Please E-mail suggested additions, comments and/or corrections to Kent@MoreLaw.Com.

Help support the publication of case reports on MoreLaw

Date: 11-23-2021

Case Style:

United States of America v. Anthony Colón-Maldonado

Case Number: 18-1388

Judge: Ojetta Rogeriee Thompson

Court: United States Court of Appeals For the First Circuit

Plaintiff's Attorney: Thomas F. Klumper, Assistant United States Attorney, Senior
Appellate Counsel, with whom Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez, United
States Attorney, and Mariana E. Bauzá-Almonte, Assistant United
States Attorney, Chief, Appellate Division

Defendant's Attorney:

Boston, MA - Best Criminal Defense Lawyer Directory


Boston, MA - Criminal defense lawyer represented defendant with aggravated domestic abuse.

In early 2017, Anthony ColónMaldonado completed his sentence for federal drug crimes and began
his six-year term of supervised release. Just six months later,
a police complaint charged him on "information and belief" with
committing aggravated domestic abuse under Puerto Rico law. It
did not indicate how police got that information, or why they
believed Colón committed the offense; after all, in Puerto Rico
(like many states), a complaint is just an accusation that starts
off a criminal case. See P.R. Laws Ann. tit. 34, Ap. II, §§ 5,
34. Colón pled down to a lesser offense. Nonetheless, based on
the complaint, a U.S. district court found that Colón committed
the more serious crime — violently so — and sentenced him to thirty
months in federal prison for violating the terms of his release.
This was error. Accordingly, we vacate and remand for
Revocation Primer
Before we dive into the facts, some background. When
imposing a prison sentence, a federal court may impose a term of
supervised release — a "form of postconfinement monitoring" during
which the defendant must follow a series of conditions designed to
help him or her "transition to community life" and to thwart
reoffending. Mont v. United States, 139 S. Ct. 1826, 1833 (2019)
(quoting Johnson v. United States, 529 U.S. 694, 697 (2000)); see
also United States v. Joseph, 109 F.3d 34, 38–39 (1st Cir. 1997).
- 3 -
As one condition, the court must always order "that the defendant
not commit another Federal, State, or local crime during the term
of supervision." 18 U.S.C. § 3583(d). If the supervisee breaks
this or another condition, the court may (after a hearing) "revoke
a term of supervised release[ ] and require the defendant to serve
in prison all or part of the term of supervised release authorized
by statute" for the crime of conviction. 18 U.S.C. § 3583(e)(3).
The revocation hearing has two stages. See United States
v. Morin, 889 F.2d 328, 332 (1st Cir. 1989). First, the government
must prove by a preponderance of the evidence (i.e., that it is
more likely than not) that the defendant violated the release
condition. See United States v. Tanco-Pizarro, 892 F.3d 472, 475
(1st Cir. 2018) (citing 18 U.S.C. § 3583(e)(3)). Then, if the
court finds a violation, it must decide whether to modify the
defendant's supervised release (for example, it could set harsher
conditions) or revoke it and impose more prison time. United
States v. Whalen, 82 F.3d 528, 532 (1st Cir. 1996). To guide the
sentencing decision, the United States Sentencing Guidelines set
three grades of supervised release violations — with the highest,
Grade A, reserved for "conduct constituting" a "crime of violence,"
a "controlled substance offense," or two other types of serious
crimes. See U.S.S.G. § 7B1.1(a). The guidelines say that when
the defendant commits such a crime, courts should revoke release
- 4 -
and impose a sentence within the highest range listed for the
defendant's criminal history category.1 Id. §§ 7B1.3, 7B1.4.
To decide if the defendant breached his conditions and
(if so) what sentence to impose, the court may "consider evidence
including letters, affidavits, and other material that would not
be admissible in an adversary criminal trial." Morrissey v.
Brewer, 408 U.S. 471, 489 (1972); see also United States v. RondónGarcía, 886 F.3d 14, 21 (1st Cir. 2018) ("During a sentencing
hearing, neither the Federal Rules of Evidence nor the Sixth
Amendment's confrontation clause applies."). To influence those
decisions, however, the evidence must (at minimum) be "reliable."
United States v. Portalla, 985 F.2d 621, 622 (1st Cir. 1993); see
also United States v. Mills, 710 F.3d 5, 15 (1st Cir. 2013)
(explaining that at sentencing, "the court can consider all kinds
of relevant information regardless of admissibility at trial
(including hearsay that has never been tested by cross-
1 The supervised release statute requires courts to consider
this guideline range (among other factors) before revoking release
and imposing the sentence. See 18 U.S.C. § 3583(e) (citing id.
§ 3553(a)(5)). The other factors include: the nature and
circumstances of the offense, id. § 3553(a)(1); the history and
characteristics of the offender, id.; the need for adequate
deterrence, id. § 3553(a)(2)(B); the need to protect the public,
id. § 3553(a)(2)(C); and the penological needs of the offender,
such as the need for special care or treatment, id.
§ 3553(a)(2)(D). See Tanco-Pizarro, 892 F.3d at 480 (citing United
States v. Vargas-Dávila, 649 F.3d 129, 131 (1st Cir. 2011)).
- 5 -
examination)," but only if "it has 'sufficient indicia of
reliability to support its probable accuracy'" (quoting U.S.S.G.
§ 6A1.3)).
As with other judgment calls, we review the ultimate
revocation decision and sentence for "abuse of discretion." United
States v. Wright, 812 F.3d 27, 30 (1st Cir. 2016). Along the way,
we draw our own legal conclusions (interpreting the Guidelines de
novo) and test the court's material factfinding for "clear error."
Id.; see also United States v. Ruiz-Huertas, 792 F.3d 223, 226
(1st Cir. 2015). If the district court "select[ed] a sentence
based on clearly erroneous facts" or "improperly calculat[ed] the
Guidelines range," that's a "significant procedural error," United
States v. Sayer, 916 F.3d 32, 37 (1st Cir. 2019) (quoting Gall v.
United States, 552 U.S. 38, 51 (2007)) — and we reverse unless the
government shows the mistake did not affect the sentence, see
United States v. Romero-Galindez, 782 F.3d 63, 70 (1st Cir. 2015).
On to this case.
How We Got Here
In 2014, Colón was sentenced to seventy months in federal
prison and six years of supervised release for his part in a
conspiracy to deal drugs near a protected location. See 21 U.S.C.
§ 841(a)(1). After six months on supervised release, he was
arrested again — this time by Puerto Rico police. In a pair of
criminal complaints filed in Puerto Rico court, Officer Edmee
- 6 -
Malavé wrote that Colón had assaulted and threatened his thengirlfriend, Jessica Alomar. As a result, he was charged with two
domestic violence crimes under Puerto Rico law: aggravated abuse
and abuse by threat. See Articles 3.2 and 3.3 of Puerto Rico
Domestic Violence Law 54, P.R. Laws Ann. tit. 8, §§ 632, 633.2
Before long, Colón's probation officer (Nelson Mendoza) had
reported the charges to the United States District Court for the
District of Puerto Rico and petitioned the court to revoke Colón's
supervised release based on the new alleged crimes.
So Colón was brought back to federal court. There, a
U.S. magistrate judge held a preliminary revocation hearing —
designed to determine whether there's "probable cause to believe
that a violation occurred." Fed. R. Crim. P. 32.1(b). Mendoza
took the stand as the only witness. He hadn't seen what happened
2 The root crime of "abuse" under Puerto Rico law is defined
as follows:
Any person who employs physical force or psychological
abuse, intimidation, or persecution against his/her
[domestic partner] in order to cause physical harm to
the person, the property held in esteem by him/her,
except that which is privately owned by the offender, or
to another person, or to cause serious emotional harm,
shall be guilty of a fourth-degree felony in the upper
end of the range.
P.R. Laws Ann. tit. 8, § 631. Aggravated abuse criminalizes
"abuse" in certain aggravating circumstances, including "when
committed against a pregnant woman." P.R. Laws Ann. tit. 8,
§ 632(i). Abuse by threat is "threaten[ing] to cause harm to [a
domestic partner] . . . or to destroy property cherished by the
victim." P.R. Laws Ann. tit. 8, § 633.
- 7 -
between Colón and Alomar, but (he testified) he had done a
"preliminary investigation," meaning he spoke to Alomar and Malavé
over the phone. According to Mendoza, Alomar (who was pregnant
with Colón's baby) said that Colón had followed her to a hospital
in Guayama or Salinas (Mendoza wasn't sure which, or why Alomar
was going there). When they got to the hospital, they argued and
Colón "grabbed her by the hair" and "slammed [her] to the ground."
On the way down, her head hit the wall.
When Mendoza spoke to Malavé, Malavé had said that Alomar
had given him the same basic story. Malavé had rehashed Alomar's
account in the criminal complaints, which the government entered
in evidence at the preliminary hearing. The first, which charged
Colón with aggravated abuse under Article 3.2, read:
[On or about August 13, 2017 in Salinas, Puerto
Rico, Colón] illegally, voluntarily, maliciously,
knowingly and with criminal intention, used
physical force against Mrs. Jessica Alomar
Rodríguez, with whom he lived together five months
ago, consisting in [sic] the fact that he grabbed
her strongly with his hands by her abdomen to take
away her cellular phone; grabbed her strongly by
her hair, shook her and she hit the wall and fell
to the ground. The victim is pregnant.
The second, charging abuse by threat (Article 3.3), said:
[On or about August 13, 2017 in Salinas, Puerto
Rico, Colón] illegally, voluntarily, maliciously,
knowingly and with criminal intention, threatened
with bodily injury Mrs. Jessica Alomar Rodríguez,
with whom he lived together for five months and did
not have any children, but who is pregnant,
consisting in [sic] the following: "I'll blow you
up, you make me feel like hitting you, you miserable
- 8 -
bitch," feeling [sic] the victim afraid and
threatened that defendant may fulfill his threat.
The back of the complaints reflected that after hearing testimony
from Malavé and Alomar, a Puerto Rico magistrate judge had found
probable cause for the Article 3.2 (aggravated abuse) charge, but
not for the Article 3.3 (abuse-by-threat) charge.
Alomar herself gave a sworn written statement to
Commonwealth prosecutors, but (said Mendoza) the prosecutors were
"not going to relinquish that sworn statement [while] the [Puerto
Rico] case [was] ongoing," for some reason. So the federal
magistrate judge relied on Mendoza's testimony, along with the two
complaints, to find probable cause that Colón committed a new crime
and violated his conditions of release. He ordered Colón detained
until the final revocation hearing — when a U.S. district judge
would decide whether he'd in fact committed the violations and
whether to revoke his release and send him back to prison. See
Fed. R. Crim. P. 32.1(b).
In the meantime, Colón — facing the aggravated abuse and
abuse-by-threat charges in Puerto Rico court — pled guilty to a
lesser offense: attempted abuse under Article 3.1. See P.R. Laws
Ann. tit. 8, § 631. So at the final revocation hearing, Colón
admitted that he'd violated Article 3.1 and thus the "no new
crimes" condition. But his crime (attempted abuse) was only a
Grade B violation, he argued. See U.S.S.G. § 7B1.1(a)(2) (defining
- 9 -
a Grade B violation as "conduct constituting any other federal,
state, or local offense punishable by a term of imprisonment
exceeding one year"). First, Abuse didn't qualify as a "crime of
violence" under the categorical approach described in Mathis v.
United States, 136 S. Ct. 2243, 2248–52 (2016) and Descamps v.
United States, 570 U.S. 254, 273–74 (2013) (looking to the elements
of the crime as defined in the law, instead of an offender's
conduct, to see if it counts). And neither did Aggravated Abuse,
for that matter. Second, the court could not "rely on" the
complaints to "establish that [he used] physical violence" to
commit a violent crime. "So there [was] no factual basis for a
finding of a 3.2 violation, or any other criminal conduct that
[was] not attempted 3.1 in this case." As a result, he claimed,
his guideline range was only 12–18 months in prison.
The district judge disagreed. First, he set aside the
"categorical approach," reasoning that he could look to Colón's
"actual conduct" to conclude that he committed a "crime of
violence" and a Grade A violation. And he found that Colón's
"actual conduct was the [crime] charge[d]": "us[ing] physical
violence against his pregnant girlfriend" to commit aggravated
abuse under Article 3.2(i), which was a "crime of violence" under
§ 7B1.1(a)(1). To support that finding, over Colón's objection,
the court relied on Malavé's two sworn complaints. And that's
about it. Neither Mendoza, nor Malavé, nor Alomar testified at
- 10 -
the final revocation hearing. And the government did not give the
district judge a transcript of Mendoza's testimony; it only
mentioned that (as noted on the docket and in the U.S. magistrate
judge's written order) the magistrate judge had "found probable
cause [for the violations] after listening to [Mendoza]" and
reviewing the complaints. If the Commonwealth prosecutors ever
turned over Alomar's written statement, the government never
offered it as evidence in this case.
Based on the Grade A tag and Colón's criminal history
category of IV, the judge fixed his guideline range at 24–30 months
in prison. From that starting point, he imposed a thirty-month
prison sentence, adding four more years of supervised release.3
At the end of the hearing, Colón reiterated that he
"continue[d] to preserve [his] objections under Rule 32.1 to th[e]
Court's findings under [Article] 3.2 and whether or not it
qualifies as a crime of violence, to th[e] Court's findings under
[§] 7B1.4(a) regarding what is the actual conduct in this case,
and the substantive and procedural unreasonableness of the
sentence that was ultimately imposed[.]" He then appealed, and
here we are.
3 The judge also determined that Colón violated other
conditions by using illegal drugs, failing to attend drug
treatment, and failing to follow Mendoza's instructions, as
alleged in two previous motions Mendoza had filed. Colón does not
argue that the judge erred in finding he committed these other
violations, and none of them were Grade As. See 7B1.1(a)(1).
- 11 -
Our Take
On appeal, as he did below, Colón admits that he violated
the "no new crimes" condition and does not challenge the district
court's decision to revoke his supervised release. Instead, he
attacks his thirty–month sentence. In his eyes, the district court
misapplied the Guidelines in concluding that his crime was a
Grade A violation under U.S.S.G. § 7B1.1(a)(1)(A)(i). We agree.
To be a Grade A violation under § 7B1.1(a)(1)(A)(i), the
defendant's new criminal "conduct" must "constitut[e]" a "crime of
violence," as defined in § 4B1.2(a). See U.S.S.G. § 7B1.1 and
cmt. n.2. Proving this takes two steps. First, the government
must point to a federal, state, or local offense that
"categorically" meets § 4B1.2(a)'s definition of a "crime of
violence." United States v. García-Cartagena, No. 18-1629, ___
F.3d ___ [Slip op. at 16] (lst Cir. March 6, 2020). That means
(as pertinent here) that the elements of the alleged crime must
require "the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical
force against another person." United States v. Frates, 896 F.3d
93, 97 (1st Cir. 2018); see also United States v. Martinez, 762
F.3d 127, 133 (1st Cir. 2014) (explaining that here, "'physical
force' means violent force — that is, force capable of causing
physical pain or injury to another person" (quoting Johnson v.
United States, 559 U.S. 133, 140 (2010)). Sometimes, a state law
- 12 -
might "list elements in the alternative, and thereby define
multiple crimes" (meaning it's "divisible"). Mathis, 136 S. Ct.
at 2249. But if the statute defining the offense is overbroad and
indivisible, that's it; the crime doesn't count. See id. at 2257.4
On the other hand, if at least one crime defined in the
statute requires violent force (or the elements of an offense
listed in § 4B1.2(a)(2) or of a "controlled substance offense"
under § 4B1.2(b)) to commit it, the court moves to the second step,
at which the government must prove by a preponderance of the
evidence that the defendant committed that crime. See GarcíaCartagena, ___ F.3d ___ [Slip op. at 16, 23–24]. And that means
if the statute is overbroad but divisible, the government must
prove the defendant committed the offense with the required element
(here, violent force). Id. at 16, 23–24. To do so, it can use
any reliable proof it has (including hearsay, at least if the
"interests of justice" don't demand live witnesses, Fed. R. Crim.
P. 32.1(b)(2)(C)). Id. at 16, 23–24. Since the grade of violation
depends on actual conduct, the court can look past so-called
Shepard documents (like the charging document, jury instructions,
4 The government asserts that the categorical approach does
not apply at all in revocation proceedings under § 7B1.1(a)(1), so
the district court may skip the first step and find a Grade A
violation whenever it determines that the defendant used,
attempted to use, or threatened to use physical force against
someone (without analyzing the elements of the law the government
alleges he violated). We reject this position in García-Cartagena,
___ F.3d ___ [Slip. op. at 16–23], also issued today.
- 13 -
plea colloquy, or judgment), which are only needed "to determine
what crime . . . a defendant was convicted of." Id. at 16–17, 25–
26 (quoting Mathis, 136 S. Ct. at 2249).5
Step One: "Crime of Violence"
To recap, Colón pled guilty to attempted abuse under
Article 3.1, and the district judge found he committed aggravated
abuse under Article 3.2(i). Abuse is "physical force or
psychological abuse, intimidation, or persecution against [a
domestic partner] . . . in order to cause physical" or "serious
emotional harm," P.R. Laws Ann. tit. 8, § 631 (emphasis added),
and aggravated abuse under Article 3.2(i) is just "abuse" of a
pregnant woman, id. § 632. So you don't need violent force for a
conviction. The government doesn't urge otherwise; instead, it
argues that Article 3.1 (and hence Article 3.2) is "divisible."
We said so in United States v. Serrano-Mercado, 784 F.3d 838, 844
(1st Cir. 2015) (addressing Article 3.1). Stressing the word "or,"
we figured that the law "set[ ] out multiple constellations of
elements in the alternative": one "requir[ing] the use or threat
of 'physical force'" and "others requir[ing] psychological abuse,
5 In United States v. Willis, the Ninth Circuit reversed the
order of operations, instructing courts to first "determine
whether the defendant's uncharged conduct constitutes a particular
statutory offense" and then "determine if such an offense meets
the specified criteria." 795 F.3d 986, 993–94 (9th Cir. 2015).
We're agnostic on the sequence.
- 14 -
intimidation or persecution." Id. And we saw a "strong" argument
"that the statute's 'physical force' element involve[d] the kind
of violent force 'capable of causing physical pain or injury to
another person,'" making it a crime of violence. Id. at 845
(quoting Johnson, 559 U.S. at 140). So we affirmed the use of the
sentence enhancement at issue (U.S.S.G. § 2K2.1(a)(3)). Id. at
850. Based on Serrano-Mercado, the government says we're bound to
conclude Article 3.1 is divisible and that abuse by "physical
force" is a crime of violence.
But that's not quite right. In Serrano-Mercado, we
reviewed the issue for plain error, so the most we needed to decide
was that Article 3.1 was not "obvious[ly]" indivisible. Id. at
844–45. Such a "no-plain-error holding" wasn't a "ruling on the
merits" (i.e., whether Article 3.1 was in fact divisible, and if
so, whether the "physical force" version was indeed a "Crime of
violence"). See Rodríguez–Miranda v. Benin, 829 F.3d 29, 41, 44–
45 (1st Cir. 2016). And anyway, the defendant conceded that
Article 3.1 was divisible into multiple offenses. See SerranoMercado, 784 F.3d at 846. Given the parties' agreement on the
issue, we assumed that any statute listing items in the disjunctive
was divisible, without asking whether Article 3.1's methods of
"abuse" were distinct elements (i.e., facts the prosecution must
prove to sustain a conviction) or merely various factual ways of
committing the offense. See id. at 843. A year later, however,
- 15 -
the Supreme Court clarified that there's a difference; a statute
that "merely specifies diverse means of satisfying a single element
of a single crime," so that a jury "need not find (or a defendant
admit) any particular item," is indivisible. United States v.
Faust, 853 F.3d 39, 52–54 (1st Cir. 2017) (quoting Mathis, 136 S.
Ct. at 2249, and finding that it overruled circuit precedent that
had deemed Massachusetts "resisting arrest" divisible). So,
Serrano-Mercado does not establish that Article 3.1 is divisible
under Mathis.
In this case, the district judge did not consider whether
"physical force" is an element of a distinct crime under Article
3.1 or 3.2, and whether (if so) that force must be "violent" to
support a conviction. See Faust, 853 F.3d at 51–53 (citing Mathis,
136 S. Ct. 2248–50). Nonetheless, we need not resolve those
questions here — because even if "forcible" Abuse (or Aggravated
Abuse) is a discrete (that is, divisible) crime, the government
produced no reliable evidence at the revocation hearing to show
Colón used physical force to commit it. And the district court's
contrary finding — that Colón "use[d] physical violence against
his pregnant girlfriend" to violate Article 3.2 — was clear error.
Step Two: The Actual Conduct
As we said up front, that finding hinged on the two
complaints Malavé filed in Puerto Rico court. As we see it, Colón
mounts two attacks on those complaints. First, he invokes Fed. R.
- 16 -
Crim. P. 32.1(b)(2)(C), which gives a defendant in a "revocation
hearing" the right to cross-examine the government's witnesses
unless the court "determines that the interest of justice does not
require the witness to appear." Fed. R. Crim. P. 32.1(b)(2)(C).
The rule draws from the accused violator's due process "right to
confront and cross-examine adverse witnesses (unless the hearing
officer specifically finds good cause for not allowing
confrontation)." Gagnon v. Scarpelli, 411 U.S. 778, 786 (1973);
see Fed. R. Crim. P. 32.1, advisory committee's note to 2002
amendment. So under the rule, the court may not credit an outof-court statement ("hearsay," in legalese, see Fed. R. Evid.
801(c)) unless it finds that the statement is reliable and the
government's reason(s) for not having the speaker or author (the
"declarant") testify outweighs the defendant's interest in crossexamining him/her. See United States v. Bueno-Beltrán, 857 F.3d
65, 68 (1st Cir. 2017) (citing United States v. Rondeau, 430 F.3d
44, 47–48 (1st Cir. 2005)). In his first challenge, Colón urges
the district court abused its discretion when it considered the
hearsay in Malavé's complaints without conducting the balancing
due process and Rule 32.1(b)(2)(C) require.
In response, the government picks up a thread we dropped
earlier; a revocation hearing has two phases, it reminds us: "the
guilt or violation-determination phase" and "the sentencing
phase." According to the government, Rule 32.1(b)(2)(C)'s
- 17 -
"limited confrontation right" and balancing test, Bueno-Beltrán,
857 F.3d at 68, only apply at the first stage (the violationfinding phase) — not the second (the sentencing phase). See United
States v. Ruby, 706 F.3d 1221, 1226–28 (10th Cir. 2013) (so
holding). Since Colón admitted that his Article 3.1 offense and
drug use broke his release conditions, there was no need for a
violation hearing; all that remained was sentencing. That's why,
"when Colón appeared for the final revocation, the court proceeded
to the sentencing phase" without objection. And at that point
(says the government), the court could rely on the hearsay
allegations in Malavé's complaint without weighing the
government's reasons for not presenting live witnesses.
We can leave the parties' squabble over Rule
32.1(b)(2)(C) for another day6 — because even if Malavé's
6 That said, the government's bid to limit Rule 32.1 runs into
an immediate hitch; we've already written that Rule 32.1 governs
post-revocation sentencing. See United States v. Daoust, 888 F.3d
571, 575 (1st Cir. 2018) (rejecting defendant's argument that Rule
32(h) required notice of the court's intent to impose an aboveguideline post-revocation sentence because "procedures for
supervised release revocation sentences are delineated in . . .
[Rule] 32.1"). Still, this statement in Daoust was arguably
dictum; on plain error review, the court only needed to find it
not "clear and obvious" that Rule 32(h) applied. See Rodríguez–
Miranda, 829 F.3d at 41, 44–45 ("[A] no-plain-error holding does
not constitute a 'ruling on the merits.'" (quoting United States
v. Caraballo–Rodriguez, 480 F.3d 62, 70 (1st Cir. 2007))). Since
Colón does not respond to the government's "Rule-32.1-does-notapply" argument in his reply brief, and we conclude the complaints
were insufficient evidence even if they were admissible, we won't
address whether (or how) Rule 32.1(b)(2)(C) applies to evidence
used only to determine the post-revocation sentence.
- 18 -
complaints were admissible without live testimony, the district
court still had to find they were reliable enough to show that
Colón more-likely-than-not used physical force.7 See RondónGarcía, 886 F.3d at 21, 23; United States v. Zuleta-Alvarez, 922
F.2d 33, 36–37 (1st Cir. 1990) (stating that even when the
defendant offers no rebuttal evidence, "the sentencing court still
ha[s] to make an independent determination as to the reliability
of the [sentence-enhancing] evidence presented by the government,"
which must "verify the accuracy of its information by a
preponderance of the evidence"). In fact, we've repeatedly
cautioned against relying on mere charges to "infer unlawful
behavior unless there is proof by a preponderance of the evidence
of the conduct initiating [those] arrests and charges." RondónGarcía, 886 F.3d at 25–26 (citing United States v. Cortés-Medina,
819 F.3d 566, 570 (1st Cir. 2016)); see also United States v.
7 The government argues that Colón forfeited his "due process
and Rule 32.1 contentions" by failing to specify them below. But
Colón timely and repeatedly objected to the district court's use
of the complaints to make factual findings about his criminal
conduct. Right after the court read the complaints aloud, Colón
"object[ed]" to their use "for purposes of finding what was the
criminal conduct committed in this case," arguing they were "not
something th[e] Court [could] rely upon to make a factual finding
or establish that there was physical violence." And throughout
the hearing, he maintained that "there [was] no factual basis for
a finding of a 3.2 violation[ ] or any other criminal conduct
[beyond] attempted 3.1." Even if these objections failed to invoke
Rule 32.1's limited confrontation right, they were "sufficiently
specific to call the district court's attention" to his more basic
gripe: that the complaints were too unreliable to prove he used
physical force.
- 19 -
Marrero-Pérez, 914 F.3d 20, 23–24 (1st Cir. 2019) (holding that
"error occurs when a district judge relies on an arrest report,
without some greater indicia of reliability that the conduct
underlying the arrest took place," to impose an upward departure).8
That's in part because, under U.S.S.G. 6A1.3(a), information
relied on to enhance a defendant's sentence must "ha[ve] sufficient
8 Our plain error holding in Marrero-Pérez also drew from
U.S.S.G. § 4A1.3 ("Departures Based on Inadequacy of Criminal
History Category"), which states that "[a] prior arrest record
itself shall not be considered for purposes of an upward departure
under this policy statement." Id. § 4A1.3(a)(3). For that reason,
we've questioned (without deciding) whether Marrero-Pérez makes it
plain error to rely on bare arrest reports to impose an upward
variance. See United States v. Miranda-Díaz, 942 F.3d 33, 40 (1st
Cir. 2019) (distinguishing a "departure," an out-of-guidelinerange "sentence[ ] imposed under the framework set out in the
Guidelines," from a variance, which "results from a court's
consideration of the statutory sentencing factors enumerated in 18
U.S.C. § 3553(a)" and finding the complained-of variance wasn't
plain error because the district court "merely refer[red] to the
defendant's dismissed charges in the course of relying on certain
conduct that took place in connection with [them] and that conduct
[was] described in unchallenged portions of the [PSR]" (internal
quotation marks omitted)); United States v. Rodríguez-Reyes, 925
F.3d 558, 564–65 (1st Cir. 2019) (noting the departure-variance
distinction, but affirming on plain error because "other 'indicia
of reliability,'" including unchallenged facts in the PSR,
"support[ed] that Rodríguez engaged in the conduct charged"). If
some future case turned on it, it's not clear the departurevariance distinction would hold up as a viable limit on MarreroPérez. See United States v. Ríos-Rivera, 913 F.3d 38, 45 (1st
Cir. 2019) ("[T]here is no discernible difference between
departure and variance sentences." (citing United States v.
Santini-Santiago, 846 F.3d 487, 489–90 (1st Cir. 2017))). Anyway,
§ 4A1.3(a)(3) and Marrero-Pérez both rest on a basic principle
equally applicable here: a bare arrest or charge does not prove
the defendant committed the crime. See Marrero-Pérez, 914 F.3d at
23 (holding that "no weight should be given in sentencing to
arrests not buttressed by independent proof of conduct" because
"proof only of an arrest is no proof of guilt").
- 20 -
indicia of reliability to support its probable accuracy." But the
roots run deeper; even before the Guidelines regime, the Supreme
Court held it violated due process to impose a "sentence[ ] on the
basis of assumptions concerning [a defendant's] criminal record
which [are] materially untrue." Townsend v. Burke, 334 U.S. 736,
740–41 (1948). "To give content to this right, a court must take
pains to base sentencing judgments upon reliable and accurate
information." United States v. Tavano, 12 F.3d 301, 305 (1st Cir.
1993); see also United States v. Flete-Garcia, 925 F.3d 17, 36
(1st Cir. 2019) ("[D]ue process demands that a sentencing court
'consider all the available evidence, including conflicting
evidence' to 'assure itself that a piece of proof is sufficiently
reliable.'" (quoting Tavano, 12 F.3d at 305).
Reflexive reliance on hearsay accusations can hollow out
those rights. After all, as the Federal Rules of Evidence and
"virtually every State" recognize:
out-of-court statements . . . lack the conventional
indicia of reliability: they are usually not made
under oath or other circumstances [like penalty of
perjury] that impress the speaker with the
solemnity of his [or her] statements; the
declarant's word is not subject to crossexamination; and he [or she] is not available in
order that his [or her] demeanor and credibility
may be assessed by the [factfinder].
Chambers v. Mississippi, 410 U.S. 284, 298 (1973) (citing
California v. Green, 399 U.S. 149, 158 (1970)). So when a court
extends a defendant's sentence based on hearsay, there must be
- 21 -
other signs (other "indicia of trustworthiness") to permit a
reasoned conclusion that the statements are still reliable. See
Rondón-García, 886 F.3d at 21 (quoting United States v. Rodríguez,
336 F.3d 67, 71 (1st Cir. 2003)); see also United States v.
McGowan, 668 F.3d 601, 606–07 (9th Cir. 2012) ("Challenged
information is deemed false or unreliable if it lacks some minimal
indicium of reliability beyond mere allegation." (cleaned up)).
We've catalogued examples before. See United States v.
Marino, 833 F.3d 1, 5 (1st Cir. 2016). Testimony given in
affidavits, depositions, and past trials or hearings usually
passes muster because it's based on personal knowledge, sworn under
penalty of perjury, and (in a deposition or trial) often sifted
through cross-examination. See id. (citing Gagnon, 411 U.S. at
782 n.5); United States v. Cintrón-Echautegui, 604 F.3d 1, 6 (1st
Cir. 2010) (trial); United States v. Riccio, 529 F.3d 40, 47 (1st
Cir. 2008) (deposition); United States v. Brewster, 127 F.3d 22,
28 (1st Cir. 1997) (affidavit). Courts may dub other out-of-court
statements reliable if they fall into a recognized exception to
the hearsay rule, Rondeau, 430 F.3d at 48 (statements in 911 call
reporting threat with gun were reliable as excited utterances under
Fed. R. Evid. 803(2)), if other evidence corroborates them, United
States v. Fontanez, 845 F.3d 439, 443 (1st Cir. 2017) (surveillance
video of stabbing "corroborated the victim's account of the
incident (as related to [the testifying police officer])" and
- 22 -
"confirmed the victim's identification of the appellant"); Mills,
710 F.3d at 16 (informants' statements "were detailed, mutually
corroborative on key points, and compatible with the events
surrounding [the defendant's] arrest"), or if the witness's
account is "replete with details," among other signs of
reliability, Rodríguez, 336 F.3d at 70–72 (where the court properly
found that the defendant induced another inmate to write a false
letter to the court based on the AUSA's summary of an FBI interview
in which the inmate disclaimed the letter, bolstered by the
letter's "conclusory" nature and the defendant's earlier attempt
to pull similar shenanigans).
But when those signs (or others like them) are absent,
hearsay alone cannot support the sentence. In Rondón-García, for
example, the sentencing court considered a letter from the
defendant's late wife (alleging he'd threatened and abused her)
and unsourced info from a probation officer suggesting the
defendant arranged her murder. 886 F.3d at 23. We held that
relying on this information was obvious error "on both notice and
reliability grounds" because the hearsay allegations were
uncorroborated, undetailed, and undisclosed to the defendant
before sentencing. Id. n.2 (emphasis added). We also "express[ed]
our distaste for [the] district court's reliance on [the]
defendant's record [described in the PSR] of prior arrests and
charges without convictions" to vary upward from the guideline
- 23 -
range (even when the PSR "contained detailed facts underlying the
individual charges"), warning that "[a] court imposing
incarceration for a later crime cannot simply presume that past
charges resolved without conviction ... are attributable to flawed
or lax prosecutorial or judicial systems rather than the
defendant's innocence." Id. at 25–26 (quoting Cortés-Medina, 819
F.3d at 576–77 (Lipez, J., dissenting)). We ultimately affirmed,
but only because Rondón's two procedural challenges "succumb[ed]
to the heavy burden of plain error review." Id. at 24, 26
(explaining that the claims failed on prongs four and two,
respectively); see also Marrero–Pérez, 914 F.3d at 23–24 (relying
in part on Rondón-García to deem it plain error to depart upward
based on an arrest report "without some greater indicia of
reliability that the conduct underlying the arrest took place").9
9 In at least two other cases, even though the hearsay
statements had some indicia of reliability, we remanded for
resentencing because other evidence undermined their credibility
and the district court did not explain why it still relied on them.
See United States v. Lacouture, 835 F.3d 187, 190 (1st Cir. 2016)
(vacating sentence and remanding for district court to explain if
and why it found transcript of child victim's statements during
investigative interview were reliable despite inconsistent police
reports); United States v. Jimenez-Martinez, 83 F.3d 488, 494 (1st
Cir. 1996) (holding that co-defendant's affidavit alleging
defendant took part in a three-kilo drug deal could not support
sentence increase without more evidence because defendant
proffered that affiant did not understand defendant's language,
the affiant never testified in court or grand jury, and no other
evidence corroborated his story).
- 24 -
In United States v. Taveras, we vacated a revocation
judgment that was also based on uncorroborated, unsworn hearsay
with no other marks of reliability. 380 F.3d 532, 535–38 (1st
Cir. 2004). A probation officer had testified that in two short
interviews, a woman told her the defendant had threatened her with
a gun. Id. at 535–36. But the accusations didn't satisfy a
hearsay exception (they were not "excited utterances"), were
"neither written nor sworn," and "the government failed to provide
any corroborating evidence" or "any background details about [the
declarant] or her relationship with [the defendant]." Id. at 537–
38. Such "[u]nsworn verbal allegations," we noted, are "the least
reliable type of hearsay." Id. at 537 (quoting United States v.
Comito, 177 F.3d 1166, 1171 (9th Cir. 1999)); see also Marino, 833
F.3d at 7 ("[A]n affidavit is substantially more reliable because
it is both in writing — eliminating reliance on the listener's
memory — and sworn to."). Though we relied on Rule 32.1, our
result did not hinge on its balancing test; instead, we concluded
the hearsay was "wholly unreliable" and couldn't support the
violation finding — even if the government couldn't (at least
without great difficulty) produce the woman (who'd disappeared) in
court. Taveras, 380 F.3d at 536 n.7, 538.
In this case, the district court had even less reason to
trust the unattributed, uncorroborated hearsay allegations
rehashed in Malavé's complaints. First, the accusations were
- 25 -
double hearsay: the complaints (themselves hearsay) were sworn
only "on information and belief" — in other words, on "secondhand
information that [Malavé] believe[d] to be true." Information and
Belief, on, Black's Law Dictionary (11th ed. 2019); see also P.R.
Laws Ann. tit. 34, Ap. II, § 5 (permitting "prosecutors and members
of the State Police" to "sign and swear to complaints when the
facts constituting the offense are known to them by information
and belief"). Second, they did not indicate where Malavé got his
info or how he formed his belief. And even assuming he got the
story from Alomar (instead of other officers, for example), there
was no evidence of how the two spoke (e.g., in person or over the
phone), in what circumstances, or for how long — so there was no
reason to think that Malavé had "an opportunity to observe
[Alomar's] demeanor during the interview" or had any other basis
to judge her credibility. See United States v. Fennell, 65 F.3d
812, 813 (10th Cir. 1995) (holding that probation officer's
testimony, which repeated "unsworn out-of-court statements made
[over the phone] by an unobserved witness and unsupported by other
evidence" could not sustain the defendant's sentence enhancement).
Third, other than the fact that she lived with Colón briefly, the
complaints supplied no background on Alomar, her relationship with
Colón, or how it soured. See Taveras, 380 F.3d at 538. And
finally, the Puerto Rico magistrate did not even find probable
cause to support the Article 3.3 charge, casting even more
- 26 -
suspicion on the threat complaint (if not both of them). In short,
the district court had no reasonable basis to find the contents of
Malavé's complaints were reliable "beyond mere allegation."
McGowan, 668 F.3d at 606–07.
So it was clear error for the judge to conclude, as he
did, that Colón's "actual conduct was the [conduct] charge[d]" in
the complaints. Standing alone, those bare charges — "without
some greater indicia of reliability that the conduct underlying
[them] took place" — could not prove by a preponderance of the
evidence that Colón "us[ed] physical violence against his pregnant
girlfriend," as the judge found. Marrero-Pérez, 914 F.3d at 24;
see Rondón-García, 886 F.3d at 25–26 (warning that "a criminal
charge alone," without more, does not prove "criminal guilt of the
charged conduct" (quoting United States v. Gallardo-Ortiz, 666
F.3d 808, 815 (1st Cir. 2012)).10
In making that finding, the judge also noted that "the
[U.S.] magistrate judge found probable cause as to Mr. Colón's
violation of Article 3.2 and 3.3." But of course, "the sentencing
10 The probation officer's in-court testimony (that Alomar
told the same story to him and Malavé) might have given the
accusations more oomph, but no transcript of that testimony was
filed before (or at) the final revocation hearing, and the district
judge gave no indication he'd listened to an audio recording or
reviewed some other record of the testimony. Indeed, at the
revocation hearing, the government referred only to the "minute of
[the preliminary] hearing" on the docket, which just said the
magistrate judge "found probable cause after listening to
[Mendoza's] testimony."
- 27 -
court [must] make an independent determination regarding the
reliability of all proffered evidence," Zuleta-Alvarez, 922 F.2d
at 35–36, and a district court may not rely on another (federal or
state) judge's probable cause determination to find that the
government's proof met the higher "preponderance" standard, see
United States v. Rivera, 825 F.3d 59, 63 (1st Cir. 2016) (noting
that "probable cause does not demand . . . proof by a preponderance
of the evidence").11
Bottom Line
So all told, the district judge's Grade A finding — based
only on unsubstantiated allegations in a charging document — was
clear error. And that error inflated Colón's guideline range. As
we said earlier, "a district court's error in calculating the
guideline range requires resentencing where it 'affects or
arguably affects the sentence imposed.'" Lacouture, 835 F.3d at
189 (quoting United States v. Ramos-Paulino, 488 F.3d 459, 463
(1st Cir. 2007)). And that's true here; the district court rattled
off its "physical force" and "Grade A" findings when it imposed
the sentence and gave no hint it would've given the same sentence
11 For those reasons, the Puerto Rico magistrate's finding
that there was probable cause to support the Article 3.2 charge
doesn't help, either.
- 28 -
without them.

Outcome: As such, we must vacate and remand for

Plaintiff's Experts:

Defendant's Experts:


Find a Lawyer


Find a Case