Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Wednesday, July 30, 2014


Page 3


Drug Courier’s Role Not Necessarily ‘Minor’—Court


By a MetNews Staff Writer


A drug courier does not necessarily play a “minor rule” in a trafficking operation, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled yesterday.

The panel affirmed a 46-month sentence—the low end of the guidelines range—for a man caught driving 25.6 pounds of cocaine across the border. In doing so, it rejected his contention that since he only drove the truck, he was entitled to a “minor role” reduction under the Sentencing Guidelines.

Hector Hurtado pled guilty to intentionally and knowingly importing cocaine into the United States from Mexico in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 952 and 960. He said he was paid $3,500, and the defense argued that he was entitled to the benefit of Sentencing Guidelines §3B1.2(b), but sentencing Judge Roger Benitez of the Southern District of California disagreed.

The guideline allows a two-level decrease in the offense level if the defendant proves that he “was a minor participant in any criminal activity” or “substantially less culpable than the average participant.” 

Judge Barry Silverman wrote for the Ninth Circuit and commented that the argument put forth by the defendant on appeal called for a conclusion that all drug couriers are by definition “minor players” in a larger criminal scheme and therefore entitled to the minor role reduction.

“The district court was not clearly erroneous in finding that although Hurtado may have been a cog in some larger wheel, he was an essential cog who, solely for a sizeable sum of money, knowingly smuggled a large quantity of narcotics into the United States via a hidden compartment in his truck,” Silverman wrote.

Whether a courier’s role is minor, the judge explained, is determined by comparing that role to that of the “average participant” in criminal conduct, not to those of “supervisors, organizers, recruiters, and leaders” who play a greater role.

In Hurtado’s case, the district judge properly considered the quantity of the drugs, the amount the defendant was paid, and the fact that he allowed the truck to be registered in his name, any of which would have been sufficient to deny the adjustment, Silverman concluded.

The opinion was joined by Judges Richard C. Tallman and Johnnie B. Rawlinson.

The case is United States v. Hurtado, 13-50170.


Copyright 2014, Metropolitan News Company