Take 5

Fifth Circuit Court Upholds Sentencing Enhancement in Undocumented Immigrant Transport Case

In a recent ruling, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upheld a two-level sentencing enhancement for Roberto Buendia, who had pled guilty to conspiring to transport and transporting undocumented immigrants, resulting in serious bodily injury and death.

The case stemmed from an incident on May 16, 2020, when Buendia picked up two migrants who had illegally crossed the border. A border patrol agent attempted to conduct an immigration inspection, but Buendia accelerated and led the agent on a chase. The chase ended in a car crash that resulted in the death of one passenger and serious injuries to the other passenger and Buendia.

Buendia was charged with conspiring to transport and transporting undocumented immigrants resulting in death and serious bodily injury. His sentencing included enhancements for intentionally or recklessly creating a substantial risk of death or serious bodily injury and for the death of one of the passengers. It also included a two-level enhancement for involuntarily detaining a migrant through threat or coercion.

Buendia appealed the application of the two-level enhancement, arguing that his conduct did not amount to a threat or coercion. The court found that while the passenger was involuntarily detained, he was not detained through threat or coercion. However, since Buendia did not object to the sentencing enhancement below, the court reviewed for plain error. The court found that the error was not plain and affirmed the judgment.

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