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United States v. Venable

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

November 20, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff - Appellee,
v.
BOBBY JUNIOR VENABLE, Defendant-Appellant.

          Argued: October 30, 2019

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia, at Danville. Jackson L. Kiser, Senior District Judge. (4:97-cr-70070-JLK-1)

         ARGUED:

          Lisa M. Lorish, OFFICE OF THE FEDERAL PUBLIC DEFENDER, Charlottesville, Virginia, for Appellant.

          Jennifer R. Bockhorst, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Abingdon, Virginia, for Appellee.

         ON BRIEF:

          Juval O. Scott, Federal Public Defender, OFFICE OF THE FEDERAL PUBLIC DEFENDER, Roanoke, Virginia, for Appellant.

          Thomas T. Cullen, United States Attorney, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Roanoke, Virginia, for Appellee.

          Before AGEE, THACKER, and QUATTLEBAUM, Circuit Judges.

          AGEE, CIRCUIT JUDGE

         Bobby Junior Venable appeals from the district court's summary denial of his motion to reduce his sentence under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(B), as authorized by the First Step Act of 2018, Pub. L. No. 115-391, 132 Stat. 5194 (2018). The district court held that the First Step Act did not authorize a reduction in Venable's sentence because he had completed his original term of imprisonment and was currently in custody following revocation of supervised release. For the reasons set out below, we conclude that the district court erred in determining Venable was statutorily ineligible for a sentence reduction under the First Step Act. Therefore, we vacate the judgment denying Venable's motion and remand to the district court to consider that motion on the merits in the first instance.

         I.

         A.

         The statutory framework for this case involves the intersection of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, Pub. L. No. 111-220, 124 Stat. 2372 (2010), and the First Step Act. The Fair Sentencing Act reduced the penalties for specific cocaine-related offenses punishable under 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(A) and (b)(1)(B) by increasing the amount of cocaine base required to trigger certain statutory penalties. In relevant part, Section 2 of the Fair Sentencing Act increased from 5 grams to 28 grams the quantity of cocaine base required to trigger the statutory penalties for a Class B felony set forth in 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(B). This change also meant that an offense for less than 28 grams would thereafter be classified as a Class C felony and subject to lower statutory penalties.

         In late 2018, Congress enacted and the President signed into law the First Step Act, with the purpose of modifying prior sentencing law and expanding vocational training, early-release programs, and other initiatives designed to reduce recidivism. See, e.g., John Wagner, Trump Signs Bipartisan Criminal Justice Bill Amid Partisan Rancor over Stopgap Spending Measure, Washington Post, Dec. 21, 2018. In particular, Section 404 of the First Step Act allows previously sentenced defendants to file a motion requesting the sentencing court to "impose a reduced sentence as if [S]ections 2 and 3 of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 were in effect at the time the covered offense was committed." Pub. L. 115-391, § 404; 132 Stat. 5194, 5222 (2018).[1], [2] A "covered offense" is defined in the First Step Act as "a violation of a Federal criminal statute, the statutory penalties for which were modified by [S]ection 2 or 3 of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, that was committed before August 3, 2010." Id.

         B.

         In 1997, Venable pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute cocaine base, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a) (Count One), and possession of a firearm after having been convicted of a felony, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) (Count Two). Venable stipulated that his applicable drug weight for Count One was 12.1 grams of cocaine base. This quantity of drugs was classified as a Class B felony under then-applicable law, which provided for a statutory minimum term of imprisonment of 5 years and a maximum term of 40 years' imprisonment.[3] The district court sentenced Venable to 110 months' imprisonment on ...


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