Thursday, February 18, 2010

Initial Career Offender Designation Does Not Always Preclude Future Reduction of Sentence

US v. Munn: In 2001, Munn was convicted of distributing more than 50 grams of crack cocaine. Although the Guidelines classified him as a career offender, the district court concluded that designation overstated Munn's criminal history and departed downwards due to that fact (Munn received an additional downward departure for substantial assistance). When the revised crack Guidelines were made retroactive, Munn filed for a reduction in his sentence under 18 USC 3582(c)(2). The district court denied the motion, concluding that because Munn was a career offender the amendments to the crack Guidelines did not change his sentencing range and he therefore was not eligible for a reduced sentence.

A divided Fourth Circuit reversed the district court on appeal. Although defendants sentenced as career offenders are not eligible for a reduction, the circumstances of this case did not fall under the prescription. Noting a split in the circuits on this issue, the court concluded that defendants designated as career offenders are still eligible for a reduced sentence when (1) the district court departs because that status overrepresents the defendant's criminal history, and (2) the extent of the departure is tied to the crack-based Guideline calculations applicable without the career offender enhancement. In doing so, the court rejected the Government's attempt to define what happened to Munn in 2001 based on Guideline definitions of "departures" that were amended afterwards. Judge Duncan dissented, arguing that the applicable "sentencing range" which must change for a defendant to be eligible for a reduced sentence is the one calculated prior to any departure, i.e., the career offender based range.

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