Monday, February 23, 2009

No 3582 Reduction in Statutory Departure Cases

US v. Hood: This is another case dealing with issues arising from the retroactive application of the amended crack Guidelines. In this case, actually two consolidated cases, the defendants were subject to mandatory minimum sentences of at least 240 months in prison, but received significantly shorter sentences (100 and 108 months) after providing substantial assistance. Each applied for a further reduction under the amended Guidelines. The district courts denied the motions, each holding that the sentences were not "based on" the changed Guideline ranges, but on the mandatory minimum sentence, which was greater than the Guideline ranges.

On appeal, the Fourth Circuit agreed. Even though the district courts referred to Guideline calculations when initially imposing sentence (as part of determining the extent of the departures), the sentences were still "based on" the mandatory minimum, as it became the Guideline approved sentence when the Guideline range was less than the statutory minimum. Furthermore, the only authority for the district courts to depart from the mandatory minimum came from statute, not the Guidelines, and made the scope of substantial assistance the only criterion in determining sentence.

Separately, both defendants argued that the Fourth Circuit's practice of sending 3582(c)(2) appeals to the "informal briefing" calendar under Local Rule 34(b) raises "serious constitutional problems" due to delay or denial of relief. Noting that the informal process may, in fact, be more streamlined (particularly for pro se appellants), the court concluded that in neither of these cases was there significant delay (Hood's case was decided less than six months after fling his notice of appeal) that raised due process concerns.

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