United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Huntington Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
C. CHAMBERS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
before the Court is Defendant Jason P. Belcher's Motion
for Reduction of Sentence under the First Step Act of 2018.
Eligibility Mem., ECF No. 575. For the reasons set
forth below, the Court GRANTS IN PART and
DENIES IN PART the motion.
March 19, 2010, a jury found Defendant guilty of conspiracy
to distribute cocaine base, or “crack, ” in
violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846, as well as distributing
five grams or more of crack in violation of 21 U.S.C. §
841(a)(1). Eligibility Mem., at 1. While no
statutory minimum attached to Defendant's conspiracy
conviction, his distribution conviction carried a five-year
mandatory minimum and a forty-year statutory maximum. These
penalties were enhanced pursuant to a 21 U.S.C. § 851
Information, resulting in an enhanced statutory sentencing
range of ten years to life in prison and a term of supervised
release of eight years.
total offense level of thirty-five and a criminal history
category of III,  Defendant's sentencing range under the
Guidelines was originally calculated at 235 to 293 months. At
Defendant's July 6, 2010 sentencing, the Court varied
slightly downward and imposed concurrent sentences of 216
months imprisonment on both convictions and an eight-year
term of supervised release to follow. Id. On August 23,
2018, the Court reduced Defendant's term of imprisonment
to 188 months. See Order Granting Defendant's §
3582 Mot., ECF No. 553.
date, Defendant has served approximately 115 months in
prison. Probation Mem., at 4. While incarcerated, he
has completed the drug education program, the non-residential
drug treatment program, and “numerous” other
educational courses. Probation Mem., at 5. He has
also worked as an orderly for approximately two years.
Id. Though he has accumulated at least eleven
sanctions while incarcerated, his last recorded incident
occurred in May 2017. Id. At present, Defendant could
be released as early as February 26, 2022. Id. at 4.
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).
First Step Act of 2018 states, 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, ” which 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
eligible for a reduction in sentence, a defendant's
sentence must not have been imposed or previously reduced
under sections two or three of the Fair Sentencing Act of
2010.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 reduction
as courts are not required to grant relief under § 404.
Id. The First Step Act therefore represents a broad
grant of authority to the federal 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). 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, 393 F.Supp.3d
432, 441 (E.D. Va. 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.
courts are not limited by § 3582(c)(1)(B). The First
Step Act allows a court to “impose a reduced
sentence” if an individual is eligible. The First
Step Act, § 404(b). Reading the word
“impose” consistently within the United States
Code reveals that this equates to the announcement of a
convicted person's sentence. See 18 U.S.C.
§§ 3553(a) and 3582(a). Therefore, the First Step
Act grants courts statutory authority to conduct a full
resentencing, in addition to the discretion to decide when
doing so is appropriate. See Wright, 393 F.Supp.3d
at 441. Whether or not a court decides to resentence a
defendant, the language of the First Step Act does not
require a hearing. See Id. at 441. It is within the
sound judgment of the Court to determine if an evidentiary or
sentencing hearing is necessary to address the issues of a
considering the statutory authority under the First Step Act,
federal courts presume Congress acts in the context of
relevant case law. Abuelhawa v. United States, 556
U.S. 816, 821 (2009) (citing Williams v. Taylor, 529
U.S. 362, 380-81, n.12 (2000). The Fair Sentencing Act, and
its application through the First Step Act, is administered
in light of the Supreme Court's decision in United
States v. Booker, which held that mandatory guideline
ranges are unconstitutional. 543 U.S. 220, 244-45 (2005).
While Booker is not retroactively applied on a
collateral attack, a court may now vary outside of the
guideline range if it chooses to conduct a full resentencing.
United States v. Morris, 429 F.3d 65, 72 (4th Cir.
2005). This includes variances based on policy disagreements
with the Sentencing Guidelines. See Kimbrough v.
U.S., 552 U.S. 85 (2007).
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 United
States v. Blocker, No. ...