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The Federal Sentencing Guidelines: Use Of Confidential Information To Determine Sentence Under 18 U.S.C. § 3153(c)

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United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

United States v. Morrison

Docket No. 14–485

Decided on February 10, 2015

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

Issue: Whether the district court violated confidentiality requirements under 18 U.S.C. § 3153(c) when it considered confidential information from pretrial services in determining the defendant’s sentence.

Summary: Defendant Morrison pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute cocaine and was sentenced to eighteen months in prison. Prior to sentencing, Morrison underwent drug tests and tested positive for cocaine. The government moved to remand Morrison because of the failed drug tests, and wanted to enhance his sentence. Morrison argued that, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3153(c), the district court is barred from relying on drug tests administered by the Pretrial Services Agency in order to enhance a prison sentence. The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit disagreed, and held that the district court did not violate § 3153(c) by relying on the information from pretrial services.

Holding: The Second Circuit held that the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York did not violate 18 U.S.C. § 3153(c) when it considered information from drug tests provided by pretrial services to determine Morrison’s sentence.

See also: Proving “Knowing” Possession Of Drugs: What Constitutes Sufficient Evidence?

Facts: On July 26, 2011, Morrison pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute cocaine. He did so in conjunction with a cooperation agreement with the government, by which both parties agreed that under the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines Manual, his total offense level would be 21, his Criminal History Category would be I, and his Guidelines range would be 37 to 46 months of imprisonment.

The district court granted the government’s motion for a reduction of Morrison’s sentence, and imposed a fifteen month sentence. Morrison then made a motion, requesting that the sentencing be adjourned for three months, which the district court granted.

Prior to the next sentencing proceeding, pretrial services continued to test Morrison for drug use. He failed two drug tests; both detected cocaine in his system. The results from the failed tests were given to the district court. When the sentencing proceeding was resumed, the government moved to remand Morrison for the failed drug tests. The district court remanded, and adjourned Morrison’s sentencing to allow him to respond. Morrison sent a letter to the court, claiming that “18 U.S.C. § 3153(c) prevents disclosure of confidential information to the government” and precludes “the court from considering the positive drug tests as a basis to enhance his sentence.” The court rejected his argument, and sentenced him to eighteen months in prison.

Legal Analysis: Morrison argued that the district court should not have been allowed to consider the pretrial services reports in enhancing his sentence. He claimed that the confidentiality requirements under 18 U.S.C. § 3153(c) preclude courts from accepting confidential information, such as a drug test, and considering it to enhance a sentence.

18 U.S .C. § 3153(c) prevents disclosure of information “obtained in the course of performing pretrial services functions in relation to a particular accused” except for bail purposes or in certain specifically delineated circumstances. 18 U.S.C. § 3153(c)(1), (2). Thus, Morrison argued that this section of the statute prevents district judges from using pretrial services information for any non-bail purpose, including sentencing.

However, the Second Circuit framed Morrison’s appeal as a challenge to the procedural reasonableness of his sentence. When reviewing a sentence for reasonableness, the courts apply “a deferential abuse-of-discretion standard.” United States v. Conca, 635 F.3d 55, 62 (2d Cir.2011). The district court commits a procedural error if, among other things, it improperly calculates the Sentencing Guidelines range and fails to consider the 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) factors. United States v. Robinson, 702 F.3d 22, 38 (2d Cir.2012).

While Morrison claimed that the district court considered the drug tests administered by the pretrial services to determine his sentence and relied on an “impermissible factor not enumerated in § 3553(a),” the Second Circuit disagreed. It held that, according to the exception § 3153(c)(2)(C) (which expects that judges will use information received from probation officers in determining a defendant’s sentence),“ a district judge’s use of otherwise confidential pretrial services information in determining a sentence is not barred by § 3153(c)(1) because the judge’s receipt and use of such information for sentencing purposes is contemplated by the § 3153(c)(2)(C) exception.”

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