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Compassionate Release News: Two District Courts Reject Prosecutor’s Arguments About Unusually Long Sentences

Prosecutors are arguing that the Newly-Updated Compassionate Release Guidelines are illegal, but some courts are rejecting those arguments.

As many of you know, the United States Sentencing Commission made sentencing guideline amendments that became effective November 1, 2023. These included changes to what constituted Extraordinary and Compelling Reasons for purposes of a 3582(c)(1)(A) motion. Among the changes is an amendment for unreasonably long sentences:

(6)       Unusually Long Sentence.—If a defendant received an unusually long sentence and has served at least 10 years of the term of imprisonment, a change in the law (other than an amendment to the Guidelines Manual that has not been made retroactive) may be considered in determining whether the defendant presents an extraordinary and compelling reason, but only where such change would produce a gross disparity between the sentence being served and the sentence likely to be imposed at the time the motion is filed, and after full consideration of the defendant’s individualized circumstances.

Prosecutors are fighting against this amendment in the courts for several reasons. We have found two cases where prosecutors have rejected their arguments.

United States vs. Capps, 1:11-cr-00108-AGF (E.D. Mo January 31, 2024)

Capps was charged with and convicted of possession with intent to distribute 50 grams of meth. At the time, 841(b)(1)(A)(viii) provided that an individual who was convicted of possessing with intent to distribute “50 grams or more of methamphetamine . . . shall be sentenced to a mandatory term of life imprisonment without release’ if such individual had ‘two or more prior convictions for a felony drug offense.’”  Capps had two such priors and was sentenced to life.  The court noted that were it not for the life sentence his guideline range would have been 235-293 months. The court also noted that the life sentence was troubling and did not make sense for an individual as young as Capps.

Capps filed a motion for reduction in sentence pursuant to 3582(c)(1)(A) and United States Sentencing Guideline 1B1.13(b)(6).

Consideration of Capps's 3582 Compassionate Release Motion

Extraordinary and Compelling Reasons

The court agreed that his life sentence was unusually long as only .2% of those in federal prison received life terms. The court also noted that the change in law that eliminated the life sentence created a gross disparity between Capps’ sentence and the otherwise applicable guideline range (235-293 months). In addition, other things such as amendment 782 and 788 would have reduced his guideline range as well.

Rejection of the Prosecution's Arguments Around Non-Retroactive Changes

The prosecutors indicated that Eighth Circuit precedent forceclosed Capps’s “reliance on a nonretroactive change in the law as a ground for a sentence reduction. However, both of these cases were decided before the 2023 amendment to  1B1.13 took effect.”  The court also indicated that the official commentary made the Commission’s intent explicit:

“The amendment agrees with the circuits that authorize a district court to consider nonretroactive changes in the law as extraordinary and compelling circumstances warranting a sentence reduction but adopts a tailored approach that narrowly limits that principle” in the ways discussed above (requiring an unusually long sentence, at least 10 years served, gross disparity, and consideration of individual circumstances).”

The government also argued that 1B1.13(b)(6) is an invalid exercise of the Commission’s authority and raises separation-of-powers concerns. But the court disagreed indicating that the text of 3582(c)(1)(A) does not prohibit the Commission from considering nonretroactive changes in the law as an extraordinary and compelling reason for a sentence reduction. In addition, the court narrowly limited the circumstances in which a defendant may be resentenced by using a specific context based determination, not a “freewheeling opportunity for resentencing”

Capps' sentence reduction was granted

As a result, the court found that 1b1.13(b)(6) is an appropriate guideline for a reduction. The court went on to grant the reduction for Capps down to 180 months and 10 years of supervised release.

U.S. v. Padgett, 5:06-cr-00013 (N.D. of FL)

Padgett: Life Imprisonment Reduced Because of the FIRST STEP Act

Padgett was sentenced to a mandatory minimum life sentence. His life sentence was for a drug crime. He had two prior felony drug convictions, leading to a mandatory minimum of life. This caused him to receive a sentence of life plus five years for a separate firearm charge. He filed a motion for reduction in sentence pursuant to 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(1)(A).

The court explained that now, under the FIRST STEP Act, the possession convictions do not qualify as “serious drug offenses” because they were not trafficking offenses and he did not serve more than a year in prison for either of them. As a result of this his minimum sentence on the drug counts would be 10 years, not life, and even if he did have the qualifying offenses his minimum would be 25 years, not life.

The court also found that Padgett was no longer a career offender either, given that his prior burglary and carrying a concealed firearm charges were crimes of violence at the time of his sentencing. The court determined that today his base offense level on the drug counts would be 30 and the criminal history category would be IV. This all meant that his combined guideline range on the drug and firearm count would be much less than his original guideline range.

The government argued that the courts should not decide this issue, rather leaving it up to the Supreme Court. But the supreme court denied these issues and the sentencing commission promulgated new amended guidelines and policy statements including USSG 1B1.13(b)(6).

The court stated that “[t]he very fact that the circuits split on this issue suggests the meaning of ‘extraordinary and compelling’ is not as clear as the government now asserts. Instead, this is precisely the kind of issue Congress called on the Commission to resolve. Indeed, in [Bryant], the Eleventh Circuit held binding the Sentencing Commission’s prior policy statement on this very issue, emphatically explaining that Congress left it to the Sentencing Commission to define ‘extraordinary and compelling,’ subject only to the requirement that rehabilitation alone is not enough.”

Lastly on this issue, the court stated that “[t]he government also asserts that reducing a sentence based on a statutory change that Congress did not make retroactive is inconsistent with Congress’s decision not to make the change retroactive. Not so. When Congress chooses not to make a change retroactive, it means the change cannot be invoked by every affected defendant. It does not repeal § 3582(c)(1)(A)(i) or prevent an affected defendant whose circumstances are extraordinary and compelling from invoking that provision... Congress could rationally decide to change a statute—by changing the criteria for or length of minimum mandatory sentences, for example—and not to make that change a basis for a sentence reduction in a typical case, while still allowing a reduction in extraordinary and compelling circumstances. And indeed, that is precisely what Congress has done.”

Ultimately the court determined that the government’s arguments that these amendments are inappropriat3e were deemed to be meritless and the court granted the reduction.

If anything here applies to you, contact us today.

At The Law Office of Jeremy Gordon, we fight aggressively for our clients. We are experienced, and know what it takes to present a successful defense in a federal criminal case. For prompt, courteous and skilled representation as your federal criminal defense attorney, contact us today to schedule a free phone consultation.
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