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United States v. Collins

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Greeneville

October 28, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
GUY COLLINS

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          Leon Jordan United States District Judge

         This criminal case is before the Court on the defendant's August 14, 2019 motion for sentence reduction. [Doc. 1463]. Through counsel, the defendant asks the Court to reduce his sentence pursuant to Section 404 of the First Step Act of 2018, Pub. L. No. 115-391, 132 Stat. 5194, which retroactively applies certain provisions of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, Pub. L. 111-220, 124 Stat. 2372.

         The United States has responded in partial opposition to the motion, ultimately deferring to the Court's discretion. [Doc. 1477]. For the reasons that follow, the defendant's motion will be granted.

         I. Defendant's Eligibility for First Step Act Relief.

         “Federal courts are forbidden, as a general matter, to modify a term of imprisonment once it has been imposed, but the rule of finality is subject to a few narrow exceptions.” Freeman v. United States, 564 U.S. 522, 526 (2011) (internal citation and quotation marks omitted). One of those narrow exceptions is 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(B), which provides that “the court may modify an imposed term of imprisonment to the extent otherwise expressly permitted by statute . . . .” The First Step Act, which was enacted on December 21, 2018, is one such statute.

         Section 404(b) of the First Step Act instructs that the “court that imposed a sentence for a covered offense may, on motion of the defendant . . ., impose a reduced sentence as if sections 2 and 3 of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 . . . were in effect at the time the covered offense was committed.” A covered offense is “a violation of a Federal criminal statute, the statutory penalties for which were modified by section 2 or 3 of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 . . ., that was committed before August 3, 2010.” First Step Act, § 404(a).[1]

         The defendant pled guilty to Count One of the Superseding Indictment, conspiring to distribute 50 grams or more of cocaine base in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1). Prior to the Fair Sentencing Act, 21 U.S.C. § 841 (as applied to the present defendant) mandated an enhanced sentence of 20 years to life imprisonment for violations of section 841(a)(1) involving 50 grams or more of cocaine base. See 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(A)(iii) (2009). For 841(a)(1) violations involving less than 50 grams of cocaine base, the enhanced statutory imprisonment range was 10 years to life. See Id. § 841(b)(1)(B)(iii). Since the enactment of the Fair Sentencing Act, the 841(b)(1)(A)(iii) penalties now apply (as to cocaine base) only to offenses involving 280 grams or more, and the 841(b)(1)(B)(iii) penalties apply only to offenses involving 28 grams or more (but less than 280 grams). See 21 U.S.C. § 841(b) (2018); Dorsey v. United States, 567 U.S. 260, 269 (2012).

         As noted, the First Step Act defines a “covered offense” as “a violation of a Federal criminal statute, the statutory penalties for which were modified by section 2 or 3 of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 . . ., ” First Step Act, § 404(a). This Court agrees that

eligibility under the language of the First Step Act turns on a simple, categorical question: namely, whether a defendant's offense of conviction was a crack cocaine offense affected by the Fair Sentencing Act. If so, the defendant is categorically eligible for consideration regardless of actual quantities. The particular quantities affect only the Court's discretionary call on whether to grant a reduction in sentence.
. . .
. . . This is a categorial decision based on the type of prior conviction, not any particular quantity determination. The Court then determines whether to exercise its discretion to reduce the defendant's sentence.

United States v. Boulding, 379 F.Supp.3d 646, 651, 654 (W.D. Mich. 2019).

         As noted, the instant defendant pled guilty to conspiring to distribute 50 grams or more of cocaine base in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(A). Section 2 of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 modified the statutory penalties for that federal criminal statute. See Fair Sentencing Act, 124 Stat. 2372. The defendant committed his crime from 2007 through 2009. [Presentence Investigation Report (“PSR”), ¶ 13]. Thus, he was sentenced by this Court for “a covered offense” and is eligible to be considered for First Step Act relief.

         II. ...


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