U.S. v. Saac, Nos. 09–14204

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (11th Circuit)
Writing for the CourtBefore EDMONDSON, MARTIN and COX, Circuit Judges.
Citation632 F.3d 1203
PartiesUNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff–Appellee,v.Jhon Jairo Valencia SAAC, Defendant–Appellant.United States of America, Plaintiff–Appellee,v.Carlos Andres Mina Meneses, Defendant–Appellant.United States of America, Plaintiff–Appellee,v.Victor Rodriguez Renegifo, Defendant–Appellant.United States of America, Plaintiff–Appellee,v.Miguel Otero Estupinan, Defendant–Appellant.
Decision Date09 February 2011
Docket Number09–14228,09–14329 and 09–14345.,Nos. 09–14204

632 F.3d 1203
22 Fla.
L. Weekly Fed. C 1763

UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff–Appellee,
v.
Jhon Jairo Valencia SAAC, Defendant–Appellant.United States of America, Plaintiff–Appellee,
v.
Carlos Andres Mina Meneses, Defendant–Appellant.United States of America, Plaintiff–Appellee,
v.
Victor Rodriguez Renegifo, Defendant–Appellant.United States of America, Plaintiff–Appellee,
v.
Miguel Otero Estupinan, Defendant–Appellant.

Nos. 09–14204

09–14228

09–14329 and 09–14345.

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit.

Feb. 9, 2011.


[632 F.3d 1206]

T. Federico Bower (Court–Appointed), O'Brien Bower, PA, Duilio Abraham Espinosa–Montalban, (Court–Appointed), Adam Scott Tanenbaum, Fed. Pub. Def., Carlton Fields, P.A., Donna Lee Elm and John L. Badalamenti, Fed. Pub. Defenders, Tampa, FL, Ryan Thomas Truskoski, (Court–Appointed), Orlando, FL, for Defendants–Appellants.Yvette Rhodes, Judy K. Hunt, Asst. U.S. Atty., David Paul Rhodes, Tampa, FL, for U.S.Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida.Before EDMONDSON, MARTIN and COX, Circuit Judges.MARTIN, Circuit Judge:

This case consolidates criminal appeals by four co-defendants challenging the constitutionality of the Drug Trafficking Vessel Interdiction Act of 2008 (“DTVIA”), 18 U.S.C. § 2285. Jhon Jairo Valencia Saac, Victor Rodriguez Renegifo, Miguel Otero Estupinan, and Carlos Andres Mina Meneses (“defendants”) also appeal their 108 month sentences, imposed after they pleaded guilty to conspiring to violate and to knowingly violating the DTVIA. They argue that their sentences are procedurally and substantively unreasonable. Mr. Estupinan argues separately that the district court violated Fed.R.Crim.P. 32(i)(3)(C) by failing to attach a copy of its rulings on the parties' objections to the PSI. After thorough review, and having had the benefit of oral argument, we affirm and conclude that the DTVIA is constitutional. We remand only so that the district court can attach a copy of its rulings on Mr. Estupinan's objections to the PSI.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

On January 6, 2009, a United States helicopter crew observed defendants on board a self-propelled, semi-submersible vessel that was dead in the international waters of the eastern Pacific Ocean. Defendants'

[632 F.3d 1207]

semi-submersible vessel lacked a flag, registration number, homeport, or navigational lights. The next day, as the United States Coast Guard approached defendants' vessel, a helicopter crew saw the four defendants, three of whom were wearing life vests, emerge from the vessel's hatch and jump into the water. The vessel sank within minutes. The Coast Guard recovered all four defendants the same day. Mr. Rodriguez Renegifo identified himself as the master of the vessel but claimed no nationality for it. Defendants asserted that they were Colombian citizens.

The government filed a two-count indictment in federal district court. The first count charged defendants with knowingly conspiring to operate a semi-submersible vessel without nationality and with the intent to evade detection in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 2285(a) and (b). The second charged defendants with knowingly and intentionally, while aiding and abetting each other, operating and embarking in a semi-submersible vessel without nationality, with the intent to evade detection in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2285(a) and (b).

The DTVIA provides that:

[w]hoever knowingly operates, or attempts or conspires to operate, by any means, or embarks in any submersible vessel or semi-submersible vessel that is without nationality and that is navigating or has navigated into, through, or from waters beyond the outer limit of the territorial sea of a single country or a lateral limit of that country's territorial sea with an adjacent country, with the intent to evade detection, shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 15 years, or both.

18 U.S.C. § 2285(a). A submersible vessel is one that “is capable of operating completely below the surface of the water, including both manned and unmanned watercraft.” 46 U.S.C. § 70502(f)(2). A semi-submersible vessel is “any watercraft constructed or adapted to be capable of operating with most of its hull and bulk under the surface of the water, including both manned and unmanned watercraft.” Id. at § 70502(f)(1).

Defendants pleaded not-guilty at arraignment. Mr. Rodriguez Renegifo filed a motion to dismiss the indictment, arguing that 18 U.S.C. § 2285 is unconstitutional. The other defendants each filed a “motion to adopt co-defendant Rodriguez Renegifo's motion to dismiss indictment,” and the district court considered Mr. Rodriguez Renegifo's motion as to all defendants. The district court denied the motion to dismiss the indictment, concluding that § 2285 is not unconstitutionally vague, does not violate the Due Process Clause, and does not exceed Congress's power under Article I, Section 8, Clause 10 of the Constitution.

After the district court denied the motion to dismiss, defendants entered unconditional guilty pleas, without plea agreements, as to both counts of the indictment. At the change of plea hearing, defendants informed the district court that, based on binding precedent, they understood that their guilty pleas would not preclude them from contesting the constitutionality of the DTVIA on appeal. The district court agreed with defendants' reading of the relevant precedent. The government made no argument to the contrary.

At sentencing, the district court determined defendants' sentences by applying the 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) factors. The district court declined to apply any offense-specific sentencing guidelines. The court sentenced each defendant to 108 months imprisonment and 3 years of supervised release for each count, all to run concurrently. The court assessed each defendant

[632 F.3d 1208]

$100 per count. Defendants each filed separate, timely notices of appeal.

II. DISCUSSION

Defendants' appeal raises four issues. First, we address whether defendants' guilty pleas preclude them from challenging the constitutionality of the DTVIA, and because we find defendants are not precluded, whether the DTVIA is constitutional. We next address the procedural and substantive reasonableness of defendants' sentences. Finally, we decide whether the district court erred by failing to attach a copy of its rulings on disputed sentencing issues to the PSI.

A.

To begin, the government argues that defendants' voluntary, unconditional guilty pleas prevent them from challenging the constitutionality of the DTVIA, 18 U.S.C. § 2285. “Generally, entering a guilty plea waives a defendant's right to all non-jurisdictional challenges to a conviction.” United States v. Bonilla, 579 F.3d 1233, 1240 (11th Cir.2009). An unconditional guilty plea, however, “does not waive jurisdictional defects.” United States v. Tomeny, 144 F.3d 749, 751 (11th Cir.1998).

“Whether a claim is ‘jurisdictional’ depends on whether the claim can be resolved by examining the face of the indictment or the record at the time of the plea without requiring further proceedings.” Id. (quotation marks omitted). A defendant's claim that the indictment failed to charge a legitimate offense is jurisdictional and is not waived upon pleading guilty. Id.; see also United States v. Meacham, 626 F.2d 503, 510 (5th Cir.1980) (“The violation of [a defendant's] right to be free of prosecution for a nonoffense would bar his conviction even if his ‘factual guilt’ had been established validly.”);1 accord United States v. Brown, 586 F.3d 1342, 1350 (11th Cir.2009). Thus, “[a] guilty plea [ ] does not waive the right of an accused to challenge the constitutionality of the statute under which he is convicted.” United States v. Palacios–Casquete, 55 F.3d 557, 561 (11th Cir.1995); see also Haynes v. United States, 390 U.S. 85, 87 & n. 2, 88 S.Ct. 722, 725, 19 L.Ed.2d 923 (1968) (determining constitutionality of criminal statute, which defendant challenged before district court through motion to dismiss, even though defendant was convicted under that statute after pleading guilty).

The constitutionality of the DTVIA, the statute under which defendants were convicted, is a jurisdictional issue that defendants did not waive upon pleading guilty. See Tomeny, 144 F.3d at 751; Brown, 586 F.3d at 1350. It is clear that defendants did not waive their argument that Congress lacked the authority to enact the DTVIA insofar as this claim goes to the legitimacy of the offense that defendants' indictment charged. Even if defendants are factually guilty of DTVIA violations, the government would lack the power to prosecute if Congress exceeded its authority in enacting the DTVIA. For this reason, we address the merits of defendants' constitutional challenge to the DTVIA.

B.

Defendants challenge the constitutionality of the DTVIA on two grounds, only one of which is properly before us. Defendants first argue that the DTVIA

[632 F.3d 1209]

violates their procedural due process rights because it shifts to the defendant the burden of disproving essential elements of the offense and creates a presumption of guilt. Defendants lack standing to raise that argument because “[a] guilty plea serves as an admission of all the elements of a formal criminal charge .... [A] defendant may not challenge the statute where the facts admitted by the guilty plea render the statute's alleged unconstitutionality moot as to the defendant.” United States v. Skinner, 25 F.3d 1314, 1316–17 (6th Cir.1994) (quotation marks omitted); Baxter v. Estelle, 614 F.2d 1030, 1036 (5th Cir.1980) (“By entering a guilty plea, [a defendant] has admitted all the elements of the offense, including the very fact to be presumed.”). Because defendants voluntarily pleaded guilty, thereby admitting guilt, the government never made use of any presumption, assuming that one exists, nor shifted the burden of proof to defendants. 2 Baxter, 614 F.2d at 1036.

We turn to defendants' argument that in...

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68 practice notes
  • White v. United States, Criminal 18-cr-101-CG-MU
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of Alabama
    • March 8, 2022
    ...of a formal criminal charge, waives all non-jurisdictional defects in the proceedings against a defendant.”)); United States v. Saac, 632 F.3d 1203, 1208 (11th Cir. 2011) (quoting United States v. Bonilla, 579 F.3d 1233, 1240 (11th Cir. 2009) (“Generally, entering a guilty plea waives a def......
  • Boles v. United States, CIVIL ACTION NO. 1:18-00073-WS-N
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of Alabama
    • March 2, 2021
    ...against a defendant.'" (quoting United States v. Fairchild, 803 F.2d 1121, 1124 (11th Cir. 1986) (per curiam)); United States v. Saac, 632 F.3d 1203, 1208 (11th Cir. 2011) ("Page 6 'Generally, entering a guilty plea waives a defendant's right to all non-jurisdictional challenges to a convic......
  • United States v. Tobin, Nos. 09–13944
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (11th Circuit)
    • April 12, 2012
    ...Procedural Reasonableness A district court should ensure that it commits no procedural error in imposing sentence. United States v. Saac, 632 F.3d 1203, 1212 (11th Cir.2011). Procedural errors include “selecting a sentence based on clearly erroneous facts” and “treating the [Sentencing] Gui......
  • United States v. Miranda, Nos. 13–3032
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • March 20, 2015
    ...certain facial challenges to the constitutionality of a statute implicate subject-matter jurisdiction, see, e.g., United States v. Saac, 632 F.3d 1203, 1208 (11th Cir.2011), those decisions do not address whether as-applied constitutional challenges can be waived, see United States v. Phill......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
68 cases
  • White v. United States, Criminal 18-cr-101-CG-MU
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of Alabama
    • March 8, 2022
    ...of a formal criminal charge, waives all non-jurisdictional defects in the proceedings against a defendant.”)); United States v. Saac, 632 F.3d 1203, 1208 (11th Cir. 2011) (quoting United States v. Bonilla, 579 F.3d 1233, 1240 (11th Cir. 2009) (“Generally, entering a guilty plea waives a def......
  • Boles v. United States, CIVIL ACTION NO. 1:18-00073-WS-N
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of Alabama
    • March 2, 2021
    ...against a defendant.'" (quoting United States v. Fairchild, 803 F.2d 1121, 1124 (11th Cir. 1986) (per curiam)); United States v. Saac, 632 F.3d 1203, 1208 (11th Cir. 2011) ("Page 6 'Generally, entering a guilty plea waives a defendant's right to all non-jurisdictional challenges to a convic......
  • United States v. Tobin, Nos. 09–13944
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (11th Circuit)
    • April 12, 2012
    ...Procedural Reasonableness A district court should ensure that it commits no procedural error in imposing sentence. United States v. Saac, 632 F.3d 1203, 1212 (11th Cir.2011). Procedural errors include “selecting a sentence based on clearly erroneous facts” and “treating the [Sentencing] Gui......
  • United States v. Miranda, Nos. 13–3032
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • March 20, 2015
    ...certain facial challenges to the constitutionality of a statute implicate subject-matter jurisdiction, see, e.g., United States v. Saac, 632 F.3d 1203, 1208 (11th Cir.2011), those decisions do not address whether as-applied constitutional challenges can be waived, see United States v. Phill......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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