Court Opinion: 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion for Sept. 6

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals

Editor’s Note: Law Week Colorado edits court opinion summaries for style and, when necessary, length.

United States v. Gonzalez-Meza

District courts generally can’t modify sentences after they’re imposed, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals opinion noted, citing the U.S. Supreme Court decision Dillon v. United States. An exception exists when a defendant shows extraordinary and compelling circumstances, according to 18 U.S. Code 3582(c)(1)(A). Upon such a showing, the district court has the discretion to modify the sentence, the 10th Circuit opinion said. 

The defendant, Manuel Gonzalez-Meza, asked a district court to exercise this discretion. The court had imposed a 192-month sentence for drug crimes, and Gonzalez-Meza urged a sentence reduction based in part on his medical condition. The district court denied the request and Gonzalez-Meza appealed.

Though he appealed, he stated the judgment itself wasn’t wrong. This statement created a potential issue involving appellate jurisdiction, for the 10th Circuit ordinarily has jurisdiction only to consider the judgment itself, the opinion added, citing multiple decisions.

But Gonzalez-Meza is pro se, so the 10th Circuit liberally construed his appeal brief, the opinion noted, citing the 10th Circuit decision de Silva v. Pitts. In that brief, he combined his statement on the correctness of the judgment with a request for remand, and he argued the district court failed to address some of his medical records and a recent U.S. Supreme Court case (Concepcion v. United States). Liberally construed, Gonzalez-Meza’s appeal brief appeared to seek either a remand or reversal, the 10th Circuit opinion explained.

So the 10th Circuit out of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, considered his request for a remand and his criticism of the reasons given by the district court for denying his request for a sentence reduction.

According to the opinion, the district court can’t be faulted for failing to consider evidence that hadn’t been presented, citing multiple court decisions. But even without an error, the appeals court may be able to remand the proceedings to consider new evidence. So the 10th Circuit reviewed Gonzalez-Meza’s challenge to the district court’s ruling for an abuse of discretion, citing the 10th Circuit opinion United States v. Hemmelgarn.

The court addressed Gonzalez-Meza’s weight, hypertension and vulnerability to COVID-19. In challenging the district court’s ruling, Gonzalez-Meza didn’t say what medical records the district court failed to consider. So the 10th Circuit concluded the district court didn’t abuse its discretion in evaluating Gonzalez-Meza’s medical records.

Gonzalez-Meza also complained the court didn’t discuss Concepcion v. United States. In Concepcion, the U.S. Supreme Court held district courts could consider intervening changes in the law or facts when deciding whether to reduce a sentence.

Given Gonzalez-Meza’s citation of Concepcion, the 10th Circuit assumed he was arguing the district court failed to consider some intervening factual or legal development. But he didn’t identify an intervening factual or legal development, the opinion said, so the 10th Circuit had no way to meaningfully review the alleged disregard of some intervening factual or legal development.

The 10th Circuit affirmed the denial of Gonzalez-Meza’s motion to modify his sentence. The 10th Circuit added in a footnote at the end, though it affirmed the dismissal, the court granted the defendant’s motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis. 

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