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United States v. Cruz

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

June 20, 2017



          William W. Caldwell United States District Judge

         I. Introduction

         Presently before the court is Defendant Derrick Cruz's motion (Doc. 315) for relief from judgment. For the following reasons, the court will deny Defendant's motion.

         II. Background

         On January 23, 1996, after a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of three separate counts that included drug offenses and money laundering. (Doc. 88). On May 1, 1996, this court sentenced Defendant to 324 months' imprisonment-the bottom end of the sentencing range provided by the then-mandatory United States Sentencing Guidelines (“Sentencing Guidelines”).[1] (Doc. 131). The Third Circuit affirmed Defendant's conviction and sentence on February 2, 1997. (Doc. 148).

         Over the following ten years, Defendant filed a litany of motions and other documents challenging his conviction and sentence. The only fruitful challenges were those based on retroactive amendments to the Sentencing Guidelines. Defendant successfully moved three times for a reduction to his federal sentence based on retroactive amendments, reducing the initial sentence of 324 months' incarceration to his current sentence of 135 months' incarceration. (See Docs. 224, 237, 282, 285, 302, 305).

         On March 20, 2017, Defendant filed the instant motion for relief from judgment. (Doc. 315). Although styled as motion pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b), the motion is actually a request for miscellaneous relief based primarily on a decision from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, United States v. Holloway, 68 F.Supp.3d 310 (E.D.N.Y. 2014) (Gleeson, J.). (Doc. 315 at 1, 6-9). In Holloway, which will be discussed in greater detail below, the United States Attorney-in response to several direct requests from the district judge-agreed to vacate certain convictions in order to reduce a 57-year sentence that was the result of mandatory minimum requirements.

         The Government filed a two-paragraph response to the instant motion, claiming that Defendant cited no legal authority, and asserting that this court lacks jurisdiction to provide Defendant with the relief he seeks. (Doc. 319). The Government's response does not address Holloway or the actual relief Defendant requests, i.e., that this court follow Holloway and petition the Government to exercise its discretion to reduce his sentence (e.g., by vacating one of his counts of conviction) in the interests of justice.

         III. Discussion

         Defendant has exhausted his direct appeal and post-conviction avenues for relief. He now asks this court to follow Holloway's example by requesting that the Government revisit his case and exercise its discretion to vacate one or more counts of conviction or take some other action that would reduce his current federal sentence. (Doc. 315 at 6-9). For the following reasons, the court finds that Defendant's case is distinguishable from Holloway, and will deny his request.

         In Holloway, Francois Holloway and an accomplice were charged with stealing three cars at gunpoint over a two-day span. Holloway, 68 F.Supp.3d at 312. The government charged each carjacking separately, and each carjacking count was accompanied by a “§ 924(c)” count for using a firearm during a crime of violence, see 18 U.S.C. § 924(c). Holloway, 68 F.Supp.3d at 312. Holloway had been offered a plea agreement with a sentencing range of 130 to 147 months in which two of the § 924(c) counts would be dropped, but he rejected that offer and went to trial. Id. At trial, Holloway was convicted on all counts, and, due to the “stacked” mandatory minimums imposed by § 924(c), as well as the statutory requirement that § 924(c) sentences run consecutively to one another and all other sentences in the case, he received a mandatory[2] sentence of imprisonment of 691 months, or 57 years and 7 months. Id. at 312-13.

         In highlighting the draconian nature of Holloway's mandatory sentence, Judge Gleeson noted that in 2013, the average federal sentence for murder was only 268 months. Id. at 313 (citation omitted). He also juxtaposed Holloway's sentence with that of Holloway's co-defendant, who had engaged in similar conduct but received a sentence of just 27 months after pleading guilty and testifying for the government. Id. In light of what appeared to Judge Gleeson to be an extremely unjust punishment, on two separate occasions he called on the United States Attorney to consider having the government exercise “its discretion to agree to an order vacating two or more of Holloway's 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) convictions.” Id. at 314.

         After thoroughly reviewing the circumstances of the case and Holloway's “extraordinary” record during his twenty years of incarceration, as well as completing a time-consuming search to find and speak to several of the carjacking victims, the government agreed that it would not oppose a motion to vacate two of the § 924(c) convictions and resentence Holloway. Id. at 315. As Judge Gleeson explained, Holloway's “sentence was far more severe than necessary to reflect the seriousness of his crimes and to adequately protect the community from him, ” and the government made the courageous decision to “remedy injustice[ ]” rather than simply taking the “easy route” by responding that “there's nothing we can do about your sentence[.]” Id. at 316.

         Initially, the court notes that Holloway is a district court decision from outside the Third Circuit, and has no binding effect on this court. More importantly, the court finds Defendant's ...

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