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Re-Sentencing Under 3582 And The Sixth Amendent

Dillon v. United States

Where a court imposes a new sentence based on an amended Sentencing Guideline, any reduction in the sentence must be within the amended Guideline range.

Dillon v. United States 130 S. Ct. 2683

Decided: June 17 2010 Supreme Court of the United States

Issue: In 2007, the Sentencing Commission amended the Sentencing Guidelines to reduce by two levels, the base offense level associated with crack cocaine. After this amendment was made retrospective in 2008, the petitioner moved to have his original 1993 sentence for various drugs-related offenses reduced under 18 U.S.C. s3582(c) (2) which authorizes a district court to reduce an otherwise final sentence pursuant to a Guidelines amendment. The issue was whether, in light of the decision in United States v. Booker, 125 S.Ct. (2005) and in order to preserve the defendant’s right to jury trial, the District Court was entitled to exercise discretion and  impose a sentence below the Guideline range.

Holding: Booker does not apply to proceedings to modify an otherwise final sentence following an amendment to the Sentencing Guidelines. A defendant’s right to jury trial under the Sixth Amendment is not violated by the requirement that a district court considers a reduction only within the range of those amended Guidelines.

Facts: In 1993 a jury convicted Dillon of conspiracy to distribute and to possess with the intent to distribute more than 500 grams of powder cocaine and more than 50 grams of crack cocaine and intent to distribute more than 500 grams of powder cocaine. On sentencing, his total offense level was 38 which, taken in conjunction with his criminal history, meant that he was faced with a then mandatory Guideline range of 262-to-327 months imprisonment. He was sentenced at the bottom end of the Guideline which meant that in light of a further mandatory minimum sentence of 60 months for a linked firearm offense, his total sentence was for 322 months. The court described the sentence as “entirely too high for the crime that [Dillon] committed” but perceived no basis for a reduction below what were then mandatory Guidelines.

Following the amendment to the Guidelines, Dillon moved for a reduction in his sentence. He further contended that a reduction to a sentence lower than the minimum within the amended Guidelines was warranted in his case. He argued that in light of Booker, the court was entitled to exercise discretion and in effect treat the Guidelines as advisory. The District Court reduced Dillon’s sentence to 270 months (i.e. to the bottom of the amended Guideline range) but declined to make a further reduction, finding that the sentencing proceedings in question – i.e. a motion for a sentence reduction under s3582 (c) (2) are readily distinguishable from the sentencing proceedings in Booker (which concerned the imposition of an enhanced sentence beyond the standard range). The Court held that it lacked the authority to impose a sentence inconsistent with the amended Guidelines. The Third Circuit affirmed, noting that the Sentencing Guidelines policy statement (U.S.S.G.1B1.10) is clear that any reduction to a term less than the minimum guideline range ought not to be considered. The Third Circuit affirmed, regarding this policy guideline to be binding.

The Supreme Court also rejected the Defendant’s submissions. Booker does not enable the amended Guidelines to be treated as advisory. Sentence modification proceedings based on retroactive amendment to the Sentencing Guidelines are not the same as “resentencing proceedings”. They are merely a means of limited adjustment to what would otherwise have been a final sentence in response to a congressional desire to allow prisoners to benefit from a subsequent adjustment to the Guidelines.

Analysis: The Defendant had argued that the proceedings to reconsider his sentence under 3682 c 2 were, in effect, “resentencing proceedings”. The Supreme Court took the view that this simply wasn’t borne out by the language of the statute. It provides for a reduction “if such a reduction is consistent with” applicable Commission policy statements. Given that the relevant policy statement is also very clear in limiting any reduction only within the scope of the amended Guidelines, the Court took the view that there is little doubt that the congressional drafters of the relevant clauses did not intend or envisage the courts to embark upon a complete resentencing exercise in individual cases. Final sentence has already been passed: Congress is essentially allowing a degree of “lenity to give prisoners the benefit of later enacted adjustments to the judgments reflected in the guidelines”. Certainly, a degree of discretion is required on the part of judges in such proceedings – but only so far as to consider whether and to what extent a reduction would be warranted within the amended Guideline range. Because this was not a resentencing exercise as such, Dillon’s arguments that Booker facilitated the exercise of full discretion outside the Guideline range did not stand.