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Media Alerts - Sixth Circuit -- New guidelines didn't justify sentence reduction for career offender
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May 4, 2016
  Sixth Circuit -- New guidelines didn't justify sentence reduction for career offender
Headline: Sentence reduction due to new guidelines is not appropriate when another relevant guideline supports original sentence.

Case: USA v. Smith -- Sixth Circuit

Area of law: Criminal Law; Sentencing; Changes in Sentencing Guidelines; Conflicting Guidelines

Issue presented: May a prisoner's sentence be reduced based on new sentencing guidelines for one offense if multiple offenses apply and another applicable guideline supports the original sentence?

Brief summary: A prisoner appealed the district court's denial of his motion to reduce his 360-month sentence under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2), which allows for a sentence reduction when the prisoner's sentencing range has been lowered by a future amendment. An amendment to the drug-trafficking sentencing guidelines reduced his offense to a range lower than the original 360 months to life, prompting him to move for sentence reduction. But § 3582(c)(2) does not permit a sentence reduction when the operation of another applicable guideline prevents the lower sentence. In the prisoner's case, even if the reduced, amended sentencing guidelines for drug-trafficking had applied at the time of his sentencing, his status as a career offender would have triggered a range of 360 months to life. Thus, the prisoner did not qualify for a reduction.

Extended summary: A prisoner was convicted for participating in a drug conspiracy and maintaining a drug house. Although his presentencing report noted that he qualified as a career offender, the district court sentenced him based on the sentencing guidelines for drug-trafficking offenses. At the prisoner's sentencing, the drug-trafficking provision produced a higher offense level than did the career-offender provision: a guidelines range of 360 months to life. The district court sentenced him to 360 months of imprisonment.

The prisoner moved for a sentence reduction under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2) and an amendment to the drug-trafficking sentencing guidelines, which lowered the base-offense level for drug-related crimes. But § 3582(c)(2) does not permit a sentence reduction when the operation of another guideline applicable to the same prisoner prevents the lower sentence. The district court denied his motion, and he appealed.

The Sixth Circuit affirmed, concluding that the district court correctly denied the prisoner's motion because the amendment did not in effect lower all the guideline ranges applicable to his case. Section 3582(c)(2) permits a district court to reduce a defendant's sentence if the defendant "has been sentenced to a term of imprisonment based on a sentencing range that has subsequently been lowered by the Sentencing Commission" and if "such a reduction is consistent with applicable policy statements issued by the Sentencing Commission." In this prisoner's case, even if the reduced sentencing guidelines had been amended before his sentencing, he still would have been subject to a guidelines range of 360 months to life as a career offender. Because the career-offender offense level "shall apply" when it is greater than the otherwise applicable offense level, the prisoner was not eligible for a sentence reduction under § 3582(c)(2).

Panel: Circuit Judges Alice M. Batchelder, and John M. Rogers; District Judge James L. Graham.

Date of issued opinion: February 25, 2016

Docket number: 15-5853

Decided: Affirmed.

Counsel: ON BRIEF: Elizabeth Rogers, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Memphis, Tennessee, for Appellee. Eric W. Prisoner, Forrest City, Arkansas, pro se.

Author of opinion: PER CURIAM

Case alert author: Luciana Viramontes, Western Michigan University Cooley Law School

Case alert circuit supervisor: Professor Mark Cooney

Link to the case: http://www.ca6.uscourts.gov/op...ns.pdf/16a0050p-06.pdf

    Posted By: Mark Cooney @ 05/04/2016 01:42 PM     6th Circuit  

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