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United States v. Stewart

June 3, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Yohn, J.


Defendant Tarell Stewart has filed a motion for modification of an imposed term of imprisonment pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2). Stewart seeks reduction of his sentence following Amendment 706 to the Sentencing Guidelines, which reduced the offense levels of crack-based offenses and was made retroactively applicable by Amendment 713, effective March 3, 2008. U.S.S.G. Supp. to App'x C, Amend. 706, 711, 713. The court concludes that Stewart is eligible for a sentencing reduction pursuant to § 3582(c)(2) and will grant his motion.

I. Factual Background*fn1

Defendant pleaded guilty to two counts of possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(B); one count of possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c); and one count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g). On August 29, 2005, the court sentenced defendant to 144 months' imprisonment, 8 years' supervised release, and a $1,000 fine. (Sentencing Tr. 31:6-33:19, Aug. 29, 2005 (Doc. No. 53).)

Defendant's term of imprisonment consisted of 60 months on the § 924(c) charge, to be served consecutively to an aggregate sentence of 84 months on all other charges. Id. 31:6-13. Defendant's past conduct resulted in a criminal history category of VI. In aggregate, defendant's offenses involved approximately 21.5 grams of crack cocaine, which corresponded to a base offense level of 28 under U.S.S.G. § 2D1.1. After adjusting for acceptance of responsibility, defendant's total offense level was 25. However, defendant's past conduct triggered the career offender guideline codified in U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1, under which defendant's total offense level would have been 34.

After explicitly considering many factors, the court departed downward from the career offender guideline. In doing so, the court referred to career offender status as "a little heavy" under the facts of defendant's case. (Sentencing Tr. 11:22-24, 28:7-14.) A predicate robbery offense involved just $10, no weapon, and a minimal assault. The court also explicitly referenced the underlying crack guidelines as a factor in its sentencing determination when explaining the extent of the downward departure. (Id. 28:21-29:1.) As these comments demonstrate, both on the record and in its pre-sentence analysis of the relevant sentencing factors, the court granted a substantial portion of the downward departure pursuant to United States v. Shoupe, 35 F.3d 835 (3d Cir. 1994).*fn2

II. Discussion

A. Statutory Basis for Sentence Modification

In general, a court "may not modify a term of imprisonment once it has been imposed."

18 U.S.C. § 3582(c) (2006).However, Congress has empowered the courts to modify already-imposed sentences in limited circumstances, including: in the case of a defendant who has been sentenced to a term of imprisonment based on a sentencing range that has subsequently been lowered by the Sentencing Commission pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 994(o), upon motion of the defendant or the Director of the Bureau of Prisons, or on its own motion, the court may reduce the term of imprisonment, after considering the factors set forth in section 3553(a) to the extent that they are applicable, if such a reduction is consistent with applicable policy statements issued by the Sentencing Commission.

Id. § 3582(c)(2). The Sentencing Commission has expressed its policy statement regarding sentence reduction pursuant to § 3582(c)(2) in U.S.S.G. § 1B1.10. Subsection (c) of § 1B1.10 sets out the "covered amendments" to the Guidelines that, pursuant to § 3582(c)(2), may be retroactively applied to reduce already-imposed sentences. Thus, an amendment must be listed in § 1B1.10(c) for the retroactive application of that amendment to be consistent with the Sentencing Commission's policy statement.

Furthermore, § 1B1.10(a)(3) states that § 3582(c)(2) proceedings "do not constitute a full resentencing of the defendant," and § 1B1.10(b)(2)(A) states "the court shall not reduce the defendant's term of imprisonment under 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(2) and this policy statementto a term that is less than the minimum of the amended guideline range." This broad prohibition in § 1B1.10(b)(2)(A), however, is modified in cases like Stewart's because § 1B1.10(b)(2)(B) provides:

If the original term of imprisonment imposed was less than the term of imprisonment provided by the guideline range applicable to the defendant at the time of sentencing, a reduction comparably less than the amended guideline range determined under subdivision (1) of this subsection may be appropriate. However, if the original term of imprisonment constituted a non-guideline sentence determined pursuant to 18 U.S.C. 3553(a) and United States v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220 (2005), a further reduction generally would not be appropriate.

Thus, for defendants such as Stewart who received downward departures from the applicable guideline ranges at their original sentencings, ยง 1B1.10(b)(2)(B) authorizes courts to grant comparable departures from the amended guideline ranges in ...

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