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United States v. Singer

United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit

June 13, 2016

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff - Appellee,
ALMUNDO CRUZ SINGER, Defendant-Appellant.


         Submitted on the briefs[*]:

          Wayne Baker, Esq., Law Office of Wayne Baker, Albuquerque, New Mexico, for Defendant-Appellant.

          Damon P. Martinez, United States Attorney; Sarah J. Mease, Assistant United States Attorney, Albuquerque, New Mexico, for Plaintiff-Appellee.

          Before BRISCOE, BALDOCK and MURPHY, Circuit Judges.

          BRISCOE, Circuit Judge.

         Defendant Almundo Cruz Singer pleaded guilty to one count of involuntary manslaughter in Indian country, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1153 and 1112, and was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of seventy-five months, to be followed by a three-year term of supervised release. Singer now appeals, challenging the procedural and substantive reasonableness of his sentence. Exercising jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291, we affirm.


         Singer's offense of conviction stems from his involvement in a motor vehicle accident that occurred on December 9, 2014, in Church Rock, New Mexico. Marvin Ahasteen and his wife were walking from their Church Rock residence that day to eat lunch at the Fire Rock Casino, which is located on the north side of New Mexico State Highway 118. The couple jogged across the lanes of State Highway 118 and, as they did so, Mrs. Ahasteen "jogged in front of her husband" and "reached the [north] side of the highway." ROA, Vol. 2 at 3 (Presentence Investigation Report). At that moment, Mrs. Ahasteen "heard her husband exclaim 'oh sh[it]' and turned to see him hit by a white car driving westbound" on State Highway 118. Id.

         According to an eyewitness who had left the casino in a vehicle and entered onto the westbound lane of State Highway 118 shortly before the accident, the white vehicle passed him on State Highway 118 at a high rate of speed in a no-passing zone and swerved in front of him prior to hitting Mr. Ahasteen. The eyewitness did not observe the white car "slow down" or "any brake lights" activate on the white car prior to hitting Mr. Ahasteen. Id. at 4. According to the eyewitness, "he heard a 'boom' upon impact and saw 'dust and glass spraying.'" Id. The eyewitness observed the white car cross the eastbound lane of State Highway 118 and drive into some bushes after striking Mr. Ahasteen. The white car, according to the eyewitness, then returned to the westbound lane of State Highway 118 and drove away at a high rate of speed.

         Mr. Ahasteen was decapitated as a result of the accident, his "left leg was dismembered at the proximal tibia and fibula, " id. at 6, and his "body parts, blood and clothing were scattered over a distance of approximately 274 feet, " id. at 4. Further, "[a]s a result of the force of impact, all of [Mr. Ahasteen's] clothes were removed, aside from his underwear that came down to his knees and his right sock." Id. at 7. According to Mrs. Ahasteen, she "saw [her husband's] naked body and then . . . saw his body with no head hit the pavement. His head came off from his body." Id. at 3.

         "[S]hortly after the accident, a McKinley County deputy driving eastbound . . . in Gallup[, which is located just west of the casino, ] observed a white car driving westbound . . . at a very high rate of speed in a posted 25 mph zone." Id. at 4. "The deputy noted extensive windshield damage to the car as well as a partially cave[d] inward roof with a red stain on it." Id. "The deputy made a U-turn to initiate a traffic stop." Id. As he did so, he "called dispatch to advise of" his intentions "and was informed [that] the [white] vehicle was recently involved in a hit and run of a pedestrian at the Fire Rock Casino." Id.

         The deputy activated "his lights and siren while behind the white car, but the driver [of the white car] refused to pull over." Id. "The driver [of the white car] was unable to maintain his lane of travel and proceeded to drive into oncoming traffic, forcing other vehicles off of the roadway." Id. "The [white] vehicle led the deputy and a secondary responding deputy on a chase while driving 80 mph in a 50 mph zone." Id. During the chase, the white car "hit multiple curbs . . . and caused another vehicle to drive into oncoming traffic to avoid collision." Id. The white car ultimately stopped in the parking lot of a Family Dollar store in Gallup. "The deputies were unable to open the driver's side door of the [white] vehicle due to the damages and therefore instructed the driver . . . to exit through the passenger side door." Id. "Deputies immediately [noted] a strong odor of intoxicating beverage coming from inside the [white] vehicle." Id. They also "noted blood on the [driver's] fingers and facial area, " as well as "glass all over his head and face." Id.

         The driver was taken into custody and identified as defendant Almundo Cruz Singer. Singer "exhibited erratic behavior that led [the] deputies to believe he may be under the influence of something more than alcohol." Id. This behavior included Singer "urinat[ing] on himself and repeatedly tr[ying] to pull off his shorts, " bringing "his handcuffs [in front of] his body" and "kick[ing] the inside of the deputy's car." Id. Singer also "made comments about fleeing and laughed about the pursuit stating, 'haha you guys couldn't get me'" and "'it took you that long? Haha.'" Id.

         Singer was taken to a local hospital to have his blood drawn. "[A]t the registration desk, " Singer "began grinning and giggling, " shaking his head "as if he was cracking his neck, " and "jumping up and down." Id. at 5. Singer also twice attempted to "head butt" a male deputy. Id.

         The toxicology report that resulted from the blood draw revealed that Singer's blood alcohol level was 0.18g/100mL. Because of the level of Singer's blood alcohol, the laboratory did not conduct further testing for the presence of illicit substances.

         A law enforcement official "reconstructed the accident scene using videos recorded by several video surveillance systems in the casino's parking lot." Id. at 6. The accident reconstruction evidence "showed [Singer']s car to have been traveling 87 mph in a 55 mph zone" prior to impact, and "[t]he speed at the moment of impact was calculated to be 84 mph." Id.


         Because Singer is Native American and the accident occurred in Indian Country, a criminal complaint was filed against Singer in federal district court charging him with one count of involuntary manslaughter, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1153 and 1112.[1] A federal grand jury subsequently indicted Singer on the same charge. On April 17, 2015, Singer pleaded guilty to the single count alleged in the indictment.

         The probation office prepared a presentence investigation report (PSR). The PSR, in accordance with U.S.S.G. § 2A1.4, applied a base offense level of 22. The PSR then applied a two-level enhancement pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 3C1.2, noting that Singer "recklessly created a substantial risk of death or serious bodily injury to another person in the course of fleeing from a law enforcement officer." ROA, Vol. 2 at 10. After applying reductions for acceptance of responsibility pursuant to U.S.S.G. §§ 3E1.1(a) and (b), the PSR arrived at a total offense level of 21. That ...

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