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United States v. Williams

United States District Court, District Circuit

July 11, 2013

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
WILLIE D. WILLIAMS, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

PAUL L. FRIEDMAN, United States District Judge

This matter is before the Court on the motion of the defendant, Willie D. Williams, to reduce his sentence under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2). Upon consideration of the parties’ papers, the relevant legal authorities, and the entire record in the case, the Court will deny Mr. Williams’ motion.[1]

I. BACKGROUND

On July 10, 2009, Mr. Williams pled guilty to (1) unlawful possession of a firearm and ammunition by a person previously convicted of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1), and (2) distribution of cocaine base or crack, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(C)(iii). Opp’n at 2-3. Mr. Williams acknowledged in his plea agreement that he was accountable for more than five grams but less than 20 grams of crack cocaine. Plea at 2.

The Court held a sentencing hearing on September 24, 2009. At the hearing, the Court calculated Mr. Williams’ sentence according to the three-step approach it had outlined in United States v. Lewis, 623 F.Supp.2d 42, 45-47 (D.D.C. 2009), the case in which the Court, as a matter of policy, adopted a 1-to-1 crack-to-powder ratio. Tr. at 4-5. First, the Court calculated Mr. Williams’ sentencing range under the United States Sentencing Guidelines. With an offense level of 24 that applied to the crack offense, a two-level upward adjustment for multiple offenses under the grouping guidelines, a three-level downward adjustment for acceptance of responsibility, and a criminal history category of IV, Mr. Williams’ guidelines sentencing range was 70 to 87 months. Id. at 4-6; see United States v. Lewis, 623 F.Supp.2d at 47. The Court then varied from the Guidelines under United States v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220 (2005), and Kimbrough v. United States, 552 U.S. 85 (2007), determining an alternative sentencing range using a 1-to-1 crack cocaine-to-powder cocaine ratio. At a 1-to-1 ratio, the offense level for the crack cocaine offense was 12; with a downward adjustment for acceptance of responsibility, Mr. Williams’ total offense level was 10 and his overall sentencing range was 15 to 21 months. Tr. at 6-7; see also United States v. Lewis, 623 F.Supp.2d at 47.

This alternative calculation, however, took no account of Mr. Williams’ plea to the gun charge. So the Court looked to the applicable guideline for the weapons offense, which would put Mr. Williams at offense level 22. With a three-level downward adjustment for acceptance of responsibility to level 19, and a criminal history category of IV, Mr. Williams’ guideline sentencing range was 46 to 57 months. Tr. at 7. The Court sentenced Mr. Williams to 51 months’ imprisonment on each count, to run concurrently, Judgment at 3, substantially less than what his sentence would have been under the crack cocaine guidelines. In doing so, the Court acknowledged that it had given Mr. Williams the benefit of its 1:1 crack-to-powder ratio policy and imposed “not a strictly guideline sentence.” Id. at 8. Rather, the Court used the Guidelines as a reference point, giving Mr. Williams the benefit of the 1-to-1 crack-to-powder ratio while applying the Guidelines for the gun offense. Id. The 51-month sentence was in the middle of that range.

In 2010, the Sentencing Commission amended the Sentencing Guidelines in response to the enactment by Congress of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, which lowered the crack-to-powder ratio from 100-to-1 to 18-to-1. See Dorsey v. United States, 132 S.Ct. 2321, 2328-29 (2012) (discussing Fair Sentencing Act and subsequent changes to crack cocaine guidelines). Amendment 750 to the Guidelines made the crack cocaine amendments permanent, and, through Amendment 759 in November 2011, the Commission subsequently made them retroactive by adding Amendment 750 to the list of amendments in Section 1B1.10 of the Guidelines. See Reply at 2 (referring to U.S. Sentencing Guidelines Manual § 1B1.10 (2011)); see also Dorsey v. United States, 132 S.Ct. at 2329; Davis v. United States Sentencing Comm’n, --- F.3d ----, 2013 WL 2302542, at *1 (D.C. Cir. 2013).

Mr. Williams now argues that because the Court initially imposed a sentence that was 19 months below the guidelines sentencing range of 70 to 87 months for the crack cocaine offense, he is entitled to a reduction of 19 months from the amended guidelines range of 57 to 71 months, leading to a sentence of 38 months. Mot. at 1-2. The government contends (1) that the Court has no authority to modify Mr. Williams’ sentence under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c), and (2) that if the Court sentenced Mr. Williams to 38 months it would be violating Section 1B1.10(b)(2) of the Guidelines. See Opp’n at 2. Mr. Williams maintains, however, that Section 1B1.10(b)(2) “violates the Sentencing Reform Act and the separation of powers doctrine, and was promulgated without proper notice and comment.” Reply at 3. He argues that in enacting amendments to Section 1B1.10(b)(2), effective November 2011, the Sentencing Commission “impermissibly assumed the power of both Congress and the sentencing court, without utilizing any administrative procedure – such as notice and comment – to maintain . . . accountability.” Id. at 4-6.

II. DISCUSSION

A district court does not have inherent authority to modify a sentence once it has been imposed. Dillon v. United States, 130 S.Ct. 2683, 2687 (2010). 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2) provides a “narrow exception to [that] rule of finality.” Id. at 2692; see also United States v. Armstrong, 347 F.3d 905, 909 (11th Cir. 2003). Under that statute, a court may modify a sentence only when the defendant was sentenced to a term of imprisonment that was “based on” a guideline sentencing range that subsequently has been lowered. Dillon v. United States, 130 S.Ct. at 2687. “To be eligible for a sentence modification under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2), a defendant must show (1) that he was initially sentenced ‘based on a sentencing range that has subsequently been lowered’ by the Sentencing Commission; and (2) that the reduction is ‘consistent with applicable policy statements issued by the Sentencing Commission.’” United States v. Sweet, 756 F.Supp.2d 94, 95 (D.D.C. 2010) (quoting United States v. Berry, 618 F.3d 13, 16 (D.C. Cir. 2010)); see Dillon v. United States, 130 S.Ct. at 2687 (quoting 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2)).

A. 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2)’s “Based on” Requirement

Mr. Williams contends that his sentence was premised on the “range determined based on the cocaine base [crack] offense level applicable at the time of his sentencing . . . despite the fact that the Court looked to another offense level and range.” Reply at 2 n.1 (citing United States v. Berry, 618 F.3d at 18). The Court disagrees. Mr. Williams was not sentenced “based on a sentencing range that has subsequently been lowered by the Sentencing Commission, ” 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2), and he therefore fails to meet Section 3582(c)(2)’s first requirement.

For a sentence to be “based on” a guideline sentencing range, the guideline range at issue must have been “‘a relevant part of the analytic framework’ used in the district court’s sentencing calculus.” In re Sealed Case, --- F.3d ----, 2013 WL 3305706, at *3 (D.C. Cir. 2013) (quoting Freeman v. United States, 131 S.Ct. 2685, 2692-93 (plurality opinion)); see also United States v. Tepper, 616 F.3d 583, 586 (D.C. Cir. 2010) (to meet the “based on” requirement, “the guideline calculation at issue must have actually played a role in determining that range. It is not enough that a guideline was merely calculated or considered along the way.”) (emphasis in original). Applying this standard, the Court finds that Mr. Williams’ sentence was not “based on” the crack cocaine sentencing guidelines.

When determining Mr. Williams’ sentence, the Court initially performed the guidelines calculation for crack cocaine, but it then exercised its discretion under Booker and Kimbrough not to impose a guideline sentence. Rather than adhering to the crack guidelines, it made a policy decision “within [its] discretion” to apply a 1-to-1 crack-to-powder ratio when considering the drug charge. Tr. at 6. It then varied upwards to take account of the weapons offense. The sentence the Court ultimately imposed was based not on the guidelines offense level for crack cocaine, but rather on a variance from the Guidelines by reference to the guidelines sentencing range for the gun offense. Tr. at 8; see Tr. 4-6, 8. Thus, although the crack guideline range was calculated by the Court, it was not, practically speaking, a “relevant part of the analytic framework” used in the Court’s sentencing determination. See In re Sealed Case, 2013 WL 3305706, at *3. Because Mr. Williams’ sentence therefore would not have been affected by the amendments to the crack cocaine guidelines, he is not eligible for a Section 3582(c)(2) sentence modification. See, e.g., United States v. King, Crim. No. 00-340, 2010 WL 5394907, at *2 (D.D.C. Dec. 23, 2010) (denying Section 3582(c)(2) ...


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