Court Opinions: 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion for Dec. 23

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. Maldonado-Passage

In 2018, Joseph “Tiger King” Maldonado-Passage was indicted on several counts, including two murder-for-hire schemes. A jury convicted Maldonado-Passage on all counts presented and the district court sentenced him to 264 months in prison. The sentence incorporated consecutively run 108-month terms for each conviction.

He appealed to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, claiming among other things, his murder-for-hire counts should be grouped for purposes of calculating his total offense level. That court affirmed Maldonado-Passage’s murder-for-hire convictions, but held his murder-for-hire offenses shared a “common criminal objective” and should be grouped under a provision of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines. The 10th Circuit remanded the matter to the district court for resentencing.

On remand, Maldonado-Passage filed a motion to reconsider the denial of a pretrial motion to dismiss one of the two murder-for-hire counts as multiplicitous. He proposed his counts be merged and subject to a single penalty. In its denial of the motion, the district court concluded Maldonado-Passage failed to demonstrate adequate grounds for reconsideration. During resentencing, the district court also announced it wouldn’t exercise its discretion to expand the scope of sentencing beyond the grouping error identified by the 10th Circuit in Maldonado-Passage I. 

The district court revised Maldonado-Passages’ total offense level and advisory guidelines sentencing range and imposed a reduced sentence of 252 months. This sentence included two consecutively run 102-month terms for each murder-for-hire conviction.

Maldonado-Passage appealed, claiming the text of Section 18 U.S. Code § 1958(a) prohibited his conduct from being parsed into two offenses with consecutively run sentences. The 10th Circuit disagreed. 

As a threshold matter, the 10th Circuit determined the district court didn’t abuse its discretion by limiting its sentencing scope and refusing to reconsider Maldonado-Passage’s previously denied motion to dismiss for multiplicity. Therefore, no vehicle to challenge the § 1958(a) components of his sentence as multiplicitous remains. 

But the 10th Circuit also confirmed § 1958(a)’s “plot centric” unit of prosecution permits separate offenses and consecutive sentences when, as here, two unrelated hitmen are hired to kill the same person. The court referenced the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals’ 2017 decision in U.S. v. Gordon. 

A 10th Circuit panel out of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, affirmed the district court’s sentencing decision, because, among other things, it determined Maldonado-Passage failed to demonstrate any procedural or substantive error in the district court’s revised sentence.

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