Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Sentencing Reduction for Defendant With Mandatory Minimum and Substantial Assistance

US v. Williams: Williams (a completely different one from above - even though they both came out of the same district and same judge!) pleaded guilty to distribution of crack cocaine in 2008, a plea which, thanks to an 851 information, carried a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years. Williams's Guideline range, however, was only 130 to 162 months. Williams received a substantial assistance departure and was sentenced to 180 months. Williams moved for a reduced sentence under 18 USC 3582 when recent amendments to the Guidelines reduced his range to 77 to 96 months. Although the Government joined in the motion, the district court denied the reduction, concluding that Williams's sentence was based on a statutory mandatory minimum, not a Guideline range, and that mandatory minimum (and subsequent departure) had not been changed.

On appeal, the Fourth Circuit reversed the district court's decision, 2-1. The court held that a recent amendment to USSG 1B1.10 that addressed situations such as these - where a statutory substantial assistance motion allowed the district court to impose a sentence below a mandatory minimum - overrode prior Fourth Circuit case law and made Williams eligible for a reduction. Specifically, in these cases the statutory mandatory minimum does not become the Guideline range as it otherwise would. Because Williams's Guideline range (regardless of any statutory requirement) goes down, he is eligible for a reduction. The court remanded to the district court to determine whether a reduction was appropriate and, if so, the extent of such a reduction.

Chief Judge Traxler dissented, arguing that Williams's sentence was "based on a statutory mandatory minimum" that has not been lowered by Congress and that the Sentencing Commission has no power to alter.

Congrats to the Defender office in the Middle District of NC on the win!

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