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United States Sentencing Guidelines: Sentence Reduction Under 18 U.S.C. § 3582 and The 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) Factors

Plaintiff – Appellee,
Defendant – Appellant.
Decided February 4, 2011 Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Issue : Whether the District Court abused its discretion when it found that defendant was not entitled to a reduction of sentence according to the factors set forth in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) and on a motion to reduce sentence under 18 U.S.C. § 3582 what consideration should be given to factors under §3553(a)

Holding : Motion to reduce sentence denied as District Court did not act outside its discretion on Motion to reduce sentence under §3582, as it is not a full rehearing on all the sentencing factors.

Facts :

Omar Sheree Jackson appeals the district court’s denial of a motion for reduction of sentence pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2) based upon retroactive application of Amendment 706 to the United States Sentencing Guidelines, which altered the drug quantity table set forth in U.S.S.G. § 2D1.1 to effectively lower the base offense level for offenses involving crack cocaine by two levels.

Jackson entered a straight-up guilty plea to the single offense charged in the Bill of Indictment, namely, a violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841. The Indictment alleged that Defendant was responsible for possession with intent to distribute five (5) grams or more of cocaine base. At sentencing Defendant unsuccessfully moved for a downward variance based upon the disparity between the crack cocaine and cocaine powder guidelines. (J.A. 69) Jackson was sentenced to 104 months imprisonment, which fell within the then-applicable advisory sentencing guideline range of 92 to 115 months. As a result of Amendment 706, Jackson sought a reduction of sentence pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2).

Legal Analysis and Discussion :

The district court’s decision denying Defendant’s motion pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2) seeking a sentence reduction is reviewed for an abuse of discretion. See United States v. Goines, 357 F.3d 469, 478 (4th Cir. 2004).

Section 3582(c)(2), which supplies the statutory authority for the relief sought here, establishes an exception to the general rule of finality that governs criminal judgments of conviction. See Dillon v. United States, 130 S. Ct. 2683, 2690 (2010); 18 U.S.C. § 3582(b). Accordingly, we emphasize that proceedings to modify sentence under Section 3582 are limited in nature and, therefore, are not intended to be full resentencings. As the Supreme Court recently explained in Dillon, “Section 3582(c)(2)’s text, together with its narrow scope, shows that Congress intended to authorize only a limited adjustment to an otherwise final sentence and not a plenary resentencing proceeding.” Dillon, 130 S. Ct. at 2691. Like Section 3582, U.S.S.G. § 1B1.10(a)(3) expressly identifies the same limitation, namely, that proceedings under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2) and this policy statement do not constitute a full resentencing of the defendant. U.S.S.G. § 1B1.10(a)(3). In addition, as Dillon makes clear, Section 3582(c)(2) proceedings “do not implicate the interests identified in Booker,” because Booker involved application of the guidelines at an original sentencing. Dillon, 130 S. Ct. at 2692; Bowers, 615 F.3d at 727.

As a result, our Section 3582(c)(2) analysis is limited to this two-step inquiry: “A court must first determine that a reduction is consistent with [§]1B1.10 before it may consider whether the authorized reduction is warranted, either in whole or in part, according to the factors set forth in § 3553(a).

In sum, due to the limited nature of the proceedings, Section 3582 determinations are not subject to the same kind of scrutiny as imposition of an original sentence. 2) presided over Jackson’s original sentencing (post-Booker) and, thus, entertained written and oral arguments made by both the prosecution and defense concerning the § 3553(a) factors and an appropriate sentence. the district judge affirmatively stated that the Section 3553(a) factors and Section 1B1.10 criteria, including public safety considerations and post-sentencing conduct, were considered.

Under U.S.S.G § 1B1.10 in evaluating whether to authorize a reduction of sentence pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3582 based upon a retroactive amendment to the guidelines, a district court must (“shall”) consider both the 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) factors and “the nature and seriousness of the danger to any person or the community that may be posed by a reduction in the defendant’s term of imprisonment ….” U.S.S.G.§ 1B1.10(b), cmt. n.1 (B)(ii) (public safety consideration).

In addition, the court “may consider the post-sentencing conduct of the defendant.” Id., cmt.n.1(B)(iii). There is no language within Section 3582 that expressly restricts the information the court may consider in reaching its discretionary decision.

Therefore, we do not construe the applicable authorities as preclusive in any way. That is, the court is not precluded from relying on any particular information within the record merely because certain other matters are expressly identified as relevant.

We do not find any abuse of discretion as the record, in its entirety, more than adequately justifies the district court’s decision not to reduce Jackson’s sentence.