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U.S.S.G § 3582 (C)(2) Sentence Reduction: The District Court May Hold An Evidentiary Hearing To Determine Whether A Sentence Should Be Reduced


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U.S. v. Rios

United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

2014 WL 4290339

Decided on: September 2, 2014

United States Sentencing Guidelines Sentencing Reduction Under § 3582(c)(2)

Blog By: Stephen N. Preziosi Esq., Criminal Appeals Lawyer

Issue: Whether the District Court abused its discretion when it denied resentencing under §3582 (c)(2) after a hearing to reduce Defendants’ sentence on their convictions for conspiracy to distribute crack-cocaine.

Summary: Defendant Rios and Bautista separately each pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute cocaine base. In their plea agreements, both stipulated to being responsible for “1.5 kilograms or more of” crack. The Pre Sentence Report (PSR) determined the same Guidelines range as the plea agreements.

In 2007, the United States Sentencing Commission promulgated amendments to the Guidelines that reduced by two points the base level for every crack offense. Bautista moved for a sentence reduction; the District Judge denied that motion because of the quantity of drugs involved. Rios also filed a motion for sentence reduction and the District judge held an evidentiary hearing. The Judge denied Rios’s motion, finding that the conspiracy of which he was a part was responsible for a lot more kilograms of crack that what he plead to.

In 2011, the Sentencing Commission amended the Guidelines to further reduce the base offense levels applicable to crack offenses and Defendant’s filed a second motion. Rios filed his second motion for sentence reduction in light of the 2011 amendments; the District Judge denied that motion and held that based on the previous evidentiary hearing, the court now makes explicit its earlier implicit finding: the conspiracy to which Rios pled guilty involved the distribution of more than 8.4 kilograms of crack.

Both Defendants appealed to The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit on a motion by the Government acknowledging the District Court’s seeming reliance on the PSR’s reference to about five kilograms.

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Holding: The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that nothing prevents a District Court from making new findings of fact when ruling on a §3582 (c )(2) motion, so long as the findings are not inconsistent with those made at the original sentencing.

When addressing a claim that there was insufficient evidence to support a District Court’s drug quantity finding, the Court of Appeals held that they are mindful that the District Court has broad discretion to consider all relevant information, and the quantity determination will not be disturbed unless it is clearly erroneous.

A finding is clearly erroneous when although there is evidence to support it, the reviewing court is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed.

Facts: Defendant Rios and Bautista separately each pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute cocaine base. In their plea agreements, both stipulated to being responsible for “1.5 kilograms or more of” crack. The Pre Sentence Report (PSR) determined the same Guidelines range as the plea agreements.

In 2007, the United States Sentencing Commission promulgated amendments to the Guidelines that reduced by two points the base level for every crack offense. Bautista moved for a sentence reduction; the District Judge denied that motion because of the quantity of drugs involved. Rios also filed a motion for sentence reduction and the District judge held an evidentiary hearing. The Judge denied Rios’s motion, finding that the conspiracy of which he was a part was responsible for a lot more kilograms of crack that what he plead to. In 2011, the Sentencing Commission amended the Guidelines to further reduce the base offense levels applicable to crack offenses.

As relevant here, prior to the 2011 amendments, distribution of 4.5 kilograms or more of crack resulted in a base offense level of 38. After the amendments, the base offense levels for crack distribution were as follows: 34 for less than 2.8 kilograms, 36 for 2.8 to less that 8.4 kilograms, and 38 for 8.4 or more kilograms. Bautista filed a second motion based on the 2011 amendments to the crack Guidelines. A supplemental PSR determined that Bautista’s new base offense level was 36 based on his offense involving about five kilograms or crack, resulting in a Guidelines range of 292 to 365 months.

The District Court denied the motion because the original sentence of 240 months was less than the amended Guidelines range. The District Court explained that Bautista’s Supplemental PSR found that his offense conduct involved the distribution of about five kilograms of crack, resulting in a base offense level of 36.

Rios filed his second motion for sentence reduction in light of the 2011 amendments; the District Judge denied that motion and held that based on the previous evidentiary hearing, the court now makes explicit its earlier implicit finding: the conspiracy to which Rios pled guilty involved the distribution of more than 8.4 kilograms of crack. The District Judge also noted that this finding applies to both Rios and Bautista as leaders of the drug organization.

Both Defendants appealed to The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit on a motion by the Government acknowledging the District Court’s seeming reliance on the PSR’s reference to about five kilograms.

Legal Analysis: The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that they review a District Court’s decision to deny a motion for resentencing under 18 U.S.C § 3582(C ) (2) for abuse of discretion. United States v. Borden, 564 F.3d 100, 104 2d Cir. 2009.

The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that a District Court abuses its discretion if it bases its ruling on an erroneous view of law or on a clearly erroneous assessment of the evidence, or rendered a decision that cannot be located within the range of permissible decisions.

In this appeal, both Defendants, Rios and Bautista argue that the District Court lacked authority under 18 U.S.C.§ 3582(C )(2) to hold an evidentiary hearing to determine the quantity of crack involved in the conspiracy because the District Court was bound by their plea agreement, which they contended stipulated to 1.5 kilograms of crack as the distribution amount. Rios additionally argues that the PSR as adopted by the District Court, found that he was guilty of conspiring to distribute five kilograms of crack, which precluded the District Court from finding a higher quantity at the evidentiary hearing.

A District Court considering a motion for sentence reduction under § 3582 (c )(2) must begin by determining the amended guideline range that would have been applicable to the Defendant had the relevant amendment been in effect at the time of the initial sentencing. In making such determination, the District Court shall substitute only the amendments for corresponding guideline provisions that were applied when the Defendant was sentenced and shall leave all other guideline applications decisions unaffected. Dillon v. United States, 560 U.S. 817, 827, 130 S.C.t. 2683, 177 L.Ed.2d 271 2010.

In doing so, District Courts under §3582(c)(2) cannot make findings inconsistent with that of the original sentencing court. United States v. Woods, 581 F.3d 531, 538 7th Cir.2009; United States v. Adams, 104 F.3d 1028, 1031 8th Cir.1997.

Nothing prevents a District Court from making new findings of fact when ruling on a § 3582 (c)(2) motion, so long as those findings are not inconsistent with those made at the original sentencing. United States v. Davis, 682 F.3d 596, 612 7th Cir.2010. The Court of Appeals held that new findings are often necessary where, as here, retroactive amendments have altered the relevant drug-quantity thresholds for determining a Defendant’s base offense level. The District Court thus has broad discretion in how to adjudicate § 3582(c)(2) proceedings, including whether to hold an evidentiary hearing.

The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that there were no inconsistent findings in this case because nothing in the original sentencing records conclusively found the quantity of crack attributable to the Defendants. Each Defendants plea agreement stipulated that the conspiracy involved 1.5 kilograms or more of crack. And while the PSR for each Defendant stated that “according to the Offense Conduct section, the Defendant’s criminal activity involved the possession with the intent to distribute and distribution of about five kilograms of crack”. The District Judge, in considering Rios’s motion for sentence reduction, correctly recognized that the PSR’s reference to about five kilograms of crack was mistaken and unsupported by any facts of evidence.

The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that the record at sentencing thus did not establish the quantity of crack at issue beyond the plea agreements’ stipulation that it was at least 1.5 kilograms. Accordingly, the District Judge’s ultimate finding of a quantity of crack attributable to each Defendant in excess of 8.4 kilograms was not inconsistent with any findings made at the original sentencing.

A finding is clearly erroneous when although there is evidence to support it, the reviewing court on the entire evidence is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed. United States v. Guang, 511 F.3d 110, 122 2d Cir.2007.

Bautista argues that his sentence should be reduced under U.S.S.G § 3582 (C )(2) which authorizes sentence modifications when ranges are reduced and makes no mention of a statutory maximum or cap, because there is a reduction as between the two ranges. The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that they need not decide this issue because even if his argument was correct, Bautista was still ineligible for a reduced sentence

In considering a motion for a reduced sentence, a District Court shall not reduce the Defendant’s term of imprisonment to a term that is less than the minimum of the amended guideline range unless the Government moved at the original sentencing for a downward departure based on the Defendant’s substantial assistance. As for Rios, the District Court properly found that Rios was responsible for more than 8.4 kilograms of crack based on the evidentiary hearing. The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the District Court’s denials of Defendants’ motions for sentence reduction.


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