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United States v. Phillips

April 2, 2009

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
JAMES PHILLIPS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Eduardo C. Robreno, J.

MEMORANDUM

Petitioner James Phillips ("Petitioner") is serving a 360-month term of imprisonment for conspiracy to distribute cocaine base ("crack"), and distributing crack within 1,000 feet of a protected location. He now seeks the reduction of his sentence to reflect Amendment 706 to the United States Sentencing Commission Guidelines (the "Guidelines"), which altered § 2D1.1 of the Guidelines to reduce the sentencing ranges applicable to crack offenses. For the reasons that follow, the petition for reduction of sentence will be denied.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Petitioner's Sentence

On July 18, 2000, Petitioner, as part of a 16-count indictment involving several other defendants, was charged with:

(1) conspiracy to distribute crack, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846 ("Count One"); (2) distribution of crack, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) ("Count Eight"); and (3) distribution of crack within 1,000 feet of a protected location, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 860 ("Count Fifteen").*fn1

On December 20, 2000, Petitioner was found guilty after trial by jury. At sentencing, Petitioner's base offense level was fixed at 32, subject to a two level enhancement for distribution in a protected location, totaling an adjusted offense level of 34. However, due to Petitioner's status as a career offender, his offense level, as determined under U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1, became 37 with a Criminal History Category of VI. This corresponds to a guideline range of 360 months to life imprisonment.

On September 17, 2001, the Court sentenced Petitioner to a term of 360 months imprisonment.

B. Changes to the Sentencing Guidelines On November 1, 2007, the United States Sentencing

Commission (the "Commission") adopted Amendment 706 to the Guidelines to address what the Commission had come to view as unwarranted disparities in the sentences of defendants who possess or distribute various forms of cocaine. Prior to November 1, 2007, the Guidelines provided for a 100-to-1 ratio in sentences for crimes involving cocaine powder compared to those involving crack.*fn2 For example, § 2D1.1 of the Guidelines provided the same base offense level for a crime involving 150 kilograms or more of cocaine powder and for one involving 1.5 or more kilograms of crack. U.S.S.G. § 2D1.1(c)(1) (2006).

Under the November 1, 2007 amendment, the ratio between powder and crack sentences has been decreased. For example, 150 kilograms of cocaine powder is now treated as the equivalent of 4.5 kilograms of crack. U.S.S.G. § 2D1.1(c)(1) (2007). The bottom line for individual defendants is that a defendant sentenced under § 2D1.1 for a crack offense after November 1, 2007 receives a base offense level that is two levels lower than what he would have received for the identical offense if he had been sentenced before the November 1, 2007 amendment. 2 Federal Sentencing Guidelines Manual App. C 1160 ("Appendix C").

The Commission also altered the calculation of base offense levels for offenses involving crack and other controlled substances to reduce the impact of a crack conviction. Id. at 1158-59. The base offense level for these offenses is determined by converting the amount of each substance into a comparable amount of marijuana and then determining the base offense level for that amount of marijuana. U.S.S.G. § 2D1.1, comment 10(A)-(E). Amendment 706 provides that a given amount of crack translates into a lesser quantity of marijuana than it did under the old Guidelines. Appendix C at 1158; compare U.S.S.G. § 2D1.1 (2007), with U.S.S.G. § 2D1.1 (2006). Thus, post-amendment Guidelines ranges for crimes involving cocaine base and other controlled substances are also lower than ranges for the same crimes pre-amendment.

The Commission based Amendment 706 on "its analysis of key sentencing data about cocaine offenses and offenders; [a] review[] [of] recent scientific literature regarding cocaine use, effects, dependency, prenatal effects, and prevalence; research[] [on] trends in cocaine trafficking patterns, price, and use; [a] survey[] [of] the state laws regarding cocaine penalties; and [the Commission's] monitor[ing] [of] case law developments." Appendix C at 1159-60. This information led to the conclusion that "the 100-to-1 drug quantity ratio significantly undermines various congressional objectives set forth in the Sentencing Reform Act and elsewhere." Id. at 1160. The Commission "predicts that, assuming no change in the existing statutory mandatory minimum penalties, this modification to the Drug Quantity Table ...


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