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United States v. Jackson

United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Huntington Division

October 31, 2019

JOHN JACKSON, also known as “Aaron Green”



         Pending before the Court is Defendant John Jackson's letter-form Motion for Reduction of Sentence under the First Step Act of 2018. Mot. for Reduction of Sentence, ECF No. 175. For the reasons set forth below, the Court GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN PART Defendant's motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On February 27, 2006, Defendant pleaded guilty to “Possession with Intent to Distribute 5 Grams or More of Cocaine Base, ” in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1). See Plea Hr'g, ECF No. 62; Judgment, ECF No. 65, at 1. In light of an Information filed pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 851, “the defendant's penalties were increased as a repeat offender.” See Probation Mem., at 3. This resulted “in a statutory sentencing range of 10 years to life in prison and a term of supervised release of 8 years.” Id. 28.05 grams of cocaine base, or “crack, ” were attributed to Defendant at the time. Id. Defendant's original guideline sentence ranged from 262 to 327 months, based on a criminal history category of VI and a total offense level of 34. Id. This Court sentenced Defendant to 262 months imprisonment, eight years of supervised release, a $100 special assessment, and a $7, 500 fine. See Judgment, at 2-3, 6.

         Since the imposition of his original sentence, Defendant's sentence has not been reduced. Probation Mem., at 3. Considering his designation as a career offender, Defendant's guideline range was unaffected by the United States Sentencing Commission's 2011 and 2014 revisions to the crack to powder cocaine ratio specified in the Guidelines. See Id. at 4. Defendant's adjustment to incarceration has not been without its pitfalls. Though he has completed two drug education programs, he has also been subject to sanctions on at least thirty-five separate occasions.[1]Probation Mem., at 4-5. Defendant's infractions include, inter alia, numerous instances of engaging in sexual acts, refusing work assignments, and threatening bodily harm. Id. To date, Defendant has served approximately 171 months in prison. Id. He is currently projected to be released from custody on February 17, 2026. Id.

         Pursuant to the First Step Act of 2018, Defendant filed a letter-form motion seeking a reduction in his sentence on January 7, 2019. Mot. for Reduction of Sentence, at 1. On June 4, 2019, Defendant's counsel submitted a memorandum arguing that he was eligible for a reduced sentence under the First Step Act, that the Court should conduct a full resentencing, and that Defendant's sentence should be reduced to time served. Def.'s Mem., ECF No. 178. On June 19, 2019, the Government filed a Response to Defendant's memorandum, contending that Defendant's new guideline range was 188 to 235 months imprisonment under U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1(b) and that the “appropriate modified sentence is a reduction to a within-guideline sentence to be followed by a period of supervised release of six years.” See Resp., ECF No. 180, at 8.


         When a court imposes a sentence of imprisonment, it is considered the final judgment on the matter and the court, as a general prohibition, “may not modify a term of imprisonment once it has been imposed.” 18 U.S.C. §§ 3582(b) & 3582(c)(1)(B). However, a court can modify a sentence where it is “expressly permitted by statute.” 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(B).

         The First Step Act of 2018 provides, in relevant part, that a “court that imposed a sentence for a covered offense may . . . impose a reduced sentence as if sections 2 and 3 of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 . . . were in effect at the time the covered offense was committed.” Pub. L. No. 115-391, 132 Stat. 5194, § 404(b) (2018) (hereinafter “The First Step Act”). Section Two of the Fair Sentencing Act increased the quantity of cocaine base, or “crack, ” that triggers a mandatory minimum penalty. Pub. L. No. 111-220, §2, 124 Stat. 2372 (2010). Section Three eliminated the statutory minimum sentence for simple possession of crack. Id. at § 3.

         To be eligible for a reduced sentence under the First Step Act, a defendant's sentence must not have been imposed or previously reduced under sections two or three of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010.[2] Id. at § 404(c). Nor can a defendant have been previously denied a reduction under § 404 of the First Step Act. Id. While a defendant, the Government, or the Court can move for a reduced sentence, individuals are not entitled to a reduced sentence inasmuch as courts are not required to grant relief under § 404. Id. The First Step Act thus represents a broad grant of discretion to the federal courts, and is indicative of how this Court's authority may be exercised.

         Courts in this district and throughout the Fourth Circuit agree that the proper mechanism to seek relief under the First Step Act is 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(b).[3] See, e.g., United States v. Banks, No. 1:07-00157, 2019 WL 2221620, at *4 (S.D. W.Va. May 22, 2019) (Faber, J.) (citing United States v. Shelton, No. 3:07-329, 2019 WL 1598921, at *3 (D.S.C. April 15, 2019) (listing cases)). As such, the language of First Step Act controls the Court's ability to grant relief. See Wright v. United States, Nos. 4:95-39, 4:95-44, 2019 WL 3046096, at *4 (E.D. Va. July 11, 2019). Under § 3582(c)(1)(B), a court can choose to conduct a simple mechanical reduction of a sentence based on a decreased exposure to statutory minimums and the correlating lower guideline range.

         Once a defendant is determined to be eligible, the Court must examine the statutory threshold to which that defendant pleaded and compare it to the alteration of the applicable law. The Court recognizes that the drug quantity listed in an indictment traditionally tracks the statutory minimums to ensure a defendant's plea or conviction complies with the Sixth Amendment. It is not illogical to speculate that had the Fair Sentencing Act been enacted at the time of a defendant's plea, the elevated statutory amounts would be listed in the indictment and may have had little to no impact on the defendant's decision to plea. See U.S. v. Blocker, No. 4:07-36-RH, 2019 WL 2051957, at *4 (N.D. Fla. Apr. 25, 2019) (explaining “indictment-controls” versus “offense-controls” theories, and adopting the latter.). Yet to assume such a fact impermissibly alters the indictment and unconstitutionally abridges a defendant's Sixth Amendment rights. See Alleyne v. United States, 570 U.S. 99 (2013). In light of these constitutional considerations, this Court- along with a number of others- adopts an “indictment-controls” interpretation of the First Step Act's impact on a defendant's plea. United States v. Springs, No. 3:05-CR-00042-FDW-1, 2019 WL 3310092 (W.D. N.C. July 23, 2019) (applying Alleyne v. United States, 570 U.S. 99 (2013), to First Step Act cases) (listing cases).


         In reviewing the instant case, the Court considered the pleadings, the original presentence report, the judgment order and statement of reasons, supplemental material from the defendant, and the memorandum submitted by the Probation Office, which includes a summary of the ...

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