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United States v. Jackson

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

November 21, 2019




         Pending before the Court is Defendant Demond Andre Jackson's Motion for Reduction of Sentence under the First Step Act of 2018. Mot. for Reduction of Sentence, ECF No. 523. The issues in this case have been fully briefed, and Defendant's motion is ripe for review. For the reasons set forth below, the Court GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN PART the motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         One June 28, 1999, Defendant pleaded guilty to three counts of a thirteen-count superseding indictment. Resp., ECF No. 526, at 1-2. Count One charged Defendant with conspiracy to distribute cocaine and cocaine base, or “crack, ” in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846, while Counts Nine and Twelve charged Defendant with possession of a firearm during a drug trafficking offense in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A). See Superseding Indictment, ECF No. 96. Count One carried a statutory sentencing range of ten years to life imprisonment, while Counts Nine and Twelve carried consecutive five- and twenty-five-year mandatory minimum terms of imprisonment. A total of 1.5 kilograms of crack and two kilograms of powder cocaine were attributed to Defendant for sentencing purposes. See Sentencing Tr., ECF No. 288, at 8-13. With a criminal history score of twelve, Defendant fell into criminal history category V. Resp., at 2. Together with a total offense level of thirty-seven, the Court determined that Defendant's then-mandatory guideline range was 324 to 405 months imprisonment. Id.

         On February 15, 2000, the Court sentenced Defendant to 324 months imprisonment on Count One, to be followed consecutively by sixty months imprisonment on Count Nine and 300 months imprisonment on Count Twelve. Id. The court also imposed a mandatory minimum five-year term of supervised release on Count One and three-year terms of supervised release on Counts Nine and Twelve, [1] set to run concurrently after completion of Defendant's 684-month incarceration. Id. On September 12, 2008, the Court reduced Defendant's sentence to 262 months on Count One pursuant to the Sentencing Commission's amendment of § 1B1.10 of the Guidelines to make the 2007 crack amendment retroactive. Probation Mem., at 3. This reduction did not impact either term of imprisonment for Defendant's § 924(c)(1)(A) convictions, however.

         To date, Defendant has served approximately 239 months in prison. Id. at 5. Despite the dizzying length of his sentence, his institutional adjustment has been relatively smooth; over the course of nearly twenty years, he has accumulated no more than ten sanctions.[2] Id. He obtained his high school equivalency diploma in August 2001, and completed the drug education program in May 2009. Id. In addition to completing “numerous” other educational courses, he has worked in the laundry since November 2018. Id. Notwithstanding these positive developments, Defendant is not even near the midway point of his fifty-seven year sentence.


         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.[3] 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.

         The proper mechanism to seek relief under the First Step Act is 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(b).[4] United States v. Wirsing, No. 19-6381, 2019 WL 6139017, at *8 (4th Cir. Nov. 20, 2019) (published). 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. United States, 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 ...

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