United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
Stewart Cercone, Senior United States District Judge.
NOW, this 6th day of November, 2019, upon due
consideration of defendant's Motion for Imposition of a
Reduced Sentence Pursuant to Section 404 of the First Step
Act and the parties' submissions in conjunction
therewith, IT IS ORDERED that  the motion be, and the
same hereby is, granted in the form of a re-imposed sentence
of 178 months of incarceration and 4 years of supervised
release. An amended judgment order will follow.
standards by which we review First Step Act motions are set
forth in United States v. Jaison Ceatrix Thompson,
1:05cr42, 2019 WL 4040403 (W.D. Pa. Aug. 27, 2019), and those
standards are incorporated herein. The parties do not dispute
defendant's eligibility to receive discretionary relief
here. What they disagree about is the scope of relief that
should be awarded in the exercise of this court's
discretion under the Act.
seeks a sentence of 166 months which in effect is one of time
served. He relies on mitigating factors that were credited at
his original sentencing and his post-sentencing
government maintains that we should adhere to the reasoning
reflected in the explanations given by Judge McLaughlin for
the sentence he chose to impose under the then-governing
standards. And pursuant to the government's
extrapolations, that reasoning mandates a reduced sentence of
210 months. The government further contends that
defendant's post- sentencing conduct should not be
factored into the assessment of whether and to what degree
relief should be awarded.
reject the government's contention that we should follow
the sentencing rationale of Judge McLaughlin in lockstep.
That rationale was advanced under a set of existing precepts
that were displaced by the First Step Act and replaced by the
standards embodied therein. The standards now governing the
task at hand were intended to give defendant a
"do-over" of sorts and we fail to see any sound
justification for shirking the responsibility of performing
that task under the guise of prior judicial musings rendered
under meaningfully different circumstances.
course, our unwillingness to follow the government's lead
does not mean that the salient aspects of defendant's
criminal history and character it has highlighted likewise
should be discounted. To the contrary, those factors continue
to inform the sound exercise of discretion in formulating an
appropriate sentence. But it is the discretion that has been
afforded by the First Step Act that must be exercised in
accordance with the prevailing standards of today
notwithstanding the government's perception that
yesterday's views were better.
was classified as a career offender. His offense conduct
involved the possession with the intent to distribute 76.1
grams of crack cocaine coupled with possession of two loaded
firearms. His prior criminal history included a 1996
conviction for aggravated assault stemming from defendant
punching and kicking the victim, which in turn caused the
victim to fall to the sidewalk and suffer a skull fracture.
Defendant received a 6 to 20 year sentence for this offense.
Four months after his release defendant was arrested for
possession with intent to distribute 48 grams of crack
cocaine. He received a 3 to 6 year sentence for this 2003
offense, which was made to run consecutive to his parole
violation sentence. Defendant also had prior convictions for
disorderly conduct, giving a false name to police and a
juvenile adjudication for simple assault.
career offender status produced a guidelines sentence range
of 292 to 365 months. At sentencing, defense counsel
advocated for an adjustment based on a one-to-one ratio for
the equivalent amount of powder cocaine, which under the
existing guidelines would have produced a 168 to 210 month
range. Arguments were also advanced based on the sentencing
range that would have resulted had the government filed a
notice pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 851 on a §
841(b)(1)(C) charge, which would have produced a sentencing
range of 210 to 262 months. Judge McLaughlin reasoned that
the 168 to 210 month range based on a one-to-one ratio would
be "substantially inadequate" given defendant's
criminal history and highlighted defendant's
"violent and recidivistic tendencies" in arriving
at a sentence of 248 months.
248 month sentence reflected a variance from the 292 to 365
month guidelines sentencing range. This variance was
predicated on three mitigating aspects of defendant's
prior history and personal characteristics. At 10 years of
age defendant lost his father to a heroin overdose.
Behavioral issues and poor grades soon followed. Defendant
turned to alcohol and drugs by the age of 14 and symptoms of
poor mental health set in. He was diagnosed with paranoia and
then schizophrenia. Heavy drug use ensued.
serious setbacks in early childhood development and his
difficulties with poor mental health were highlighted in
support of the variance. Judge McLaughlin also observed
defendant's genuine contrition and desire for
rehabilitation and credited these mitigating aspects of
defendant's character in formulating the variance.
government maintains that "[h]ad the Fair Sentencing Act
applied, Judge Mclaughlin would not have imposed a sentence
below 210 months, which is sound reason to reduce
[defendant's] sentence to that level." And it
highlights the offense conduct and parrots snippets from
Judge McLaughlin's sentencing rationale, including
defendant's "repetitive parole violations" and
"violent and recidivistic tendencies." But as noted
above, all of this is very much a static and selective view
of the matters informing the discretion to be exercised at
this juncture. At the very least, the view posited by the
government fails to provide an influential assessment of the
§ 3553(a) factors that are to be reassessed in
re-imposing a new sentence under the changed precepts.
other hand, defendant maintains that we should simply deduct
the 44 month variance off the low end of the new guidelines
sentencing range, which would produce a sentence of 166
months (210 months minus 44 months). In addition to the
mitigating factors noted above, he highlights his 1) work
history while incarcerated, 2) obtaining his GED, 3)
maintaining strong familial relations, 4) completion of drug
education courses and vocational training and 5) earning some
college credits toward a Business Associate Degree. He also
notes his past four-year record of being free from
disciplinary action and his ongoing ability to remain
positive toward staff and other inmates, thus steering clear
of being a management concern for the Bureau. Based on the
above, defendant reasons that the current term of
approximately fourteen years is more than enough punishment.
of all of the above through the lens of the § 3553(a)
factors convinces us that the proper exercise of discretion
is a reduction to a term of 178 months of incarceration and 4
years of supervised release. The original departure of 44
months reflected a variance of approximately 15 percent off
the low end of the guidelines range. A 15 percent reduction
off the low end of the new sentencing range produces a
sentence of 178 months. A reduction of this magnitude strikes
the proper balance in ...