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Date: 11-07-2021

Case Style:

United States of America v. JUANA BAEZ-PAULINO

Case Number: 8:19-cr-543-CEH-SPF

Judge: Charlene Honeywell

Court: UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT MIDDLE DISTRICT OF FLORIDA TAMPA DIVISION

Plaintiff's Attorney: United States Attorney’s Office

Defendant's Attorney:


Tampa, Florida - Criminal defense Lawyer Directory


Description:

Tampa, Florida - Criminal defense lawyer represented defendant with fraudulently and falsely procured birth certificate (Count One), false claim of United States citizenship (Count Two), and aggravated identity theft (Count Three) charges.



On April 14, 2020, Defendant pleaded guilty to use of a fraudulently and falsely
procured birth certificate in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1015(c) (Count One), false claim
of United States citizenship in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1015(e) (Count Two), and
aggravated identity theft in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1028(a)(1) (Count Three). Docs.
1, 41. Defendant was sentenced on August 18, 2020, to be imprisoned for a total term
of 36 months followed by a term of 12 months’ supervised release. Doc. 60. Defendant
2
is a 36-year-old female who is currently incarcerated at Tallahassee FCI in Tallahassee,
Florida. See BOP Inmate Locator at https://www.bop.gov/inmateloc/ (last accessed
November 2, 2021). Defendant is scheduled to be released from prison on December
29, 2024.
1
Id.
On November 23, 2020, Defendant filed the instant Motion for Indicative
Ruling on Compassionate Release requesting a ruling from this Court on her request
for compassionate release while her case is on appeal to the Eleventh Circuit.2
Specifically, Defendant seeks a modification of her sentence to time served due to her
family circumstances and her medical conditions, coupled with the COVID-19
pandemic. Doc. S-69. Defendant alleges she suffers major depressive disorder,
persistent depressive disorder with anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder
(“PTSD”). She alleges she has not received her prescribed psychotropic medication
while at Tallahassee FCI, resulting in extreme anxiety, sleeplessness, and crying
episodes. She also contracted COVID-19 while incarcerated which resulted in
headaches, congestion, and a cough. She fears re-infection in the prison environment.
1 Defendant’s motion anticipates a release date of June 9, 2022, because she already served
22 months in prison at the time of filing her motion. However, the BOP’s website indicates
her date of release is December 29, 2024. As indicated in the Judgment, Defendant’s imposed
term of imprisonment in this case was to run consecutively with the term of imprisonment
imposed pursuant to the judgment in Case No. 1:12-cr-20808-MGC (S.D. Fla.). See Doc. 60
at 2. Additionally, the Presentence Investigation Report (“PSR”) outlines Defendant’s
criminal history, several other criminal cases involving Defendant, and Defendant’s status as
a fugitive from 2013 until 2019. Doc. 49.
2 The Court notes Defendant filed similar motions for compassionate release on November 3,
2020, in her criminal cases in the Southern District of Florida, which motions were denied on
February 22, 2021 and December 22, 2020, respectively. See Docs. 33, 40 in Case No. 1:12-
cr-20808-MGC (S.D. Fla.) and Docs. 34, 40 in Case No. 1:13-cr-20273-FAM (S.D. Fla.).
3
Regarding her family circumstances, Defendant seeks release so that she can
care for her 13-year-old son who was born with multiple heart defects. According to
Defendant, her son had two heart surgeries before his sixth birthday and could require
another procedure or surgery in the future. Her son is currently being cared for by his
elderly great-grandmother in Puerto Rico because the biological father, Vladimir De
la Cruz-Tejeda, was serving a lengthy prison sentence. Cruz-Tejeda was released in
2018 and has been serving a term of supervised release in Philadelphia since his release
from prison. Defendant alleges that the great-grandmother is unable to provide the
supervision and medical attention her son needs because she is elderly and does not
drive. Additionally, Defendant’s mother, who lives in the Dominican Republic but
used to regularly travel to the United States to help care for Defendant’s son, cannot
travel due to her own declining health. Defendant’s sister, Florangel, assists their
mother with daily tasks and medical appointments, but Florangel has her own two
minor children and is therefore unable to care for their mother’s medical needs on her
own. Defendant seeks compassionate release from prison so she can care for her son
and mother in the Dominican Republic.
II. LEGAL STANDARD
Pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3582(b), a judgment of conviction that includes a
sentence of imprisonment “constitutes a final judgment and may not be modified by a
district court except in limited circumstances.” Dillon v. United States, 560 U.S. 817,
824 (2010) (internal quotations omitted). Those limited circumstances are provided
under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A)(i). Effective December 21, 2018, the First Step Act
4
of 2018 amended section 3582(c)(1)(A) by adding a provision that allows prisoners to
directly petition a district court for compassionate release. That provision states:
The court may not modify a term of imprisonment once it has been imposed
except that—
(1) in any case—
(A) the court, upon motion of the Director of the Bureau of Prisons,
or upon motion of the defendant after the defendant has fully exhausted all
administrative rights to appeal a failure of the Bureau of Prisons to bring a
motion on the defendant’s behalf or the lapse of 30 days from the receipt of
such a request by the warden of the defendant's facility, whichever is earlier,
may reduce the term of imprisonment (and may impose a term of
probation or supervised release with or without conditions that
does not exceed the unserved portion of the original term of
imprisonment), after considering the factors set forth in section
3553(a) to the extent that they are applicable, if it finds that—
(i) extraordinary and compelling reasons warrant such a
reduction; or
(ii) the defendant is at least 70 years of age, has served at
least 30 years in prison, pursuant to a sentence imposed
under section 3559(c), for the offense or offenses for which
the defendant is currently imprisoned, and a determination
has been made by the Director of the Bureau of Prisons that
the defendant is not a danger to the safety of any other
person or the community, as provided under section
3142(g);
and that such a reduction is consistent with applicable policy
statements issued by the Sentencing Commission; and
(B) the court may modify an imposed term of imprisonment to the
extent otherwise expressly permitted by statute or by Rule 35 of
the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. . . .
18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1) (italics reflecting amendment under First Step Act).
Accordingly, a court may reduce a sentence upon motion of a defendant provided that:
5
(1) the inmate has either exhausted his or her administrative appeal rights of the BOP’s
failure to bring such a motion on the inmate’s behalf or has waited until 30 days after
the applicable warden has received such a request; (2) the inmate has established
“extraordinary and compelling reasons” for the requested sentence reduction; and (3)
the reduction is consistent with the Sentencing Commission’s policy statement. See id.
Courts are to consider the § 3553(a) factors, as applicable, as part of the analysis.3
See
§3582(c)(1)(A).
The defendant generally bears the burden of establishing that compassionate
release is warranted. See United States v. Hamilton, 715 F.3d 328, 337 (11th Cir. 2013)
(providing that defendant bears the burden of establishing a reduction of sentence is
warranted under § 3582(c) due to a retroactive guideline amendment); United States v.
Heromin, Case No. 8:11-cr-550-VMC-SPF, 2019 WL 2411311, at *2 (M.D. Fla. June
7, 2019) (citing Hamilton in the context of a § 3582(c) motion for compassionate
release).
III. DISCUSSION
3 These factors include: (1) the nature and circumstances of the offense and the history and
characteristics of the defendant; (2) the need for the sentence imposed to reflect the seriousness
of the offense, to promote respect for the law, and to provide just punishment for the offense;
to afford adequate deterrence to criminal conduct; to protect the public from further crimes
of the defendant; and to provide the defendant with needed educational or vocational training,
medical care, or other correctional treatment in the most effective manner; (3) the kinds of
sentences available; (4) the kinds of sentence and the sentencing range established for the
applicable category of offense committed by the applicable category of defendant as set forth
in the guidelines; (5) any pertinent policy statement issued by the Sentencing Commission;
(6) the need to avoid unwarranted sentence disparities among defendants with similar records
who have been found guilty of similar conduct; and (7) the need to provide restitution to any
victims of the offense. 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a).
6
A. Indicative ruling
Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 37 provides that “[i]f a timely motion is
made for relief that the court lacks authority to grant because of an appeal that has
been docketed and is pending, the court may: (1) defer considering the motion; (2)
deny the motion; or (3) state either that it would grant the motion if the court of appeals
remands for that purpose or that the motion raises a substantial issue.” Fed. R. Crim.
P. 37(a). At the time of filing the instant motion, this case was on appeal to the
Eleventh Circuit, and thus this Court lacked jurisdiction to consider a motion for
compassionate release absent the Eleventh Circuit relinquishing jurisdiction for
purposes of the motion. On October 12, 2021, however, the mandate issued from the
Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals (Doc. 73). Thus, as the appellate court no longer
has jurisdiction, the need for an indicative ruling is moot. The Court turns to the merits
of Defendant’s motion.
B. Defendant has Satisfied Administrative Exhaustion Requirement
Defendant submitted a request for compassionate release on August 31, 2020,
to the BOP while she was incarcerated in Pinellas County jail. She renewed her request
to the warden of FCI Tallahassee on September 24, 2020. Doc. S-69-1. More than
thirty days have passed since the warden received Defendant’s request, and thus, the
Court finds Defendant has exhausted administrative remedies.
C. Extraordinary and Compelling Reason
Although Defendant has satisfied administrative exhaustion, Defendant fails to
establish that extraordinary and compelling reasons exist to support her request for
7
compassionate release. The sentencing guidelines provide that “extraordinary and
compelling reasons exist” for compassionate release when a defendant meets any one
of several circumstances. Section 1B1.13 identifies four categories in which
extraordinary and compelling circumstances may exist: (1) the defendant’s medical
condition; (2) the defendant’s advanced age (at least 65 years old); (3) family
circumstances; and (4) other reasons. See U.S.S.G. § 1B1.13, cmt. n. 1(A)-(D). The
Court may grant compassionate release under one or more criteria. See id. Pertinent
here, Defendant contends her family circumstances and medical condition provide an
extraordinary and compelling basis for release.
A defendant’s medical condition may provide an extraordinary and compelling
reason to support a reduction in sentence when the defendant is: (1) suffering from a
terminal illness, i.e., a serious and advanced illness with an end of life trajectory; or (2)
suffering from a serious physical or medical condition that substantially diminishes her
ability to care for herself within the prison environment and from which she is not
expected to recover. U.S.S.G. § 1B1.13, cmt. n. 1(A). Defendant fails to establish that
her mental health condition and diagnosis of depression, anxiety and PTSD constitute
terminal conditions or serious illnesses with an end-of-life trajectory.4 As stated in her
4 Defendant has also filed a motion to file under seal (Doc. 70) her medical records, which
she references in her motion for compassionate release. Because the medical conditions
referenced in her compassionate release motion and the arguments related to same do not
demonstrate that her conditions meet the criteria under U.S.S.G. § 1B1.13, cmt. n. 1(A) to
constitute a medical condition that provides an extraordinary and compelling reason,
Defendant’s motion will be denied. As noted in the Order, even if Defendant were able to
establish an extraordinary and compelling reason to support a reduction in her sentence, her
8
motion, Defendant is receiving some medication for her mental health conditions, and
she does not otherwise argue that she is unable to care for herself in the prison
environment.
To the extent that Defendant argues that the threat of COVID-19, coupled with
her medical conditions, constitute “other” reasons to support her release, her motion
similarly fails. Section 1B1.13’s fourth factor, which has been described as a catch-all
provision, provides that, “[a]s determined by the Director of the [BOP], there exists in
the defendant’s case an extraordinary and compelling reason other than, or in
combination with, the reasons described in subdivisions (A) through (C).” U.S.S.G.
§ 1B1.13, cmt. n. 1(D). As a preliminary matter, “the mere existence of COVID-19 in
society and the possibility that it may spread to a particular prison alone cannot
independently justify compassionate release, especially considering BOP’s statutory
role, and its extensive and professional efforts to curtail the virus’s spread.” United
States v. Raia, 954 F.3d 594, 597 (3d Cir. 2020). It is worth noting that the BOP’s
website reveals that Tallahassee FCI currently has zero inmates or staff that are
positive for COVID-19. See https://www.bop.gov/coronavirus/ (last accessed Nov.
4, 2021). Additionally, to date, the facility has fully vaccinated 757 inmates and 98
staff members. See id. Moreover, in accordance with the Eleventh Circuit’s opinion in
United States v. Bryant, 996 F.3d 1243 (11th Cir. 2021), this Court declines to find that
the pandemic, coupled with health conditions, constitute an extraordinary and
motion is still due to be denied because the Section 3553(a) factors weigh against
compassionate release. Thus, the motion to seal is moot.
9
compelling reason under the catchall “other” reasons category. Id. at 1263–65 (holding
that the language “[a]s determined by the Director of Bureau of Prisons” contained
within the catch-all provision precludes district courts from finding extraordinary and
compelling reasons beyond those specified by the Sentencing Commission in Section
1B1.13).
Finally, Defendant argues that her unique family circumstances support a
finding of extraordinary and compelling reasons to support her release. A defendant
generally bears the burden of establishing that compassionate release is warranted, see
Hamilton, 715 F.3d at 337. Defendant fails to carry her burden of demonstrating that
her family circumstances constitute an extraordinary and compelling reason to support
release. As discussed in the Commentary to USSG, § 1B1.13, “family circumstances”
constituting an extraordinary and compelling reason refers to “(i) [t]he death or
incapacitation of the caregiver of the defendant’s minor child or minor children [or]
(ii) [t]he incapacitation of the defendant’s spouse or registered partner when the
defendant would be the only available caregiver for the spouse or registered partner.”
U.S.S.G. 1B1.13, cmt. N.1(C). Defendant’s need to assist her sister in the care of their
mother does not constitute an extraordinary and compelling reason based on a plain
reading of this provision. Further, Defendant fails to provide record evidence to
demonstrate why this provision should be extended to Defendant’s situation as it
relates to her mother.
Regarding her minor child, Defendant contends that her son’s biological father,
De La Cruz-Tejeda, took her son from her fiancée, Rodrigo Mijangos, and sent her
10
son to live in Puerto Rico with his great-grandmother. According to the motion, the
great-grandmother is unable to provide the supervision and medical care that the
minor son needs. In relevant part, under comment N.1(C)(i), Defendant must show
“[t]he death or incapacitation of the caregiver of the defendant’s minor child or minor
children.” According to Defendant, the biological father is on supervised release in
Philadelphia. Defendant fails to show that De la Cruz-Tejeda could not be a caregiver
for their son. Additionally, the PSR references that Defendant has five siblings. While
her motion indicates that her sister Florangel is unable to assist due to having to care
for her own two minor children, Defendant does not address the availability of her
four brothers, who live in the Dominican Republic, to serve as a caregiver for her
minor son. Thus, the motion is due to be denied, as the father of the minor child or
one of Defendant’s relatives may be available caregivers for Defendant’s minor son.
D. Section 3553(a) Factors
Even if Defendant could establish that an extraordinary and compelling reason
exists to support her compassionate release, consideration of the Section 3553(a)
factors militates against release. In 2012 Defendant was arrested and pleaded guilty in
the Southern District of Florida to aggravated identity theft. Prior to becoming a
fugitive in that case and while on bond, Defendant obtained a Florida Driver’s License
and submitted a new application for a false passport. She also removed her courtordered ankle bracelet. During the time in which she was a fugitive between 2013 and
2019, Defendant falsely acquired another identity to attempt to avoid capture. While
a fugitive, the Defendant fraudulently obtained another Florida Driver’s License in the
11
Middle District of Florida. The Defendant’s past history of failing to comply with
conditions of release, including removing her ankle bracelet, and repeatedly obtaining
fraudulent identification documents, creates doubt that the Defendant would now
comply with the terms of supervised release if she were released. Thus, careful
consideration of the Section 3553(a) factors weighs against a reduction in sentence.

Outcome: Accordingly, it is hereby
ORDERED:

1. Defendant’s Motion for Indicative Ruling on Compassionate Release
(Doc. S-69) is DENIED as moot to the extent that an indicative ruling is unnecessary
as the Eleventh Circuit no longer has jurisdiction of this case. Defendant’s request for
compassionate release is DENIED because Defendant fails to establish that
extraordinary and compelling reasons exist to warrant a reduction in her sentence and
because consideration of the Section 3553(a) factors weigh against release.
2. Defendant’s Motion to Seal (Doc. 70) is DENIED as moot.
DONE AND ORDERED in Tampa, Florida on November 4, 2021.

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