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United States v. Hawkins

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

August 3, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff-Appellee
v.
SHANDA RENEE HAWKINS, Defendant-Appellant

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas

          Before JOLLY and ELROD, Circuit Judges, and RODRIGUEZ, [*] District Judge.

          XAVIER RODRIGUEZ, DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Appellant Shanda Renee Hawkins pled guilty to conspiracy with intent to distribute a controlled substance, and received a four-point organizer or leader enhancement and a two-point criminal livelihood enhancement, among others. She challenges these two enhancements on appeal, along with the substantive reasonableness of her sentence. For the following reasons, the judgment below is AFFIRMED.

         BACKGROUND

         Hawkins pled guilty to conspiracy with intent to distribute a controlled substance (methamphetamine) in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 846 and 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(B). The probation office prepared a presentence report (PSR), indicating that Hawkins was accountable for 770, 061.9 kilograms of marihuana equivalent, which resulted in a base offense level of 38. Through a number of enhancements and reductions, the probation office assessed a total offense level of 49, which was reduced to 43, the maximum Guideline offense level. For present purposes, Hawkins received two relevant sentencing enhancements. First, she received a four-level enhancement for being an organizer or leader of the conspiracy. See U.S.S.G. § 3B1.1. Second, she received a two-level enhancement for committing the offense as part of a pattern of criminal conduct engaged in as a livelihood. See U.S.S.G. § 2D1.1(b)(15)(E). Given her total offense level and Criminal History Category II, the Guidelines recommended life imprisonment, which was reduced to 480 months to reflect the statutorily authorized maximum sentence.

         Hawkins objected to the PSR, challenging the two relevant enhancements. Hawkins argued that she was not an organizer or leader of the conspiracy, as her involvement in it was based mostly on her romantic involvement with several co-conspirators. Hawkins also argued that there was insufficient evidence to show that she engaged in the offense as part of a pattern of criminal conduct engaged in as a livelihood.

         The district court overruled the objections, adopted the PSR's findings of fact (subject to certain changes in an Addendum), and granted the Government's motion for a downward departure. The district court sentenced Hawkins to 240 months of imprisonment to be followed by 4 years of supervised release. Hawkins objected to the reasonableness of her sentence under 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) and filed a timely notice of appeal.

         DISCUSSION

         This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3742(a) as a defendant's appeal of a final sentence. On this appeal, Hawkins challenges the district court's application of two sentencing enhancements, along with the substantive reasonableness of her sentence.

         I. Challenges to the Application of Sentencing Enhancements

         a. Standard of Review

         Where, as here, an argument is preserved in the district court, this Court reviews "the application of the Guidelines de novo and the district court's factual findings-along with the reasonable inferences drawn from those facts-for clear error." United States v. Gomez-Valle, 828 F.3d 324, 327 (5th Cir. 2016) (internal quotations omitted). A district court's factual findings are not clearly erroneous so long as they are plausible in light of the record read as a whole. United States v. Alaniz, 726 F.3d 586, 622 (5th Cir. 2013).

         When making factual findings at the sentencing stage, a district court may consider any information that "bears sufficient indicia of reliability to support its probable accuracy." United States v. Zuniga, 720 F.3d 587, 590-91 (5th Cir. 2013) (internal quotations omitted). "[A] [PSR] generally bears sufficient indicia of reliability to be considered as evidence by the sentencing judge in making factual determinations required by the sentencing guidelines." United States v. Trujillo, 502 F.3d 353, 357 (5th Cir. 2007) (internal quotations omitted). As a result, a district court may adopt facts contained in a PSR without further inquiry, assuming those facts have an adequate evidentiary basis that itself is sufficiently reliable and the defendant does not present evidence to the contrary. United States v. Harris, 702 F.3d 226, 230 (5th Cir. 2012). Where a defendant wishes to challenge sufficiently reliable facts contained in a PSR, the defendant carries the burden of presenting rebuttal evidence showing that those facts are materially untrue, inaccurate, or unreliable. Id. Objections, unsupported by fact, generally do not carry this ...


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