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Media Alerts - United States v. Spinks - Fourth Circuit
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January 14, 2015
  United States v. Spinks - Fourth Circuit
Headline: What a Difference a Motion Makes: Requests to Reduce Mandatory Minimum Sentences Based on Factors Other than Assistance to Prosecution Lead to Conflicting Results under 18 U.S.C. § 3553(e) and FRCP 35(b).

Area of Law: Criminal Law, Sentencing

Issue Presented: Whether factors, other than substantial assistance to the prosecution, can be considered when reducing a sentence below the mandatory minimum under 18 U.S.C § 3553(e).

Brief Summary: Quinton Michael Spinks was sentenced to a 240-month mandatory minimum sentence for conspiracy to distribute cocaine and cocaine base. The government filed a motion under 18 U.S.C. § 3553(e) to reduce Spinks' sentence by thirty percent because Spinks provided substantial assistance in the prosecution of a codefendant. The court granted the motion and imposed a 168-month sentence. For reasons unrelated to the government's § 3553(e) motion, Spinks was later re-sentenced following habeas review to 120 months. At re-sentencing, the Government renewed its original § 3553(e) motion, but Spinks requested an additional reduction based on his rehabilitation. The district court granted the Government's motion, reducing Spinks' sentence to 84 months, but denied Spinks' request. On appeal, Spinks argued that he was eligible for further reduction because the decisions in Pepper v. United States (U.S.) and United States v. Davis (4th Cir.) permitted consideration of other factors.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit found that Spinks was not eligible for a reduction that considered factors other than his assistance to the government. The court based this conclusion on its decision in United States v. Hood and the plain language of § 3553(e), which expressly limits the court's consideration to substantial assistance. According to the court, Davis did not apply because that case involved a motion for sentence reduction under FRCP 35(b), a broader rule that allows for consideration of other factors. The court also found that Pepper did not apply because the defendant in that case requested variance from the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines, rather than departure from a mandatory minimum.

Judge Davis concurred in the judgment but disagreed with the majority's reasoning, arguing that § 3553(e) and FRCP 35(b) should be treated the same. Judge Davis relied on the comments under FRCP 35(b), which expressly stated that the deletion of language from FRCP 35(b) in 2002 was intended to be stylistic only. He also cited to the First and Sixth Circuits, which have relied on FRCP 35(b)'s comments to read § 3553(e) and FRCP 35(b) as being limited in the same manner.

To read the full opinion, please click here.

Panel: Judges Motz and King; Senior Judge Davis

Argument Date: 09/16/2014

Date of Issued Opinion: 10/28/2014

Docket Number: No. 13-4771

Decided: Affirmed

Case Alert Author: Jamie Lee, Univ. of Maryland Carey School of Law

Counsel: John Arthur Duberstein, OFFICE OF THE FEDERAL PUBLIC DEFENDER, Greensboro, North Carolina, for Appellant. Harry L. Hobgood, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Greensboro, North Carolina, for Appellee. ON BRIEF: Louis C. Allen, Federal Public Defender, OFFICE OF THE FEDERAL PUBLIC DEFENDER, Greensboro, North Carolina, for Appellant. Ripley Rand, United States Attorney, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Greensboro, North Carolina, for Appellee.

Author of Opinion: Judge Motz; Senior Judge Davis, concurring.

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor: Professor Renée Hutchins

    Posted By: Renee Hutchins @ 01/14/2015 10:49 AM     4th Circuit  

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