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October 29, 2014
  United States v. Baker- Tenth Circuit
Case Name: U.S. v. Baker - Tenth Circuit

Headline: Tenth Circuit Construes Rule 35(b) Narrowly; Denies Government's Motion to Reduce Defendant's Sentence as Out of Time

Area of Law: Criminal Procedure

Issue Presented: Does a district court have jurisdiction to grant a reduction in a defendant's previously imposed sentence under Fed. R. Crim. P. 35(b) for providing substantial assistance to the Government in the prosecution of another individual when the information provided to the government was useful both before and after the one-year anniversary of his sentencing?

Brief Summary:

Rule 35(b) authorizes the district court, upon the Government's motion, to reduce a previously imposed sentence if the defendant, after sentencing, provided substantial assistance to the Government in investigating or prosecuting another person. Generally, the Government must file a motion for a sentence reduction within the year following sentencing, but Rule 35(b)(2)(B ) permits the Government to file a motion more than one year after the sentencing if the information provided by the defendant did not become useful to the government until more than one year after sentencing In this case, the government conceded that the defendant's information was useful both before and after the one-year mark. As a result, the Tenth Circuit held that the plain language of Rule 35(b) precluded the district court from reducing the defendant's sentence since the government filed the motion more than one year after the defendant's sentencing.

Extended Summary:

Defendant Baker was indicted on eighty offenses arising out of a fraudulent investment scheme. Baker pled guilty to two of the offenses and was sentenced to the bottom range of the sentencing guidelines, to forty-one months in prison. After sentencing, Baker provided information about his co-defendant Akins' role in the fraud and offered to testify against Akins. As a result of his cooperation, the Assistant United States Attorney told Baker that he would recommend a reduction in sentence.

Akins pled guilty to two of the charged offenses and was sentenced to 27 months. The plea and sentencing happened within one year of Baker's sentencing, and during this time Baker twice requested that the government file the Rule 35(b) motion to have his sentence reduced. The government delayed filing the motion in case it needed Baker to testify at a restitution hearing, and the one-year time period lapsed before the restitution hearing took place. The government did not file the Rule 35(b) motion until January 28, 2013 - over fifteen months after Baker's sentencing.

The district court held that it had limited jurisdiction because the motion was filed more than a year after the sentencing. The government then filed the motion under Rule 35(b)(2)(B), giving the court jurisdiction to reduce a defendant's sentence if the information provided within one year of sentencing did not become useful to the government until more than one year after sentencing. The district court ruled that it did not have jurisdiction because the government conceded that the information was useful both before and after the one year. The court reviewed the district court's determination on jurisdiction de novo.

The court noted that a district court's ability to modify a sentence is limited, and it may only do so when expressly authorized by Congress. The ability to modify sentences is granted in 18 U.S.C. ยง 3582(c). That section refers the reader to Rule 35 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure for the rule on when a district court may modify a sentence.

Rule 35(b)(1) requires the government file its motion to reduce a sentence within one year of the defendant's sentencing. Rule 35(b)(2) extends that time period in some circumstances, including when information provided during the year after sentencing does not become useful until more than a year after sentencing. The court held that the language of Rule 35(b)(2)(B) did not include times when information is valuable to the government both before and after the one-year mark.

The court noted that the purpose of Rule 35 is to promote finality and encourage defendants to quickly disclose information to the government. The limited circumstances in 35(b)(2) that extend past the one-year deadline are reserved from times when the defendant does not know the information within one year, or could not reasonably have known that the information would be useful to the government, or the information itself was not useful until more than a year after sentencing. Under the circumstances in Baker's case, the court concluded that the district court did not have jurisdiction to reduce the sentence. The parties argued that the full extent of Baker's assistance was unknown until more than one year after the sentencing, but the court concluded that Congress intended the word "until" to mean specifically that the information could not become useful before the one-year mark.

The government conceded that it could have filed the 35(b) motion to preserve the court's jurisdiction over the matter and then ask the court to wait to make a ruling until after the restitution hearing. Further, the government conceded that it did not realize the need to do so until it was too late.

The court then addressed the defendant's reliance on United States v. Morales, 52 F.3d 7 (1st Cir. 1995). In Morales, the First Circuit interpreted an earlier version of Rule 35, construing it broadly. The First Circuit stated that a defendant cannot be said to know useful information until she knows the value of that information, or is specifically asked. The court noted that other circuits have declined to follow this reasoning, and that in the present case, it would decline to do so as well. The court stated that it did not have the authority to interpret Rule 35(b) in any way that is not the clear and explicit language stated in the rule.

The court affirmed the district court's decision, noting that the requirements of Rule 35(b) are jurisdictional. It sympathized with Baker's plight, noting that it was unfortunate for Baker that the government did not file the motion in a timely manner. Finally, it noted that the government only sought a six-month reduction of his forty-one month sentence.

To read the full opinion, please visit:

Panel: Kelly, Ebel, and Phillips

Date of Issued Opinion: October 28, 2014

Docket Number: No. 13-1042

Decided: Decision of the district court was affirmed

Counsel: Warren R. Williamson, Federal Public Defender and Jill M. Wichlens, Assistant Federal Public Defender, Denver Colorado, for Defendant-Appellant Frederick H.K. Baker.

John F. Walsh, United States Attorney and Robert Mark Russel, Assistant United States Attorney, Denver, Colorado, for Plaintiff-Appellee United States of America.

Author: Ebel

Case Alert Author: Ashley L. Funkhouser

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor: Barbara Bergman

    Posted By: Dawinder Sidhu @ 10/29/2014 05:14 PM     10th Circuit  

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