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United States v. Easley

May 13, 2008

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
MICHAEL EASLEY



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chief Judge Curtis L. Collier

MEMORANDUM

Defendant Michael Easley ("Defendant") filed a motion to have his crack-based sentence reduced pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2) and United States Sentencing Commission Guidelines Manual ("USSG" or "Guidelines") § 2D1.1(c) (Court File No. 67). Because Defendant's guideline range is not affected by the crack-sentence reductions, the Court has no authority to resentence Defendant, and will DENY Defendant's motion for reduction (Court File No. 67).

I. FACTS

According to the Amended Memorandum Regarding Retroactivity, Defendant was sentenced on April 23, 2004 to 77 months imprisonment based upon a violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(B) for possessing, with intent to distribute, five or more grams of cocaine base. His criminal history category was VI and his offense level was 23 for 18.3 grams of cocaine base, under the old crack Guidelines. This would have resulted in a guideline range of 92 to 115 months. However, 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(B) imposes a statutory minimum sentence of ten years where, as here, a defendant has a prior conviction for a felony drug offense. Because Defendant was subject to a statutory minimum that was greater than his resulting guideline range, the Guidelines adopt the statutory minimum as the effective guideline range. USSG § 5G1.1(b). Thus, Defendant's guideline range was 120 months.

Although the Court would otherwise have been compelled to sentence Defendant to no less than 120 months (the applicable statutory minimum), the Government filed a motion for a downward departure, based upon substantial assistance (Court File No. 69). Pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3553(e), the Court is authorized "to impose a sentence below a level established by statute as a minimum sentence so as to reflect a defendant's substantial assistance in the investigation or prosecution of another person who has committed an offense." Thus, the Court was authorized to depart below the statutory minimum to the extent of Defendant's substantial assistance. The Court sentenced Defendant to 77 months, departing 43 months below the applicable statutory minimum based upon Defendant's substantial assistance.

II. APPLICABLE LAW

A federal court does not have an inherent power to modify a sentence already imposed, but can be authorized to do so by statute. See 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c). A court is permitted to modify a sentence already imposed "in the case of a defendant who has been sentenced to a term of imprisonment based on a sentencing range that has subsequently been lowered by the Sentencing Commission . . . if such a reduction is consistent with applicable policy statements issued by the Sentencing Commission." 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2).

The policy statement at issue here provides: "[i]n a case in which a defendant is serving a term of imprisonment, and the guideline range applicable to that defendant has subsequently been lowered as a result of an amendment to the Guidelines Manual listed in subsection (c) below, the court may reduce the defendant's term of imprisonment as provided by 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(2). As required by 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(2), any such reduction in the defendant's term of imprisonment shall be consistent with this policy statement." USSG § 1B1.10(a)(1), p.s. The Guidelines further provide an exclusion to this general rule: "A reduction in the defendant's term of imprisonment is not consistent with this policy statement and therefore is not authorized under 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(2) if . . . (B) [a]n amendment listed in subsection (c) does not have the effect of lowering the defendant's applicable guideline range." Id.

On November 1, 2007, the United States Sentencing Commission ("Commission") amended United States Sentencing Commission Guidelines Manual ("Guideline" or "USSG") § 2D1.1, lowering the penalties for cocaine base ("crack") offenses. On December 11, 2007, the Commission determined offenders sentenced under the earlier, longer crack sentencing guidelines could receive a reduction in their sentences, if other criteria were met.

III. DISCUSSION

A. The Court has no authority to Reconsider Defendant's Sentence

The crack-reduction amendment does not reduce Defendant's applicable guideline range, and thus the Court has no authority to modify his sentence. As stated above, when the guideline range is below an applicable statutory minimum, the Guidelines adopt that statutory minimum as the effective guideline range. USSG § 5G1.1(b). In Defendant's case, under the old crack guidelines, his guideline range would have been initially calculated as 92 to 115 months. However, since this range was below the applicable 120-month statutory minimum, his effective guideline range became 120 months. Under the new crack guidelines, his guideline range would be initially calculated as 77 to 96 months. However, again, the guidelines adopt the statutory minimum of 120 months. Thus, Defendant's applicable guideline range under the old and new crack guidelines is 120 months.

A court is authorized, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2), to reduce a defendant's crack sentence when, and only when, the amendment to USSG § 2D1.1 has "the effect of lowering the defendant's applicable guideline range." USSG 1B1.10(a)(2)(B). Here, Defendant's sentence was based upon the statutory minimum for his offense, pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(B), which was thus adopted as his guideline sentence, pursuant to USSG § 5G1.1(b). Even if the amendment to USSG § 2D1.1 would lower the offense level for the amount of crack involved in Defendant's charge, Defendant would still be subject to the statutory minimum. Thus, the amendment does not have the effect of lowering defendant's applicable ...


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