Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Court Clarifies 3582, Guideline Ranges, and Departures

US v. Muldrow: This case involved two defendants (consolidated on appeal) who were granted reduced sentences under 18 USC 3582(c)(2), but not to the extent they wanted. Each had received a downward departure in their criminal history categories at their original sentencing and the issue was how that departure figured in the 3582 analysis. Under a 2010 Fourth Circuit decision, Munn, the applicable guideline range is the one calculated after the departure. That holding was at odds with decisions in other circuits, however, and in 2011 the Sentencing Commission amended USSG 1B1.10 to adopt the other position - that the applicable guideline range is the one calculated before the departure. As a result, the defendants in this case had their reductions limited to the bottom of the new Guideline range calculated with their original criminal history categories (denying a further reduction of 22 months in one case, 32 months in the other). The district courts concluded they were bound by the new Guideline amendment, which abrogated Munn.

The Fourth Circuit agreed and affirmed the reductions. The court concluded that the amendment, which revised the commentary to 1B1.10, did not conflict with the text of the Guideline itself and was therefore controlling. The court also held that the district courts did not improperly apply the amendment retroactively because it was binding commentary that was not inconsistent with the Guideline itself.