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United States v. Sepúlveda-Hernández

752 F.3d 22 (2014)

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United States v. Sepúlveda-Hernández

United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit

752 F.3d 22 (2014)

Facts

Tomás Sepúlveda-Hernández (defendant) owned and supplied marijuana for a drug market in Puerto Rico that was near a public basketball court. Sepúlveda-Hernández was indicted in federal district court on drug-distribution charges. The prosecution (plaintiff) requested that the jury find that the basketball court was primarily intended for use by minors and, therefore, that the distribution activity occurred within 100 feet of a youth center. This finding would allow the district court to impose a more severe sentence. At trial, the prosecution introduced several forms of evidence to show that the basketball court was used by youths. An area resident testified that people of all ages, including children, used the court. A local government official testified the court was open to the community. The prosecution presented surveillance video of the court, which showed that out of many visitors, some were minors. Sepúlveda-Hernández was convicted of the federal drug charges. The jury found that the distribution activity occurred within 100 feet of a youth center, so the district court upgraded the offense level of Sepúlveda-Hernández’s conviction under 21 U.S.C. § 860(a). Sepúlveda-Hernández appealed. Sepúlveda-Hernández argued in part that the evidence did not support the jury’s finding that the basketball court qualified as a youth center under the statute. Sepúlveda-Hernández asserted that § 860(a) created an independent substantive crime and, therefore, all elements had to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. The government argued that the statute was merely a sentence-enhancing factor and, therefore, the elements only needed to be proved by a preponderance of the evidence.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Selya, J.)

Concurrence (Torruella, J.)

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