Monday, January 25, 2010

3582(c)(2) Reductions Not Limited to Exact Match of Previous Departure

US v. Fennell: Fennell pleaded guilty to a conspiracy to distribute more than 50 grams of crack cocaine in 2005. Following a motion by the Government based on substantial assistance, Fennell received a sentence of 97 months in prison, below the 120-month mandatory minimum and Guideline range of 121-151 months. Fennell filed a motion under 18 USC 3582(c)(2) seeking a reduction of his sentence in the wake of the recent amendments to the crack Guidelines, arguing for a sentence of 80 months, a departure of comparable amount (20%) from the bottom of his new Guideline range, 100-125 months. The district court concluded Fennell was eligible for a reduction, but that he was limited to reducing his sentence to 96 months - one month less than originally imposed - because the actual new Guideline range was still controlled by the statutory mandatory minimum, and thus was actually 120-125 months. A 20% reduction from 120 months resulted in a 96-month sentence.

On appeal, the Fourth Circuit agreed with Fennell and vacated his new 96-month sentence. Noting that procedures for determining the extent of a departure for substantial assistance vary from district to district, the court held that "these same methods, or any reasonable method that results in a comparable reduction, are available to a sentencing court during a resentencing" under 3582(c)(2). Furthermore, USSG 1B1.10, which applies in those cases, does not state that only a departure identical in scope to the one initially given is appropriate. Because the district court concluded it was limited to awarding an identical reduction, rather than a comparable one, Fennell's sentence was vacated and his case remanded.

Congrats to the defender office in the EDNC on the win!

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