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Fair Sentencing Act Prompts Relief: U.S v. Holloway

In US vs. Holloway, an important determination eligibility under First Step Act's Retroactive Application of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2018.

In United States vs. Holloway, the Second Circuit made an important determination for eligibility under the First Step Act's Retroactive Application of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2018

Holloway pled guilty to possession of “more than 50 but less than 150 grams of cocaine base, and [conceded that] that the government had seized 66.33 grams of cocaine base from him in February 2008.”  Holloway also “conceded two prior convictions, which the government and Holloway agreed rendered him a career offender under U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1” as well as an 851 information.  The parties agreed that his guideline range was 262-327 months and 10 years of supervised release.  Holloway was sentenced to 168 months in prison and 10 years of supervised release.  Sentencing in this matter was on June 22, 2010.

Two months later, the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 was signed into law.  “As relevant to Holloway, the Fair Sentencing Act increased the threshold quantity for conviction under 841(b)(1)(A) from 50 to 280 grams of crack cocaine…[b]ut it did not apply retroactively to defendants, like Holloway, who had been sentenced before the Act became effective.”  

As many of you know, the FIRST STEP Act retroactively applied the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 for certain “covered offense[s].”  The FIRST STEP Act indicated that “the term ‘‘covered offense’’ means 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 that was committed before August 3, 2010.”  There are no other limits to the application of the FSA other than that a court cannot hear a motion on this if the sentence was previously imposed or reduced pursuant to the Fair Sentencing Act or if a previous motion for relief under the Fair Sentencing Act had been denied. 

Holloway filed a motion for a reduction under the FIRST STEP Act.  The probation department interpreted Holloway’s motion as one made under 18 USC 3582(c)(2).  That meant that a reduction would need to be consistent with a policy statement of the Sentencing Commission.  This includes USSG 1B1.10 that indicates that in order for him tor recieve relief his guidelines would have to change.  Since they did not, the probation department indicated that Holloway was not eligible for relief on the sentence (the probation department did state that the mandatory minimum supervised release had been reduced and he was eligible for a reduction there.  The court denied his motion with regard to his sentence and his term of supervised release.”  

The Second Circuit reversed the decision.  The court indicated to be eligible, Holloway was required “to demonstrate that he was sentenced for a particular “violation of a Federal criminal statute,” and that the applicable statutory penalties for that violation were modified by the specified provisions of the Fair Sentencing Act.”  Section 2 of the FSA altered the drug quantity thresholds for 841(b)(1)(A)(iii) and 841(b)(1)(B)(iii).  Because Holloway was sentenced for possessing with intent to distribute 50 grams or more of cocaine base, the district court “therefore ‘imposed a sentence’ under § 841(b)(1)(A).”  That entailed a statutory sentencing range of 20-L in prison because of Holloway’s prior drug felony.  Now, post FIRST STEP Act, that same violation would have led to a statutory sentencing range of 10-L.  Because “Section 2 of the Fair Sentencing Act modified the statutory penalties for the violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a) charged in Count One,” Holloway was eligible for relief.  

“The district court denied the motion, however, on the basis that Holloway’s new Guidelines range would be no different from his original range.”  But the second Circuit held that “[a] First Step Act motion, however, is not properly evaluated under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2).” Instead, “a First Step Act motion is based on the Act’s own explicit statutory authorization, rather than on any action of the Sentencing Commission. For this reason, such a motion falls within the scope of § 3582(c)(1)(B), which provides that a “court may modify an imposed term of imprisonment to the extent otherwise expressly permitted by statute.” 

The court vacated the order denying Holloway’s First Step Act motion and remanded it back down to the district court.  United States vs. Holloway, No. 19-1035-cr

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