United States v. Texeira-Nieves, 011222 FED1, 21-1034

Docket Nº21-1034
Opinion JudgeSELYA, Circuit Judge.
Party NameUNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Appellee, v. SAIEED JEAN TEXEIRA-NIEVES, Defendant, Appellant.
AttorneyEleonora C. Marranzini, Assistant Federal Public Defender, with whom Eric Alexander Vos, Federal Public Defender, Franco L. Pérez-Redondo, and Cherrelle Herbert, Assistant Federal Public Defenders, were on brief, for appellant. Thomas F. Klumper, Assistant United States Attorney, with whom W. Ste...
Judge PanelBefore Lynch and Selya, Circuit Judges, and McCafferty, District Judge. MCCAFFERTY, District Judge, concurring.
Case DateJanuary 12, 2022
CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals, United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Appellee,

v.

SAIEED JEAN TEXEIRA-NIEVES, Defendant, Appellant.

No. 21-1034

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

January 12, 2022

APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF PUERTO RICO [Hon. Francisco A. Besosa, U.S. District Judge]

Eleonora C. Marranzini, Assistant Federal Public Defender, with whom Eric Alexander Vos, Federal Public Defender, Franco L. Pérez-Redondo, and Cherrelle Herbert, Assistant Federal Public Defenders, were on brief, for appellant.

Thomas F. Klumper, Assistant United States Attorney, with whom W. Stephen Muldrow, United States Attorney, and Mariana E. Bauzá-Almonte, Assistant United States Attorney, Chief, Appellate Division, were on brief, for appellee.

Before Lynch and Selya, Circuit Judges, and McCafferty, [*] District Judge.

1

SELYA, Circuit Judge.

Defendant-appellant Saieed Jean Texeira-Nieves appeals the district court's denial of his motion for compassionate release under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A), as amended by the First Step Act (FSA), Pub. L. No. 115-391, § 603(b), 132 Stat. 5194, 5239 (2018). Concluding, as we do, that the district court's order was within the ambit of its discretion, we affirm.

I

We briefly rehearse the relevant facts and travel of the case. In 2018, Puerto Rico police arrested the defendant during a traffic stop. He was driving a vehicle that contained a loaded gun, thirty-one additional rounds of ammunition, and a satchel of controlled substances. In an interview with federal agents, the defendant admitted that he possessed the controlled substances because he was in the business of selling drugs and that the firearm was there for protection.

In due course, the defendant was charged in a five-count federal indictment. He subsequently pleaded guilty to two counts: possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, see 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A), and possession of controlled substances with the intent to distribute them, see 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(D).1 The plea agreement confirmed that the

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firearms charge carried with it a mandatory minimum prison term of five years. With respect to the drug charge, the plea agreement noted that the guideline sentencing range was zero to six months of imprisonment. The probation department proceeded to prepare a presentence investigation report (PSI Report) that reflected the guideline calculations and ranges as adumbrated in the plea agreement.

The district court convened the disposition hearing in July of 2019. The court imposed a one day term of immurement on the drug count and a consecutive sixty-month sentence on the firearms count. The court also imposed concurrent terms of supervised release. The defendant did not appeal.2 And according to calculations by the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) - the defendant is scheduled to be released on or about February 1, 2023.

The defendant, who is in his late twenties, has several pre-existing medical conditions, including sickle cell disease. His sickle cell anemia and complications stemming from that disorder were documented in the PSI Report. In June of 2020 - after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic - the defendant submitted alternative requests to the warden of the correctional facility at which he was confined: he sought compassionate release

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pursuant to section 3582(c)(1)(A) or, in the alternative, transfer to home confinement pursuant to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, Pub. L. 116-136, § 12003(b)(2), 134 Stat. 281, 516 (2020). His requests referred not only to his sickle cell anemia, which - according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - presents a significantly increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19, but also to other medical conditions (such as thalassemia). The defendant did not receive a response.

In October of 2020, the defendant moved for compassionate release pursuant to the compassionate-release statute. See 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A). In support, he argued that his heightened risk of complications stemming from COVID-19, given his pre-existing medical conditions, constituted an "extraordinary and compelling" reason warranting a sentence reduction. Id. § 3582(c)(1)(A)(i). He added that a reduction in his sentence and conversion of his remaining time to supervised release on home confinement would be a sufficient sentence in light of the applicable sentencing factors. The defendant also described the CARES Act and alleged certain considerations that might weigh in favor of transferring him to home confinement pursuant to that law. The government reasonably construed these arguments as an alternative request for home confinement.

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In December of 2020, the district court denied the defendant's motion on the papers. In its order, the court stated that it adopted as its reasons for denial those provided by the government in its opposition and sur-reply memoranda. The court went on to state that the defendant had not demonstrated any extraordinary or compelling reason to grant his request for compassionate release, that the defendant was still a danger to the community, and that the court did not have the authority to order him to home confinement. This timely appeal followed.

II

Before granting a sentence reduction in response to a prisoner-initiated motion for compassionate release alleging extraordinary and compelling reasons, a district court must make three findings. The court must find both that the defendant has presented an "extraordinary and compelling" reason warranting a sentence reduction, 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A)(i), and that "such a reduction is consistent with applicable policy statements issued by the Sentencing Commission," id. § 3582(c)(1)(A). Next, the district court must consider any applicable section 3553(a) factors, see id., and "determine whether, in its discretion, the reduction . . . is warranted in whole or in part under the particular circumstances of the case," United States v. Saccoccia, 10 F.4th 1, 4 (1st Cir. 2021) (alteration in original) (quoting Dillon v. United States, 560 U.S. 817, 827 (2010)). The district

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court is not required to address the section 3553(a) factors unless it finds in favor of the movant on the other issues. Our review is aided, though, when the district court takes the additional step of making a section 3553(a) determination. See United States v. Jones, 17 F.4th 371, 371 (2d Cir. 2021) (per curiam).

In this appeal, the defendant marshals three primary arguments. First, he contends that the district court unduly constrained the sweep of its discretion because it considered itself bound by the current policy statement issued by the Sentencing Commission. Second, he contends that the district court abused its discretion by failing to offer an adequate explanation for denying his motion. Third, he contends that the district court erroneously concluded that it did not have the legal authority to order him to serve the remainder of his sentence on home confinement. After pausing to address a threshold issue, we examine the defendant's trio of arguments one by one.

A

As an initial matter, the government asserts that the defendant's compassionate-release motion was improperly before the district court because the defendant failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. Section 3582(c)(1)(A) provides in relevant part that a defendant may move a district court for a sentence reduction "after [he] has fully exhausted all administrative rights to appeal a failure of the [BOP] to bring a

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motion on [his] behalf or the lapse of 30 days from the receipt of such a request by the warden of [his] facility, whichever is earlier." 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A). Here, the government does not dispute that the defendant asked the BOP for a sentence reduction and waited the required amount of time before filing his motion in the district court. Instead, the government alleges that the facts and claims presented in the defendant's requests to the warden differ in some respects from those limned in his district court motion. These discrepancies, the government suggests, require a finding that the defendant did not properly exhaust his administrative remedies.

The question of whether and to what extent issue exhaustion applies to judicial review of compassionate-release motions is freighted with uncertainty - but we need not resolve that question today. Cf. Privitera v. Curran (In re Curran), 855 F.3d 19, 22 (1st Cir. 2017) ("[C]ourts should not rush to decide unsettled issues when the exigencies of a particular case do not require such definitive measures."). Rather, we assume, favorably to the defendant, that he has satisfied section 3582(c)(1)(A)'s administrative exhaustion requirement.

To be sure, some district courts have questioned whether the administrative exhaustion requirement for prisoner-initiated compassionate-release motions is jurisdictional. See, e.g., United States v. Guzman Soto, No. 18-10086, 2020 WL 1905323, at *3 (D. Mass. Apr. 17, 2020).

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If the administrative exhaustion requirement is of jurisdictional dimension, bypassing the issue may not be an available option. See Royal Siam Corp. v. Chertoff, 484 F.3d 139, 143 (1st Cir. 2007) (explaining that "a federal court ordinarily may not assume the existence of jurisdiction in order to decide the merits of a case or controversy"). In our judgment, however, this exhaustion requirement is not a jurisdictional limitation: as several circuits previously have held, it is a non-jurisdictional claim-processing rule. See United States v. Saladino, 7 F.4th 120, 123 (2d Cir. 2021) (per curiam) (collecting cases).

A rule is jurisdictional only if Congress has "clearly state[d] that a prescription counts as jurisdictional," and "when Congress does not rank a prescription as jurisdictional, courts should treat the restriction as nonjurisdictional in character." Fort Bend Cnty. v. Davis, 139...

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