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United States v. Smith

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

November 6, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
LEODITUS ARAMUS SMITH,

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          ROBERT C. CHAMBERS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Pending before the Court is Defendant Leoditus Aramus Smith's Motion for Reduction of Sentence under the First Step Act of 2018. Mot. for Reduction of Sentence, ECF No. 563. For the reasons set forth below, the Court GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN PART his motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On September 14, 2009, Defendant pleaded guilty to an indictment charging him with conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute fifty grams or more of cocaine base, or “crack, ” in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846. Eligibility Mem., ECF No. 573, at 1. At the time, this quantity of crack subjected Defendant to a mandatory minimum sentence of ten years imprisonment. Resp., ECF No. 577, at 2. His relatively extensive criminal history, including prior drug felonies, earned Defendant a criminal history score of fifteen and placed him in criminal history category VI. Id. This history also rendered Defendant a career offender under the Sentencing Guidelines, resulting in a total offense level of thirty-four and a guideline range of 262 to 327 months imprisonment. Probation Mem., at 3. On December 15, 2009, the Court determined that a sentence at the bottom end of the guideline range was appropriate and imposed a term of imprisonment of 262 months and a five-year term of supervised release. Resp., at 2.

         To date, Defendant has served approximately 118 months of his sentence. Probation Mem., at 4. He has accumulated a series of scattered sanctions while incarcerated, but has also completed the drug education program, the non-residential drug treatment program, and “numerous” other educational courses.[1] Id. At present, Defendant's projected release date is November 18, 2028. Id.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         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 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 § 3.

         To be 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.[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 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.

         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] 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.

         However, 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 particular case.

         When 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).

         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 United States 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 the context of First Step Act cases, this is true whether a court is conducting a full resentencing or not. See, e.g., United States v. Smith, 379 F.Supp.3d 543, 546-47 (W.D. Va. May 13, 2019). Due to the 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 to First Step Act cases) (listing cases).

         III. ...


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