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United States v. Hopson

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

September 20, 2019

MARK HOPSON, Defendant.


          Joy Flowers Conti, Senior United States District Court Judge.

         I. Introduction

         Pending before the court is a motion for reduction of sentence pursuant to the First Step Act of 2018 (the “First Step Act”), Pub. L. No. 115-391, 132 Stat. 5194 filed by defendant Mark Hopson (“Hopson” or “defendant”) (ECF No. 270). The government filed a response in opposition to the motion (ECF No. 273), Hopson filed a reply brief (ECF No. 276). and the motion is ripe for disposition.

         II. Background

         On May 19, 2003, a federal grand jury returned an indictment charging petitioner with seven counts of criminal acts, based upon conduct occurring between 1998 and 2002. (ECF No. 1.) The charges stemmed from Hopson’s dealing in large quantities of crack cocaine during that period. In count one, Hopson was charged with conspiracy to distribute and conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute 50 or more grams of crack cocaine from 1998 through 2002, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846. In counts two through six, defendant was charged (along with his mother, co-defendant Sarah Hopson) with conducting transactions with the proceeds of the illegal drug trafficking. Specifically, count two charged a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1956(h) (money laundering conspiracy), involving a $16,000 down payment on a 2001 GMC Yukon Denali motor vehicle, a $12,000 child support payment to the Mercer County Court of Common Pleas, and various purchases of household goods in an amount in excess of $100,000. Count three charged a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1956(a)(1)(B)(i) and 18 U.S.C. § 2 regarding the payment of $12,000 in child support, and count four charged a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1957(a) regarding that payment. Count five charged a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1956(a)(1)(B)(i) regarding the purchase of the GMC Yukon Denali motor vehicle. Count six charged violations of both 18 U.S.C. § 1957(a) and 18 U.S.C. § 2 regarding the down payment of $16,000 toward the purchase of the vehicle. In count seven, defendant was charged with a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) for possessing a firearm while having previously been convicted of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year.

         On October 5, 2004, the government filed an information pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 851 noting two prior drug felony offenses for which Hopson had been convicted. (ECF No. 106.) If convicted, Hopson faced a statutory mandatory sentence of life imprisonment. (ECF No. 273-2 at 36-37). A jury trial was set for April 2005. On February 7, 2005, the government filed a complaint against Hopson charging him with a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1512(a)(2)(B)(i), for tampering with a witness for the upcoming trial by the use of physical force. (Crim. No. 05-42, ECF No. 1.) A grand jury indicted Hopson on this charge on March 1, 2005. (Crim. No. 05-42, ECF No. 12.)

         On the eve of trial on April 8, 2005, the parties reached a plea agreement, and Hopson pleaded guilty to counts one and two of the indictment at Criminal No. 03-151. (ECF Nos. 138, 139.) Hopson acknowledged that count 1 (conspiracy to distribute 50 grams or more of cocaine base) carried a mandatory minimum penalty of twenty years of imprisonment. As part of the agreement, the government agreed to dismiss counts 3-7 at Criminal No. 03-151 and filed an amended information charging Hopson with only one prior drug felony conviction, as opposed to two.[1] (ECF No. 137.) During the plea hearing defendant agreed with the government’s summary of what he did and the court accepted his guilty plea. (ECF No. 273-1 at 40.)

         Under the plea agreement, defendant waived his right to appeal his conviction and to attack collaterally his sentence, subject to limited exceptions. (Id. at 20-21.) Hopson subsequently attempted to withdraw his guilty plea on the ground that it was not knowing and voluntary, but after multiple hearings the court denied his motion. (ECF No. 177). The court issued its Tentative Findings on March 8, 2006, finding Hopson was a career offender by reason of his two prior felony convictions. (ECF No. 176.). The guideline range, however, was driven by the base offense level for the amount of crack cocaine plus enhancements for possession of a firearm and obstruction of justice.

         On June 13, 2006, Hopson pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice at Criminal No. 05-42 and all charges were consolidated for sentencing, which occurred immediately following the change of plea. Hopson challenged the quantity of crack cocaine attributed to him. After considering testimony from the government, the court found that Hopson was responsible for more than 1.5 kilograms of crack cocaine. (ECF No. 273-2 at 47-55). The court commented that the record could have supported a greater amount, because $90,000 in laundered proceeds corresponded to more than two or perhaps three kilograms of crack. (ECF No. 273-2 at 54).

         The court sentenced Hopson at count one of the indictment at Criminal No. 03-151 to a term of imprisonment of 360 months, to be followed by a ten-year term of supervised release, and to a concurrent term of imprisonment of 240 months at count two of that same indictment. (ECF Nos. 182, 183.) At Criminal No. 05-42, Hopson was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of 240 months to run concurrently with the sentence imposed at Criminal No. 03-151. (Crim. No. 05-42, ECF Nos. 56, 57.)

         On October 9, 2007, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed the convictions and sentences imposed by this court. (Crim. No. 03-151, ECF No. 238, 239; Crim. No. 05-41, ECF No. 70.) In particular, the court of appeals held that Hopson was properly classified as a career offender.

         On June 24, 2009, the court denied defendant’s motion for reduction of sentence pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2) because amendment 706 to the Sentencing Guidelines did not affect his guideline range of imprisonment and because the court found his contentions that his sentence exceeded the statutory maximum and that his sentence was “jurisdictionally defective” to be without merit. (Crim. No. 03-151, ECF No. 248.) On April 1, 2010, the court enforced defendant’s waiver of his right to file a § 2255 motion and denied his § 2255 motion. (ECF No. 256).

         On October 13, 2016, the court granted a motion to reduce Hopson’s sentence pursuant to Amendment 782, over the government’s objection, and resentenced him to a term of imprisonment of 292 months, which was the low end of the advisory guideline range based on his career offender status. The court explained the reasons for its decision as follows:

There is no dispute that defendant's criminal history includes serious offenses involving the distribution of drugs, the possession of firearms, and physical violence. Prior to his present incarceration, defendant was a drug dealer and abuser. Defendant's criminal history is not uncommon for one who pursues a livelihood in the drug trade. As reflected in the documents submitted with defendant's motion, upon being removed from the drug trade defendant has exhibited consistent compliance and made significant progress toward obtaining the necessary skills to better his life. The Inmate Skills Development Plan indicates that defendant's conduct has been exemplary while incarcerated. Even with a sentence reduction, defendant will serve at least 7 more years in prison, and a total of nearly 20 years in jail, with all good time credit, which is a significant term of incarceration. When defendant is released, he will be in his 50s. After his release he will serve a 10-year period of supervised release. Should defendant exhibit violent tendencies or decide to return to the drug culture, as either a user or dealer, he will suffer the consequences. The court rejects the government's position that a reduction is not warranted because defendant presents an unacceptable danger to society. In doing so, the court is aware of ...

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