United States District Court, District of Columbia
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
C. Lamberth United States District Judge
the Court is defendant William Aguilar-Vargas's motion
[169, 170] for a sentence reduction under 18 U.S.C. §
3582(c)(2). The motion is based on Amendments 782 and 788 to
the United States Sentencing Guidelines and must be analyzed
under the "two-step inquiry" set forth in
Dillon v. United States, 560 U.S. 817
(2010). Under Dillon's test, the Court must
first determine if Aguilar-Vargas is eligible for a sentence
reduction under § 3582(c)(2) and then determine whether
or a not such a reduction is warranted according to the
factors enumerated in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a). After
considering Aguilar-Vargas's motion  for a sentence
reduction, the federal public defender's unopposed motion
 for a sentence reduction, the entire record in this
case, and the applicable law, the Court will
DENY Aguilar-Vargas's motions. In short,
Aguilar-Vargas is ineligible for a sentence reduction under
18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2) because his sentence was not
"based on" a subsequently-lowered range.
March 3, 2009, a federal grand jury returned a one-count
indictment against Aguilar-Vargas and his seven co-defendants
for Conspiracy to Distribute and Possess With Intent to
Distribute 50 Grams or More of Cocaine Base and Five
Kilograms or More of Cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C.
§ 846, 841(a)(1), 841(b)(l)(A)(ii) and (iii).
See Presentence Investigation Report (PSR) ¶ 1.
On July 21, 2010, Aguilar-Vargas pled guilty to this charge
and entered into a plea agreement with the government under
Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(c)(1)(C) ("Rule
11(c)(1)(C)"). See Plea Agreement, ECF No. 95.
If a Rule 11(c)(1)(C) plea agreement includes a
"specific sentence or sentencing range" that the
parties determined was appropriate, then once a court accepts
the defendant's plea agreement, it is bound to impose the
agreed-upon sentence. See Fed. R. Crim. P.
11(c)(1)(C); see also United States v.
Duvall, 705 F.3d 479, 481 (D.C. Cir. 2013) ("If
the district court accepts a Rule 11(c)(1)(C) plea agreement,
the court must impose the sentence listed in the plea
indeed, pursuant to Rule 11(c)(1)(C), Aguilar-Vargas and the
government agreed that his "appropriate sentence .. .
[was] 120 months imprisonment without possibility of
parole." Plea Agreement ¶ 5. In his plea,
Aguilar-Vargas also agreed that he intended to distribute
more than "five kilograms but less than 15 kilograms of
a mixture and substance containing a detectable amount of
cocaine . . . ." Id. at ¶ 1. Lastly, the
government agreed that in exchange for Aguilar-Vargas's
guilty plea, it would dismiss charges against Aguilar-Vargas
contained in a separate indictment for conspiracy to
distribute and possess with intent to distribute 500 grams or
more of cocaine, dated December 15, 2005 and labeled Criminal
No. 05-445 (RCL). On July 21, 2010, the undersigned district
court judge accepted Aguilar-Vargas's guilty plea, and on
April 19, 2011, the undersigned sentenced him to 108 months
imprisonment, as called for in Aguilar-Vargas' modified
Rule 11(c)(1)(C) plea agreement.
imposing the 108-month sentence, the district court judge
calculated Aguilar- Vargas's total offense level to be 27
and his criminal history category to be I, a combination,
which at the time yielded a guideline range of 70 to 87
months. Further, the Court determined that
Aguilar-Vargas's conduct subjected him to a statutory
mandatory minimum sentence of 120 months. See
Statement of Reasons 1, ECF No. 144. Although
Aguilar-Vargas's conduct triggered a mandatory minimum
120-month sentence, the sentencing judge found that he
satisfied the requirements of 18 U.S.C. § 3553(f)'s
Safety Valve provision. Id. (showing that
Aguilar-Vargas received a sentence below his mandatory
minimum). As such, the district court was free to
sentence Aguilar-Vargas "without regard to the statutory
minimum, " 18 U.S.C. § 3553(f), and ultimately
imposed its sentence of 108 months-one year less than the
120-month statutory minimum.
generally speaking a court may not modify a term of
imprisonment once it has been imposed, § 3582(c)(2)
provides an exception. See Dillon v. United States,
560 U.S. 817, 824 (2010) ("Section 3582(c)(2)
establishes an exception to the general rule of
finality."). Under this statutory provision, a court may
be authorized to modify a prison term where the original
sentence was "based on a sentencing range that has
subsequently been lowered by the Sentencing Commission."
18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2). On April 30, 2014, the U.S.
Sentencing Commission submitted to Congress Amendment 782 of
the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines, proposing a downward revision
to sentencing ranges for drug trafficking offenses. The
Commission then passed Amendment 788 to allow Amendment
782's revisions to be applied retroactively, which in
this case, means that Aguilar-Vargas's calculated 70-87
month guideline range would have been 57- 71 months had the
newly amended ranges been in effect at the time of
Aguilar-Vargas's original sentencing. See
Probation Mem. 1, ECF No. 172.
November 1, 2014, Amendment 782 and its retroactive
application became effective, and Aguilar-Vargas now argues
that these amendments authorize the Court to reduce his
sentence to the bottom of his newly revised guideline
range-that is, 57 months. See Mot. to Reduce Term of
Imprisonment Pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2) and
Amendment 782 of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines 1, ECF No.
169 ("[T]he Court may reduce the term of imprisonment .
. . if such a reduction is consistent with the applicable
policy statement issued by the Sentencing Commission.").
Further, Aguilar-Vargas's counsel requests-and the
government does not oppose-that this court reduce his
108-month sentence to 94 months pursuant to 18 U.S.C. §
3582(c)(2). See Unopposed Mot. to Reduce Sentence 1,
ECF No. 170. For the reasons stated below, the Court will
deny these motions, finding that it lacks the authority to
reduce Aguilar-Vargas's sentence because the original
sentence was not "based on" a sentencing range that
has been subsequently lowered by the Sentencing Commission.
order for the Court to have the authority to reduce a
defendant's sentence pursuant to § 3582(c)(2), the
defendant must satisfy two basic eligibility requirements:
his sentence must have been '"based on' a
subsequently-lowered guideline range, [and] ... the sentence
reduction [must be] consistent with U.S.S.G. § 1B1.10,
the policy statement governing § 3582(c)(2)
proceedings." In re Sealed Case, 722 F.3d 361,
366 (D.C. Cir. 2013) (quoting Dillon v. United
States, 560 U.S. 817, 827(2010)).
considering these requirements, it is often difficult to
assess whether or not a sentence was "based on" a
specific sentencing range when a defendant and the government
entered into a Rule 11(c)(1)(C) plea agreement and the Court
imposed the sentence contained in that agreement. In the
context of Rule 11(c)(1)(C) agreements, the D.C. Circuit has
ruled that "a defendant's sentence is 'based
on' a subsequently-lowered guideline range 'to
whatever extent' that range was a relevant part of the
analytic framework the judge used to determine the
sentence." In re Sealed Case, 722 F.3d 361, 366
(D.C. Cir. 2013) (citing Freeman v. United
States, 131 S.Ct. 2685, 2692 (2011)). The Circuit
originally set this standard when it issued United States
v. Epps, 707 F.3d 337 (D.C. Cir. 2013). In
Epps, the Circuit adopted the Supreme Court's
plurality opinion in Freeman v. United
States, 564 U.S. 522 (2013), a 4-4-1 split decision that
ruled a defendant who had entered into a Rule 11(c)(1)(C)
plea agreement was not automatically ineligible for a
sentence reduction under § 3582(c)(2). Freeman,
564 U.S. at 534. The plurality opinion, which is binding on
this Court-took a "broad view" of §
3582(c)(2), see In re Sealed Case, 722 F.3d at 365,
and stated that "the judge's decision to accept the
[Rule 11(c)(1)(C)] plea and impose the recommended sentence
is likely to be 'based on' the Guidelines."
Freeman, 564 U.S. at 534. In other words, the
plurality opinion declared that most defendants who had
entered into Rule 11(c)(1)(C) plea agreements would be
eligible for a sentence reduction under § 3582(c)(2) if
the Sentencing Commission was subsequently and retroactively
lowered his applicable guideline range.
D.C. Circuit reaffirmed this relatively expansive reading
§ 3582(c)(2) in In re Sealed Case, 722 F.3d 361
(D.C. Cir. 2013). In that case, the Circuit ruled that a
defendant's 135-month sentence was "based on"
his 151-181-month guideline range because that range played
at least some role in the judge's sentencing decision.
The Circuit came to this decision even though the
defendant's 151-181-month sentencing guideline range
would have been supplanted by a 20-year mandatory minimum had
the government not filed a motion under 18 U.S.C. §
3553(e) for substantial assistance. In re Sealed
Case, 722 F.3d at 363. Regardless of the looming 20-year
mandatory minimum and the fact that the defendant was
sentenced below his applicable guideline range, the Circuit
found that the 151-181-month range formed "the very
basis" of the defendant's 135-month sentence,
id. at 367, and determined he was eligible for his
requested sentence reduction.
conducting the "based on" analysis set out in
Epps and In re Sealed Case, the D.C.
Circuit has directed that the "focus . . . ought to be
on the reasons given by the district court for accepting the
sentence that it ultimately imposed, not on the parties'
agreement." Epps, 707 F.3d at 353 (citation
omitted). Consistent with this directive and as recently
articulated in United States v. Barajas,
"[s]ince Epps, courts in this Circuit have
found three sources of evidence for * determining the
connection between a Rule 11(c)(1)(C) sentence and the
Guideline range: sentencing hearings, plea hearings, and the
text of the plea agreement." Crim. No. 11-148 (ESH),
2016 WL 1328095 at *2 (D.D.C. Apr. 5, 2016) (citing
United States v. Gross, Crim. No. 10-0036 (PLF),
2016 WL 410985 (D.D.C. Feb. 2, 2016); United States v.
Santana-Villanueva, 144 F.Supp.3d 149 (D.D.C. 2015);
United States v. Galaviz, 130 F.Supp.3d 197
looking to these sources of evidence, it is clear that
Aguilar-Vargas's sentence was not "based on" a
subsequently-lowered sentencing range. First and most
importantly, the undersigned sentencing judge's
statements at Aguilar-Vargas's July 21, 2010 plea hearing
show that the defendant's 70-87 month range had
absolutely nothing to do with the 108-month sentence that the
judge ultimately imposed. Before ...