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Fourth Circuit Holds that Procedural and Substantive Reasonableness Applies to 404 Resentencing: Swain

In Swain, the Fourth Circuit held that substantive and procedural reasonableness, normally for appeals, apply to 404 motions as well.

United States v. Swain, No. 21-6167 (4th Cir. 2022)

Swain was eligible for a sentence reduction under section 404(b) of the First Step Act. After filing his motion, U.S. Probation determined that Swain’s Guidelines dropped from 324 to 405 months down to 262 to 327 months. Swain further argued that his Guidelines should be 210 to 262 months, and the district court assumed without deciding that Swain’s calculations were correct. Nonetheless, the district court declined to exercise its discretion in reducing Swain’s sentence, reasoning that the factors under 3553(a) did not support a reduction.

On appeal, Swain argued that the district court erred in declining to reduce his sentence even in the face of a drastically reduced Guidelines range.

In analyzing Swain’s claim, the Fourth Circuit looked to its recent decision in United States v. Collington, 995 F.3d 347 (4th Cir. 2021) which held section 404 proceedings trigger the typical procedural and substantive reasonableness requirements of imposing a sentence. However, the government argued that Collington was distinguishable because Swain’s motion was ultimately denied, thus there was no reason to consider whether the sentence already imposed was substantively reasonable.

The Fourth Circuit found the government’s argument to be unpersuasive. The court held that the procedural and substantive reasonableness of a sentence applies in all section 404 proceedings, regardless of whether the district court exercises its discretion to reduce a sentence. As such, the Fourth Circuit proceeded to determine whether Swain’s current sentence was substantively reasonable.

The court found that the district court erred by relying largely on the same factual basis to deny Swain’s motion for a reduced sentence as it did to impose its initial sentence because Swain’s Guidelines range had decreased by five to ten years as a result of the First Step Act. Additionally, the court determined the district court placed too little weight on the remedial aims of the Act in denying Swain a sentence reduction.

The court concluded that the district court’s order denying Swain’s section 404 motion was procedurally reasonable, but it was not substantively so. The district court’s denial of Swain’s section 404 motion was vacated and remanded to the district court for reconsideration.

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