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United States v. Patterson

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Asheville Division

July 12, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
JOHN EDWARD PATTERSON, Defendant.

          ORDER

          MARTIN REIDINGER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         THIS MATTER is before the Court upon the Defendant's Motion for Amended Judgment under the First Step Act of 2018 [Doc. 489].

         I. BACKGROUND

         In October 2006, the Defendant was charged with one count of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute 50 grams or more of cocaine base, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 846 and 841(b)(1)(A) (“Count One”) [Doc. 3], a charge which subjected him to a mandatory term of imprisonment of not less than 10 years nor more than life. See 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(A). In February 2007, the Defendant pled guilty pursuant to a written Plea Agreement to Count One. [See Doc. 97]. In the Plea Agreement, the parties agreed to jointly recommend to the Court that the amount of cocaine base that was known to or foreseeable by the Defendant was in excess of 150 grams but less than 500 grams. [Id. at 2 ¶ 5(a)].

         A Presentence Report (PSR) was prepared in advance of the sentencing hearing. In it, the probation officer recounted the evidence pertaining to the Defendant's relevant offense conduct and participation in the conspiracy. [See Doc. 364: PSR at ¶¶ 6-28]. While much of this evidence indicated that the Defendant was an active “runner” dispersing crack cocaine, the exact amounts distributed were unknown. Investigators estimated the Defendant's accountability to be at least 150 grams but less than 500 grams of crack cocaine. However, the Defendant's voluntary statement alone provided to investigators on December 15, 2004, indicated that the Defendant distributed at least 4.39 kilograms during the course of the conspiracy. [See id. at ¶ 29].

         At sentencing, the Court adopted the findings of the PSR, and the Defendant did not object. Under Section 841(b)(1)(A), the Defendant therefore faced a statutory maximum penalty of life imprisonment and a mandatory minimum term of 10 years' imprisonment.

         The Court determined the Defendant to be a career offender. The Court calculated a guidelines range of 262 to 327 months under the career-offender guidelines. [Id. at ¶¶ 109, 112]. This calculation was driven in part by the statutory maximum of life for a Section 841(b)(1)(A) offense, which dictated a base offense level of 37. [Id. at ¶ 42]. With a three-point reduction for acceptance of responsibility, the Defendant's total offense level (TOL) was calculated to be 34. Based on the Government's motion, the Court departed downward the equivalent of two offense levels to 32. Based on a TOL of 32 and a criminal history category (CHC) of VI, the Court calculated a revised sentencing range of 210 to 262 months. The Court imposed a sentence of 210 months' imprisonment plus the statutory minimum of five years of supervised release. [Doc. 227].

         The Defendant now moves for relief under the First Step Act of 2018. [Doc. 489]. The Government argues that the Defendant is not eligible for sentencing relief based on the drug quantity found by the Court when the Defendant was sentenced. Even if the Defendant were eligible for a reduced sentence, the Government contends that the Court should exercise its discretion to deny the Defendant's motion. [Doc. 491].

         II. DISCUSSION

         On August 3, 2010, the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, Pub. L. No. 111-220, went into effect. Section 2 of the Act increased the quantity of cocaine base required to trigger the enhanced penalties of Section 841. Specifically, it raised the (b)(1)(A) threshold from “50 grams” to “280 grams” and the (b)(1)(B) threshold from “5 grams” to “28 grams.” Section 3 eliminated the mandatory minimum for simple possession of cocaine base under 21 U.S.C. § 844(a). Congress did not apply these changes retroactively to defendants sentenced before the Act's passage. Accordingly, the Defendant could not obtain relief under the Fair Sentencing Act.

         On December 21, 2018, the President signed into law the First Step Act of 2018, Pub. L. No. 115-391, 132 Stat. 5194. Section 404 of the Act gives retroactive effect to the changes made by Sections 2 and 3 of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010. Section 404(a) defines a “covered offense” as “a violation of a Federal criminal statute, the statutory penalties for which were modified by Section 2 or 3 of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 (Public Law 111-220; 124 Stat. 2372), that was committed before August 3, 2010.” 132 Stat. at 5222. Section 404(b) then provides that “[a] court that imposed a sentence for a covered offense may . . . impose a reduced sentence as if Section 2 or 3 of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 (Public Law 111-220; 124 Stat. 2372) were in effect at the time the covered offense was committed.” Id.

         The Defendant is eligible for relief under the First Step Act because he was convicted of a “covered offense” under Section 404(a)'s definition. His offense was committed before August 3, 2010; he was subjected to the enhanced statutory penalties under § 841(b)(1)(A); and those statutory penalties were “modified by Section 2 . . . of the Fair Sentencing Act.” Moreover, the Defendant's sentence has not been previously reduced by the operation of Sections 2 or 3 of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, and no previous motion has been made by the Defendant pursuant to Section 404 of the First Step Act of 2018.

         Having determined that the Defendant is eligible for a reduction in his sentence, the next step is to determine the extent to which the sentence may, in the Court's discretion, be reduced. This begins with an examination of the Defendant's sentencing calculus “as if . . . the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 … were in effect at the time the covered offense was committed.” 132 Stat. at 5222.

         Applying the Sentencing Guidelines as they existed at the time of the Defendant's sentencing, but modifying any calculation of the offense level as though Sections 2 and 3 of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 were in effect at the time that the Defendant committed the offense, reduces the Defendant's total offense level from 34 to 31. U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1(b), (c). Based thereon, his Guidelines range is reduced from 262-327 months to 188-235 months. See U.S.S.G. ยง 5A (sentencing table for offense level 31 and criminal history category VI). This Court previously departed downward the equivalent of two offense levels and imposed a sentence of 210 months, the low end of the modified sentencing range after the departure. Applying that same ...


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