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United States of America v. Aaron Saunders

April 3, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Munley


Before the court is Petitioner Aaron Saunders' motion for reconsideration (Doc. 712) of our Order on March 5, 2012 (Doc. 710) denying his motion to reduce his sentence. The instant motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for disposition.

"The purpose of a motion for reconsideration is to correct manifest errors of law or fact or to present newly discovered evidence." Harsco Corp. v. Zlotnicki, 779 F.2d 906, 909 (3d Cir.1985); Max's Seafood Cafe ex rel. Lou-Ann, Inc. v. Quinteros, 176 F.3d 669, 677 (3d Cir. 1999). The movant must demonstrate one of three grounds in order for such a motion to be granted: (1) an intervening change in controlling law; (2) the availability of new evidence not previously available; or (3) the need to correct a clear error of law or to prevent manifest injustice. Max's Seafood Cafe, 176 F.3d at 677. A motion for reconsideration is not a proper vehicle to merely attempt to convince the court to rethink a decision it has already made. Glendon Energy Co. v. Borough of Glendon, 836 F. Supp. 1109, 1122 (E.D. Pa. 1993).

On June 7, 2011, defendant was sentenced pursuant to the terms of the Rule 11(c)(1)(C) plea agreement for distribution of cocaine base (crack) as an aider or abettor. (Doc. 655, Plea Agreem. ¶ 2). Based on his prior criminal history, defendant qualified as a Career Offender under U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1. (Pre-Sentence Investigation Report (hereafter "PSR") ¶ 50). After a three-level reduction for accepting responsibility, his offense level was a 29 and his criminal history category was a VI, resulting in a sentencing guideline range of 151 to 188 months imprisonment. (PSR ¶¶ 50, 74). The court accepted defendant's plea agreement and sentenced him to the agreed upon term of 78 months imprisonment. (Doc. 677, Judgment at 2).

On January 9, 2012, defendant filed a "Motion for Correction or Modification of Sentence per 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2)." (Doc. 702). The motion was made pursuant to the United States Sentencing Commission's amendment to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, lowering the applicable guideline range for offenses involving "crack cocaine." See U.S.S.G. App. C, Amdt. 706. On March 5, 2012, this court denied defendant's motion. (Doc. 710). On March 19, 2012, defendant filed the instant motion for reconsideration. (Doc. 712). On that same date, he also filed a notice of appeal. (Doc. 713).

While the defendant does not specifically argue in favor of one of the three grounds for which his motion for reconsideration should be granted, we construe his motion as one for the correction of a clear error of law or to prevent manifest injustice. See Max's Seafood Cafe, 176 F.3d at 677. Defendant argues that this court did not address the merits of his Section 3582(c)(2) motion or consider his Rule 11(c)(1)(C) plea agreement in light of the Supreme Court decision in Freeman v. United States, - - U.S. - -, 131 S. Ct. 2685 (2011). (Doc. 712, Mot for Reconsid. ¶¶ 7-8).*fn1

Under Section 3582(c)(2), a district court may modify a defendant's term of imprisonment, if two conditions are satisfied. First, the defendant must have been sentenced to a term of imprisonment based on a sentencing range that was subsequently lowered. 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2); United States v. Doe, 564 F.3d 305, 309 (3d Cir. 2009). Second, the sentence reduction must be consistent with applicable policy statements issued by the Sentencing Commission. Id. A reduction is not consistent with the policy statement if the amendment does not have the effect of lowering the defendant's "applicable guideline range." U.S.S.G. § 1B1.10(a)(2)(B) (2011).

In 2011, the Sentencing Commission issued commentary addressing a defendant's eligibility under Section 3582(c)(2) and the definition of the "applicable guideline range." Section 1B1.10 provides that the applicable guideline range is "the guideline range that corresponds to the offense level and criminal history category determined pursuant to § 1B1.1(a), which is determined before consideration of any departure provision in the Guidelines Manual or any variance." U.S.S.G. § 1B1.10 cmt. n. 1(A) (2011) (emphasis added).

In Freeman v. United States, a plurality of the Supreme Court found that a district court has the authority to entertain a motion to reduce sentence even when the defendant enters into a Rule 11(c)(1)(C) agreement. 131 S. Ct. at 2693 (plurality opinion). Justice Sotomayor, concurring in judgment, found that a limited number of defendants, those who had plea agreements expressly "based on" a Guideline range, are eligible for a reduction under the first condition of Section 3582(c)(2).*fn2 Id. at 2695 (Sotomayor, J., concurring). We find that this decision did not alter the second requirement, directing the district court to consider the applicable policy statements.

In the instant case, defendant sought a sentence reduction under Section 3582(c)(2) pursuant to the retroactive crack cocaine amendments. We turn to the second condition of Section 3582(c)(2) that requires the reduction be consistent with the Sentencing Commission's policy statements, specifically that the reduction must lower defendant's applicable guideline range. Under the 2011 commentary, defendant's applicable range is determined prior to any departure. Defendant qualified as a career offender and his applicable guideline range was derived from the Career Offender Guidelines. As the amended crack cocaine guidelines did not lower the Career Offender Guidelines, it would not be consistent with the policy statements to grant defendant a sentence reduction.

We do not need to address the issue as to whether defendant's sentence was "based on" the sentencing guidelines under the first requirement of Section 3582(c)(2). While defendant entered into a Rule 11(c)(1)(C) binding plea agreement, making the Freeman decision relevant to the basis of defendant's sentence, we already found that his applicable guideline range was unaltered by the amendments. As defendant could not satisfy both prongs under Section 3582(c)(2), he was not eligible for a sentencing reduction. Therefore, there is no need to correct a clear error of law or to prevent manifest injustice.

Accordingly, it is hereby ORDERED that the defendant's motion for reconsideration (Doc. 712) of our order denying the defendant's motion for reduction of his sentence is DENIED.


JUDGE JAMES M. MUNLEY United States ...

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