Mississippi District Court Deviates from Sentencing Guidelines in Methamphetamine Case: Robinson
Facts: Meth Case, Request to Deviate From Guidelines
Robinson was charged with and pled guilty to possession with intent to distribute more than 50 grams of methamphetamine. He was found to be responsible for 214.4 grams. The purity of the meth in this case was between 96% and 97%. He was accused of being caught with “actual meth” and as such, the guidelines indicated that he should have an offense level of 32. See USSC 2D1.1(c)(4) “In contrast, if Mr. Robinson was deemed to have possessed 214.4 grams of methamphetamine mixture, the Guidelines indicate that his base offense level would be 26... § 2D1.1(c)(7).”
At sentencing, Robinson objected to the US Sentencing Guidelines. Robinson “respectfully request[ed] this Court reject that purity level distinction in sentencing him because the facts of this case, and all credible data gathered since the time the Sentencing . . . Commission promulgated these rules and related policy statements demonstrate that the purity level of methamphetamine is not indicative of Mr. Robinson’s culpability.”
The government opposed indicating that neither congress nor the sentencing commission have made any changes to the guidelines for the difference between actual meth and mixture of meth.
The Law: Courts can (and do) vary from the guidelines when appropriate.
The Court here noted that courts can engage in variances from the guideines:
“The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that a district court may disagree with the Guidelines range indicated by the drug quantity table where the resulting sentence would be “‘greater than necessary’ to achieve § 3553(a)’s purposes.” …“[W]ith respect to the crack cocaine Guidelines,” for example, a policy-based, “categorical disagreement with and variance from the Guidelines is not suspect.” Spears v. United States, 555 U.S. 261, 264 (2009) (per curiam). The Fifth Circuit has affirmed policy-based disagreements in methamphetamine cases. See, e.g., United States v. Valdez, 268 F. App’x 293, 297 (5th Cir. 2008) (holding, in methamphetamine case, that “the district judge can disagree with the Guidelines’ policy that purity is indicative of role or that purity is adequately provided for in [the defendant’s] base level.”).
Southern District of Mississippi: No empirical basis for the difference between actual meth and meth mixture in the guidelines
The court noted several other district court decisions where the court deemed no difference between actual meth and meth mixture before agreeing with them. While in the past the purity was a proxy for culpability, most meth today is considered pure regardless of who it came from:
“The Guidelines use drug purity as a proxy for culpability. But national experience suggests that is no longer true for methamphetamine. The DEA data show that most methamphetamine confiscated today is “pure” regardless of whether the defendant is a kingpin or a low-level addict.
Here, the court advocated for a whole person approach:
Given the on-the-ground reality in methamphetamine cases, the better way to determine culpability is to examine all of the circumstances of the defendant’s case and life – seeing the defendant as a “whole person,” as the Supreme Court just instructed in Concepcion... There are sentencing enhancements available for leaders, organizers, or managers of criminal enterprises. If the defendant’s case warrants, those enhancements should be applied. In the context of methamphetamine, though, purity is no longer probative of the defendant’s culpability.
The court granted the motion and reduced his base offense level to 26.
Notes: I got a few emails on this recently from incarcerated persons saying “can I file now that the meth guidelines are no longer good?” The best way to put this is not that the guidelines are no longer accurate, it is that the judge gets to use a holistic approach to determining the culpability of the accused person.
If you have a meth case that is awaiting sentencing then this would be something to bring up as a PSI objection. If you have a crack cocaine case, this also would be something good to bring up at sentencing as stated in the opinion and order. The difference however is that this only is going to impact the disparity between crack and powder in the guidelines, not as it relates to mandatory minimums.
If your case has already been sentenced then I do not believe that this would be enough to get back into court on either a direct appeal or a 2255 motion.