prior offenses involved threats of
    
    violence. The Government also drew attention to Lee’s role in the instant offense,
    
    describing him as belonging to the “upper level . . . of the people involved.” App. 36(a).
    
    The Government argued that the nature of the offense called for a guideline sentence. In
    
    doing so, the Government explained that Lee had benefited from a plea agreement that
    
    limited the quantity of drugs attributable to him. More specifically, the Government
    
    informed the District Court that “ [T]he actual amount of drugs that is attributable to
    
    [Lee] under the plea agreement does not reflect the actual amount that he was involved
    
    in. I think the Court needs to know that up front, that he got that benefit from signing this
    
    plea agreement, because he was a significant drug dealer. He did put this stuff on the
    
    street.” App. 35(a)-36(a).
    
                                                  4
           After considering these arguments, the District Court sentenced Lee to 87 months
    
    of incarceration.
    
                                                A.
    
           Lee argues that the sentencing court erred by failing to give meaningful
    
    consideration to the factors set forth in Section 3553(a). He submits the only Section
    
    3553 factor specifically identified by the District Court was the need for sentencing parity
    
    and notes that, “other than a cursory reference . . . the court made no mention of [Section]
    
    3553”. In sum, Lee alleges that his sentence is procedurally unreasonable. We disagree.
    
           Courts imposing a sentence after United States v. Booker, 
    543 U.S. 220
     (2005)
    
    must follow a three-step process:
    
                  (1) [They] must continue to calculate a defendant's Guidelines
                  sentence precisely as they would have before Booker.
    
                  (2) In doing so, they must formally rule on the motions of
                  both parties and stat[e] on the record whether they are
                  granting a departure and how that departure affects the
                  Guidelines calculation, and take into account our Circuit’s
                  pre- Booker case law, which continues to have advisory force.
    
                  (3) Finally, they are required to exercise their discretion by
                  considering the relevant § 3553(a) factors, in setting the
                  sentence they impose regardless whether it varies from the
                  sentence calculated under the Guidelines.
    
    
    United States v. Gunter, 
    462 F.3d 237
    , 247 (3d Cir. 2006) (internal citations, quotations,
    
    and modifications omitted). Lee argues that the district court failed to meaningfully
    
    consider the Section 3553 factors, as required by the third step of this process. We
    
    review the district court’s imposition of a sentence for abuse of discretion. United States
    
    
                                                 5
    v. Goff, 
    501 F.3d 250
    , 254 (3d Cir. 2007). A claim of procedural reasonableness of the
    
    type Lee raises requires us to determine “whether the record as a whole reflects rational
    
    and meaningful consideration of the factors enumerated in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a).” Id.
    
    (citing United States v. Grier, 
    475 F.3d 556
    , 571 (3d Cir. 2007)). However, the District
    
    Court need not “discuss and make findings as to each of the § 3553(a) factors if the
    
    record makes clear the court took the factors into account in sentencing.” United States
    
    v. Jackson, 
    467 F.3d 834
    , 841 (3d Cir. 2006).
    
           The record shows that, in this case, the District Court meaningfully considered the
    
    factors set forth in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a). It is true that the District Court was concerned
    
    with ensuring sentencing parity with other defendants that had already been sentenced.
    
    However, that was by no means the only factor the court considered. The District Court
    
    considered defendant’s personal characteristics and his involvement in the offense. In
    
    response to defense counsel’s presentation, the District Court stated that “I could very
    
    well have written the plea that your counsel made . . . because I agree with everything
    
    that he said,” with the exception of the request for a downward departure. App. 38(a).
    
    The court noted that it had become familiar with Lee “over the period of time that we
    
    have had contact” and “respect[ed] . . . Mr. Lee as a person.” App. 38(a). The District
    
    Court noted the need to consider deterrence, but concluded that deterrence was not a
    
    significant concern in this particular case. App. 38(a) (“I’m not worried about deterrence
    
    so much as the fact that I have sentenced and had to sentence other Defendant that were
    
    involved in this conspiracy.”). The court reflected positively on Lee’s potential for
    
    rehabilitation. The court also stated that “I think you can fit in society and you can live a
    
                                                  6
    perfectly normal and happy life” and noted that “if you benefit yourself with education
    
    and training while you’re in prison and any treatment that you are to receive while you’re
    
    in prison, you can come out and overcome with your personality.” The court also
    
    discussed the need for drug rehabilitation. The court stated that it considered a letter it
    
    had received from Lee’s mother, who was not present at the sentencing. The District
    
    Court concluded by explicitly stating that the 87-month sentence “satisfies not only the
    
    guideline range . . . but as well the elements of 3553(a).”
    
           In short, the record shows that the District Court meaningfully considered how the
    
    factors set forth in Section 3553(a) applied in defendant’s case. The sentencing judge
    
    had clearly become familiar with Lee over the course of the criminal case, and his
    
    thoughtfulness and appreciation for Lee’s circumstances was apparent throughout the
    
    proceedings. Although the court did not identify each of the Section 3553(a)
    
    individually, we do not require that level of specificity as long as the record
    
    demonstrates—as it does here—that the court nonetheless gave meaningful consideration
    
    to those factors. United States v. Kononchuk, 
    485 F.3d 199
    , 204 (3d Cir. 2007) (“[T]he
    
    district court need not discuss and make findings as to each of the § 3553(a) factors if the
    
    record makes clear that the court took the factors into account in sentencing.”).
    
           For these reasons, we conclude that the District Court did not abuse its discretion
    
    in sentencing Lee to 87 months of incarceration.
    
                                                  B.
    
           Lee also objects several statements the Government made at sentencing. He argues
    
    that the Government violated the terms of the plea agreement by taking the “position at
    
                                                  7
    the sentencing hearing that the amount of Lee’s drug involvement exceeded [500
    
    grams].” Bl. Br. 9. Because Lee did not object to the Government’s statements at
    
    sentencing, we review his second claim for plain error. United States v. Lloyd, 
    469 F.3d 319
    , 321 (3d Cir. 2006). Therefore, “in order to prevail on appeal [Lee] must establish an
    
    error that is plain, which affected his substantial rights, and which, if not rectified, would
    
    seriously affect the fairness, integrity or public reputation of judicial proceedings.”
    
    United States v. Ward, 
    626 F.3d 179
    , 183 (3d Cir. 2010).
    
           Lee has not established that the Government’s conduct constitutes plain error. In
    
    Paragraph Eleven of the plea agreement, the Government agreed to limit the quantity of
    
    drugs that Lee was responsible for to “more than 350 grams but less than 500 grams of
    
    methamphetamine,” but only “with respect to the application” of the Sentencing
    
    Guidelines. The record shows that the Government complied with those terms: at no
    
    time during the sentencing hearing did the Government ask for a sentence based on more
    
    than 500 grams of methamphetamine. In addition, the Assistant United States Attorney
    
    consistently asked for a sentence within the guidelines range of 87 to 108 months. It was
    
    only in response to Lee’s request for a sentence of 60 months that the Government
    
    informed the District Court that Lee was in fact involved in trafficking more than 500
    
    grams of methamphetamine. In doing so, the Government did not breach the terms of the
    
    plea agreement. Paragraph 25 of the Plea Agreement explicitly provided that the
    
    Government was not restricted in responding to “any motions filed on behalf of the
    
    defendant.” The Agreement further provided that the Government was not restricted “in
    
    responding to any request by the Court . . . including, but not limited to, requests for
    
                                                  8
    information concerning possible sentencing departures.” Thus, once defendant asked the
    
    Court to sentence him to a term of incarceration less than the guideline range, the plea
    
    agreement permitted the Government to respond by informing the District Court about
    
    the full extent of Lee’s criminal involvement.
    
           Therefore, we conclude that Lee has failed to establish plain error. See United
    
    States v. Rivera-Rodriguez, 
    489 F.3d 48
    , 57-59 (1st Cir. 2007) (government’s conduct in
    
    informing the court that defendant was responsible for greater quantities of cocaine than
    
    set forth in plea agreement did not rise to plain error because government continued to
    
    ask for guideline sentence).
    
                                                II.
    
           For the reasons above, we affirm the judgment of the District Court.
    
    
    
    
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