Friday, June 16, 2006

Departure Below Mandatory Minimum Requires Explicit 3553(e) Motion by Government

US v. Allen: Allen pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm. In the plea agreement, the Government agreed that if Allen provided substantial assistance, it would make a 5K1.1 departure motion. The plea agreement also set forth the possibility that Allen could be classified as an Armed Career Criminal and subject to a 15-year mandatory minimum.

Allen was, in fact, an Armed Career Criminal. At sentencing, pursuant to the agreement, the Government made a motion under 5K1.1 for a one-level offense level reduction, reducing Allen's Guideline range to 151 to 188 months. The Government did not file a motion under 18 USC 3553(e) seeking a departure from the mandatory minimum. Allen argued for a further departure on various grounds, which the district court granted, reducing his Guideline range to 63 to 78 months. The district court sentenced Allen to 63 months in prison.

The Government appealed, arguing that the district court erred in granting Allen's request for a further downward departure and ultimately imposing a 63-month sentence. The Fourth Circuit vacated Allen's sentence, but on different grounds.

The court pointed out that the Government's substantial assistance motion, filed under USSG 5K1.1, could only reduce Allen's Guideline range, not the ACCA mandatory minimum. At oral argument, the Government argued that it intended the 5K1.1 motion to act as a 3553(e) motion as well. Allen agreed, noting that he would not have pleaded guilty if he did not think the Government would only make a 5K1.1 motion. The court refused to "accept the parties' invitation to view the record as suggesting that the Government mad a 3553(e) motion." Therefore, the district court lacked the power to impose any sentence lower than 180 months. The court vacated Allen's sentence and remanded for resentencing.

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