Daily Court Reporter - News Woman in California-to-Ohio meth ring loses appeal for shorter sentence
Woman in California-to-Ohio meth ring loses appeal for shorter sentence
ANNIE YAMSON, Daily Reporter Staff Writer
A federal court of appeals ruled recently that a woman's role in a meth distribution ring was not so minimal as to warrant a reduction in her sentence.
The defendant, Karla Ruiz, appealed from the judgment of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, which denied her a mitigating role reduction under the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines.
Ruiz pleaded guilty in the federal district court to conspiracy to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine.
Court documents state that Ruiz played a small role in a meth ring that distributed the drug in California and transported it to Ohio.
At trial, both the defense and the prosecution agreed that Ruiz had a mitigating role in the offense but a probation officer disagreed and recommended against the application of an offense-level reduction.
At sentencing, the district court overruled the objections of the parties and concluded that the evidence did not support "the notion that Ruiz was substantially less culpable than the average participant in the criminal activity."
Ruiz was ultimately sentenced to almost four years in federal prison followed by three years of supervised release.
In her appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, Ruiz challenged the district court's denial of a reduction of her offense level.
According to her, the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines "provide a range of adjustments for a defendant who plays a part in committing the offense that makers her substantially less culpable than the average participant."
"The decision to grant a mitigating role reduction 'is based on the totality of the circumstances and involves a determination that is heavily dependent upon the facts of the particular case," the court of appeals wrote in its per curiam opinion. "We therefore review the denial of a mitigating role reduction for clear error."
According to Ruiz, her role in the meth conspiracy included receiving and holding the drug until someone else retrieved it.
Ruiz argued that she only did what her boyfriend, who was incarcerated, wanted her to do in the hopes of maintaining their internet relationship.
She contended that she did not originate any schemes to distribute the meth nor did she exercise any control over the plan or stand to benefit financially.
"In finding that Ruiz was not substantially less culpable than the average participant, the district court was 'especially influenced' by the fact that she had direct telephone contact with two incarcerated leaders of the methamphetamine conspiracy and noted that 'their ability to carry out this transaction presumptively would have been very limited without her support,'" the appellate panel wrote.
Citing a 2001 6th Circuit court ruling, the appellate court held that "a defendant who plays a lesser role in a criminal scheme may nonetheless fail to qualify as a minor participant if his role was indispensable or critical to the success of the scheme, or if his importance in the overall scheme was such as to justify his sentence."
In addition to having direct contact with the imprisoned ring leaders of the drug conspiracy, the circuit court held that Ruiz accepted the meth, packaged it for shipping from California to Ohio, turned it over to another participant for mailing, obtained a photograph of the shipping label and forwarded it to her incarcerated boyfriend and, at his direction, tracked the package.
"Based on the totality of the circumstances, the district court did not clearly err in denying Ruiz a mitigating role reduction," the circuit court held.
Ruiz also attacked the governments tactics in prosecuting her case, arguing that it assured her that it would argue on her behalf and then took a different stance upon her appeal. She claimed that the switch "will have a chilling effect on plea negotiations."
The appellate court disagreed, noting that the government only argued that the district court acted as a factfinder between two permissible views of the evidence.
"The fact that the government agreed to a sentencing adjustment before the district court does not mean that the government is estopped from arguing on appeal that the district court did not err in declining to award the adjustment," the appellate panel concluded, citing court precedent. "For these reasons, we affirm Ruiz's sentence."
Chief Judge R. Guy Cole and Judges Jane Stranch and Bernice Donald formed the appellate panel.
The case is cited United States v. Ruiz, Case No. 16-3205.
Date Published: February 24, 2017