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United States of America v. Robert Vallar

February 14, 2011


Appeals from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 1:05-CR-472-John W. Darrah, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Flaum, Circuit Judge.


Before POSNER, FLAUM, and SYKES, Circuit Judges.

Three defendants were convicted of committing various drug-related offenses; a fourth pled guilty. They raise a variety of arguments on direct appeal, primarily challenging their sentences and denials of motions to suppress their confessions. For the following reasons, we affirm.

I. Background

On September 20, 2005, a federal grand jury returned a fifty-one-count indictment against seventeen individuals, including Amador Hernandez ("Hernandez"), Eladio Pedroza, Sr. ("Pedroza"), Robert Vallar ("Vallar"), and Tyrail Curry ("Curry"). It charged the four with various offenses related to a drug conspiracy.

Juan Carlos Iniguez, a co-defendant who is not a party to this appeal, directed a drug business that distributed cocaine and heroin to multiple cities in the United States beginning in the summer of 2004. Iniguez obtained cocaine from an individual in Mexico, Juan Sanchez, and heroine from an individual named Jesus Ocampo. Iniguez distributed wholesale quantities of the drugs to co-conspirators Phillip King, Gonzalo Sanchez, and Vallar, among others, who were spread throughout Kentucky, Ohio, and Chicago. Pedroza assisted Iniguez in distributing cocaine and collecting proceeds.

Vallar was arrested at his home on May 26, 2005. He waived his Miranda rights and confessed to participating in the drug conspiracy. Hernandez was also arrested on May 26, 2005. After waiving his Miranda rights, he also confessed to various aspects of the charged crimes. Both Vallar and Hernandez moved to suppress their confessions. The district court denied both motions.

Curry pled guilty to the conspiracy charge on September 6, 2006. On April 13, 2007, a jury found Pedroza, Hernandez, and Vallar guilty on multiple counts. Hernandez and Pedroza separately filed motions for judgment of acquittal and a new trial in the alternative. The district court denied both motions.

On September 12, 2007, the district court sentenced Vallar to 151 months of imprisonment on Counts 1 and 35 and 48 months of imprisonment on Count 37, to run concurrently. On October 28, 2008, the district court sentenced Hernandez to 324 months on Counts 1, 23, 40, and 48, 60 months on Counts 9 and 49, 240 months on Counts 34 and 36, and 48 months on Counts 4, 25, 33, and 39, to run concurrently. On September 29, 2009, the district court sentenced Pedroza to 360 months of imprisonment on Count 1 and 48 months on Count 12, to run concurrently.

II. Analysis

A. Pedroza's Sentence

Pedroza challenges his sentence on four grounds. We review de novo whether the district court committed a procedural error, which includes determining whether the district court properly considered the factors in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) and mitigating evidence, and whether it improperly treated the guidelines as mandatory or otherwise unduly relied on them. See Gall v. United States, 552 U.S. 38, 51 (2007); United States v. Coopman, 602 F.3d 814, 817-19 (7th Cir. 2010); United States v. Omole, 523 F.3d 691, 697-98 (7th Cir. 2008). Next, we review for abuse of discretion whether the sentence is substantively reasonable in light of the factors in § 3553(a). Coopman, 602 F.3d at 819.

First, while Pedroza concedes that the district court correctly calculated his guidelines range, he claims that*fn1 failed to adequately consider mitigating facts. This argument is vacuous.

The district court thoroughly analyzed the factors in § 3553(a) and committed no reversible error in doing so. It discussed the nature and circumstances of the offense-including the amount of drugs involved in the conspiracy, Pedroza's role in the conspiracy, and the harm from the drugs he distributed-Pedroza's history and characteristics-including his age and the fact that a guideline sentence would likely ensure that Pedroza would die in prison, that he has a strong family that he loves and supports, and his significant criminal history, the district court misapplied the factors in § 3553(a) and including leading a drug distribution ring while imprisoned on a previous conviction-and the need for the sentence imposed to deter, promote respect for the law, provide just punishment, and protect the public from further crimes by Pedroza-including that Pedroza's previous sentences did not deter him from recidivating, his lack of remorse, and that he has no respect for the laws of the United States. The district court also considered that Pedroza would likely return and recidivate if he received a below-guidelines sentence and was de-ported after release, since he had been found in the U.S. illegally on three occasions.

The district court meaningfully considered the factors in § 3553(a). Pedroza claims that the district court did not adequately consider each of his mitigation arguments. The district court addressed the majority and strongest of Pedroza's arguments. That the district court did not explicitly discuss each of Pedroza's weaker arguments does not constitute reversible error under the facts of this case. See United States v. Paige, 611 F.3d 397, 398 (7th Cir. 2010) ("[W]e regularly affirm sentences where the district judge does not explicitly mention each mitigation argument raised by the defendant. Indeed, sentencing judges must only demonstrate meaningful consideration of § 3553(a) factors.").

Second, Pedroza claims that the district court did not adequately consider every factor in § 3553(a), specifically mentioning that the district inadequately discussed his history and characteristics, whether the sentence provided just punishment for the offense and would promote respect for the law, and, more generally, whether the sentence was longer than necessary to promote the goals of sentencing. This argument is also meritless.

As the discussion above indicates, Pedroza's argument is belied by the record. The district court adequately discussed the factors in § 3553(a) he references. Thus, even if the district court did not consider each factor in § 3553(a), that would not constitute reversible error. See, e.g., United States v. Shannon, 518 F.3d 494, 496 (7th Cir. 2008) ("The court need not address every § 3553(a) factor in checklist fashion, explicitly articulating its conclusions regarding each one. Instead the court may simply give an adequate statement of reasons, consistent with § 3553(a), for thinking the sentence it selects is appropriate.").

Third, Pedroza argues that the district court unduly relied on the guideline range in selecting his sentence. But we see no indication in the record that the district court treated the guidelines as mandatory or presumed that a within-guidelines sentence was reasonable. See generally United States v. Carter, 530 F.3d 565, 577-78 (7th Cir. 2008)(discussing whether the district court failed to properly recognize the advisory nature of the guidelines); United States v. Schmitt, 495 F.3d 860, 865 (7th Cir. 2007) (holding that a district court gave too much weight to the guidelines where "his remarks indicated that he felt that there was an outside constraint on his discretion that he was not free to set aside"); United States v. Ross, 501 F.3d 851, 853-54 (7th Cir. 2007). Instead, the record demonstrates that the district court adequately explained its sentencing decision in light of the factors in § 3553(a) and Pedroza's characteristics.

Finally, Pedroza argues that his sentence is substantively unreasonable. He believes that a 360-month sentence is unnecessarily long in light of his age, fifty-seven, and points out that he will likely die in prison. He argues that a shorter sentence would ...

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