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7th Circuit orders lower court to consider a minor participant reduction

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals vacated a man’s lengthy sentence for transporting drug money because the District Court needs to determine whether the man should receive a minor participant reduction since he only transported money one time.

A jury convicted Cruz Saenz, a long-haul truck driver, of conspiring to distribute more than 5 kilograms of cocaine. Saenz was recruited by a cocaine drug ring to transport money owed for drugs that had been fronted. Saenz knew he was picking up the drug money for transport, but didn’t know how much was in the duffle bag. It was the only time he participated with the cocaine distribution network. He was arrested soon after.

The District Court sentenced him to 293 months in prison. He was required to have a minimum 240 months in prison because of a previous felony drug offense, and the court found he was involved in the conspiracy beyond the single incident and denied his request for a minor participant reduction.

But there was no evidence in the record Saenz had any other involvement beyond the one-time transport of the money, the Circuit Court judges found in United States of America v. Cruz Saenz, No. 09-3647. The lower court said he was a “major participant” in the conspiracy, and that he was more than just a courier, but those findings were without supporting evidence.

The minor participant determination is heavily fact-dependent and the question is whether Saenz is less blameworthy than the average defendants in this conspiracy. The judges noted that his sentence is “all the more staggering” when compared to those received by the other co-conspirators. Of those who had been sentence at the time of oral arguments, only one other person received a longer sentence. Others who had transported cocaine and money between Texas and Indiana received sentences of 70 and 78 months. The man who coordinated the operation from Indianapolis received 144 months, although he had cooperated and testified at Saenz’s trial, wrote Judge Ann Claire Williams.

Saenz is also the only defendant who didn’t receive a reduction pursuant to U.S.S.G. Section 5K1.1, in which a defendant has provided “substantial assistance” to an investigation. Granted, a courier who transports drug money once may not be able to offer substantial assistance, but the Circuit judges didn’t know whether the reduction was offered to him before he made the decision to go to trial.

They remanded for the District Court to determine if Saenz should receive a minor participant reduction, which would reduce his offense level by 2. The judges also rejected his speedy trial challenge as the majority of the delays can be attributed to Saenz or his co-conspirators. They also affirmed the obstruction of justice enhancement because the record supports the finding that he willfully lied when he said he didn’t know he was transporting drug money.
 

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  1. Thank you, John Smith, for pointing out a needed correction. The article has been revised.

  2. The "National institute for Justice" is an agency for the Dept of Justice. That is not the law firm you are talking about in this article. The "institute for justice" is a public interest law firm. http://ij.org/ thanks for interesting article however

  3. I would like to try to find a lawyer as soon possible I've had my money stolen off of my bank card driver pressed charges and I try to get the information they need it and a Social Security board is just give me a hold up a run around for no reason and now it think it might be too late cuz its been over a year I believe and I can't get the right information they need because they keep giving me the runaroundwhat should I do about that

  4. It is wonderful that Indiana DOC is making some truly admirable and positive changes. People with serious mental illness, intellectual disability or developmental disability will benefit from these changes. It will be much better if people can get some help and resources that promote their health and growth than if they suffer alone. If people experience positive growth or healing of their health issues, they may be less likely to do the things that caused them to come to prison in the first place. This will be of benefit for everyone. I am also so happy that Indiana DOC added correctional personnel and mental health staffing. These are tough issues to work with. There should be adequate staffing in prisons so correctional officers and other staff are able to do the kind of work they really want to do-helping people grow and change-rather than just trying to manage chaos. Correctional officers and other staff deserve this. It would be great to see increased mental health services and services for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities in the community so that fewer people will have to receive help and support in prisons. Community services would like be less expensive, inherently less demeaning and just a whole lot better for everyone.

  5. Can I get this form on line,if not where can I obtain one. I am eligible.

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