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United States v. Mason

United States District Court, E.D. Washington

June 6, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
QUEVENCY D. MASON, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR REDUCTION OF SENTENCE PURSUANT TO THE FIRST STEP ACT OF 2018

          ROBERT H. WHALEY, SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Reduction or Modification of Sentence Pursuant to . . . the First Step Act. ECF No. 167. The Court has considered Defendant's motion, the Government's response, Defendant's reply, and the earlier filings in the case. Being fully informed, the Court finds that Defendant's motion should be GRANTED and his sentence should be reduced to a term of time served.

         I. Background

         In 1986, Congress enacted the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which set harsh mandatory minimum sentences for offenses involving cocaine base, i.e., crack cocaine. See Pub. L. No. 99-570, 100 Stat. 3207 (1986). For offenses involving the manufacturing or distribution of five grams or more of crack cocaine, the Act established a mandatory minimum of five years' imprisonment and a maximum of 40 years. Id. § 1002. If a person had a prior felony drug conviction, the minimum increased to 10 years and the maximum to life. Id. For offenses involving the manufacturing or distribution of 50 grams or more of crack cocaine, the Act established a mandatory minimum of 10 years' imprisonment and a maximum of life. Id. If a person had a prior felony drug conviction, the minimum sentence increased to 20 years. Id.

         In 2005, the Government charged Defendant with two counts of Distribution of 5 Grams or More of a Mixture or Substance Containing Cocaine Base, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(B)(iii), three counts of Distribution of 50 Grams or More of a Mixture or Substance Containing Cocaine Base, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(A)(iii), and one count of Possession of Cocaine Base with Intent to Distribute, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(C). ECF No. 41 (Superseding Indictment). The Government also filed an information under 21 U.S.C. § 851 to establish Defendant's prior state drug conviction for conspiracy to deliver a controlled substance. ECF No. 25.

         The case proceeded to trial and Defendant presented an entrapment defense. ECF No. 75 at 20-22; No. 115 at 60-61. Defendant testified and admitted that he distributed crack cocaine as alleged in the indictment. ECF No. 114 at 76-87. He then testified to facts related to his entrapment defense. ECF No. 114 at 65-66, 71, 79, 81, 86-87

         The jury found Defendant guilty of the two charged counts of distributing 5 or more grams of crack cocaine, the three charged counts of distributing 50 or more grams of crack cocaine, and an additional count of the lesser included offense of simple possession of crack cocaine. ECF No. 79. Prior to sentencing, the U.S. Probation Office prepared a presentence report finding that Defendant's offenses involved 214.3 net grams of crack cocaine. PSR ¶¶ 21, 30. The presentence report also concluded that Defendant met the criteria for “career offender” status under U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1 based on his prior state convictions for conspiracy to deliver a controlled substance and attempted second degree assault. PSR ¶ 38.

         In June 2005, the Court sentenced Defendant. ECF No. 94. The Court agreed with the presentence report that Defendant qualified as a career offender based on his prior state offenses. See ECF No. 96 at 2-5; No. 116 at 25. Because the statutory maximum for Defendant's convictions was life imprisonment, Defendant's status as a career offender resulted in an offense level of 37 and a criminal history category of VI. ECF No. 116 at 25; see U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1(b)(A). However, the Court also found that Defendant was eligible for a three-point reduction based on his acceptance of responsibility[1] as well as a four-point downward departure to account for the unwarranted sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine. ECF No. 96 at 5-10; No. 116 at 25. With an adjusted offense level of 30 and a criminal history category of VI, the Court concluded that Defendant's advisory guideline range was 168 - 210 months' imprisonment. ECF No. 96 at 10-11.

         Despite this guideline range, 21 U.S.C. § 841 set a mandatory minimum of 10 years' imprisonment for anyone convicted of manufacturing or distributing 50 grams or more of crack cocaine. 21 U.S.C. 841(b)(1)(A) (2005). And because the Government had filed an information establishing his prior state felony drug conviction for conspiracy to deliver a controlled substance, he was subject to a 20-year mandatory minimum. See id.; ECF No. 96 at 12.

         Bound by the statute, the Court sentenced Defendant to the mandatory minimum of 240 months' imprisonment. ECF No. 96 at 2, 11; see Dorsey v. United States, 567 U.S. 260, 266-67 (2012) (“[N]o matter what range the Guidelines set forth, a sentencing judge must sentence an offender to at least the minimum prison term set forth in a statutory mandatory minimum.”). However, the Court emphasized that this sentence was more than necessary to address Defendant's culpability and the sentencing factors articulated in 18 U.S.C. § 3553. ECF No. 96 at 11; No. 116 at 26. The Court noted that if it had discretion to sentence Defendant to a term of imprisonment less than 240 months, it would have done so. ECF No. 96 at 2, No. 116 at 26.

         In 2010, Congress enacted the Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced the disparity between the amounts of crack and powder cocaine needed to trigger the mandatory minimum penalties in 21 U.S.C. § 841. Fair Sentencing Act, Pub. L. No. 111-220, 124 Stat. 2372; Dorsey, 567 U.S. at 264. To trigger the five-year mandatory minimum (or 10 year, with a prior drug felony) under 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(B), the law increased the amount of required crack cocaine involved from 5 grams to 28 grams.[2] See 124 Stat. 2372, § 2(a)(2). To trigger the 10-year mandatory minimum (or 20 year, with a prior drug felony) under 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(A), the law increased the amount of required crack cocaine involved from 50 grams to 280 grams. See 124 Stat. 2372, § 2(a)(1). However, the Fair Sentencing Act was not retroactive. United States v. Baptist, 646 F.3d 1225, 1225 (9th Cir. 2011). Therefore, it did not apply to individuals like Defendant, who had been sentenced to statutorily mandated terms of imprisonment prior to its enactment. Id. at 1229.

         In December 2018, Congress enacted the First Step Act. Pub. L. No. 115-391, S. 756, 115th Cong. (2018) (enacted but not yet codified). One of the Act's provisions authorized district courts to resentence defendants based on the Fair Sentencing Act's revised statutory penalties for offenses involving crack cocaine. See First Step Act § 404(b); United States v. Powell, 360 F.Supp.3d 134, 138 (N.D.N.Y. 2019). In other words, it made the Fair Sentencing Act retroactive. Shortly after its enactment, Defendant moved to reduce his then-statutorily required sentence of 240 months' imprisonment.[3] ECF No. 167.

         II. Discussion

         Defendants eligible for sentence reductions under the First Step Act are those who: (1) were convicted of a crack cocaine offense, (2) were sentenced when the pre-Fair Sentencing Act statutory penalties were still in effect, and (3) continue to serve a sentence that has not already been reduced to post-Fair Sentencing Act levels. First Step Act § 404(a). Courts retain discretion to deny motions of otherwise eligible offenders, and the First Step Act does not “require a court to reduce any sentence.” First Step Act § 404(c).

         Here, the parties agree that Defendant is eligible for a reduced sentence under the First Step Act. See ECF No. 172 at 6-7; No. 173 at 1. They disagree, however, about the extent to which the Court is authorized to modify Defendant's previously-imposed sentence. Defendant contends he is eligible for a plenary, de novo resentencing. ECF No. 173 at 1-2. In contrast, the Government argues that the scope of the sentence reduction proceeding authorized by the Act is tightly circumscribed. Id. at 4-5, 7-8.

         A. The First Step Act does not Authorize Plenary Resentencing

         Defendant contends the Court is authorized to conduct a plenary, de novo resentencing in which it may revisit determinations made at the original sentencing hearing in light of current law. ECF No. 173 at 1-2. Specifically, Defendant asks the Court to readdress its prior determination that he is a career offender. Id. at 1-2, 10. He argues that if he were convicted today, he would not be classified as a career offender because his state convictions could not be considered qualifying predicate convictions under U.S.S.G. § 4B1.2. Id. at 10. The Government does not dispute that, were he sentenced today, Defendant would not qualify as a career offender. See ECF No. 172. However, it argues the First Step Act only allows a limited ...


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