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United States v. Houston

United States District Court, District of Columbia

September 18, 2018



          Royce C. Lamberth Senior United States District Judge

         Before the Court are defendant Curtis Houston's motion [264] and supplemental motion [279] seeking a sentence reduction pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2), and based upon the retroactive application of Amendment 782 of the United States Sentencing Guidelines (the "Guidelines"). After considering the motion, the entire record herein, and the applicable law, the Court will DENY his motion.


         On September 23, 2011, defendant Houston pleaded guilty to one count of Conspiracy to Distribute and Possess With Intent to Distribute cocaine, in contravention of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(A), pursuant to Fed. R. Crim. P. 11(c)(1)(C). Plea Agreement, ECF No. 135¶1.

         In accepting the terms of his plea agreement, defendant Houston both acknowledged that he was "accountable for more than 280 grams of cocaine base but less than 840 grams of cocaine base, . . . and more than 5 kilograms of cocaine but less than 15 kilograms of cocaine," which together represented "the total amount involved in [his] relevant criminal conduct." Id. ¶ 2. He and the Government separately agreed that "a sentence of 14 years (168 months) of imprisonment [was] the appropriate sentence for this offense." Id. ¶ 3. Further, defendant Houston and the Government agreed as follows:

Should the Court not agree that the sentence agreed upon by the parties is appropriate, and [if defendant Houston] does not withdraw his plea, [he] and the Government agree to the following: [Defendant Houston] will be sentenced according to Title 18, United States Code, Sections 3553(a) and 3553(c) through (f) and upon consideration of the United States Sentencing Guidelines.

Id. ¶ 5.

         On April 30, 2014, the U.S. Sentencing Commission ("the Commission") submitted to Congress Amendment 782 of the Guidelines, proposing a downward revision to the applicable sentencing ranges for drug trafficking offenses. The Commission then passed Amendment 788 to allow Amendment 782's revisions to be applied retroactively, and on November 1, 2014, Amendment 782 and its retroactive application became effective. In his current motion, defendant Houston seeks relief under these amended provisions of the Sentencing Guidelines.


         To grant a motion for a sentence reduction under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2), two separate conditions must exist. A prisoner must (1) be eligible for the requested reduction and (2) early release must be warranted. Dillon v. United States, 560 U.S. 817, 827 (2010). Defendant Houston fails to meet the second of these requirements because the facts of this case do not warrant early release in accordance with any of the factors set forth in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a). See Id. § 3582(c)(2) (the Court may reduce the term of imprisonment "on its own motion," but must consider and weigh the factors set forth in § 3553(a)).

         i. Defendant Houston's sentence was based upon the Sentencing Guidelines.

         In United States v. Epps, 707 F.3d 337, 352 (D.C. Cir. 2013), the D.C. Circuit explained that under § 3582(c)(2), a prisoner who had entered into a Rule 11(c)(1)(C) plea agreement is eligible for a sentence reduction if his sentence was "based on a sentencing range that has subsequently been lowered by the Sentencing Commission." Id. (citing 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2)'s standard for a sentence reduction). The opinion applied and interpreted Freeman v. United States, 564 U.S. 522 (2011), where a plurality of the Supreme Court explained that plea agreements do not automatically disqualify a defendant for relief under § 3582(c)(2). The D.C. Circuit reasoned specifically that, to determine whether a defendant's term of incarceration was "based on" a specific Guidelines range, courts should focus on "the reasons given by the district court for accepting the sentence that was ultimately imposed." Epps, 707 F.3d at 351.

         The Epps reasoning no longer controls this inquiry. Last Term, in Hughes v. United States, the Supreme Court modified the Freeman plurality, explaining that because the "Sentencing Guidelines prohibit district courts from accepting [Rule 11(c)(1)(C)] agreements without first evaluating the recommended sentence in light of the defendant's Guidelines range, ... the court's acceptance of a Type-C agreement and the sentence to be imposed pursuant to that agreement are" necessarily '"based on' the defendant's Guidelines range." Hughes v. United States, 138 S.Ct. 1765, 1776(2018).

         At defendant Houston's sentencing hearing, the Government presented an allocution and requested the Court to "accept the 11(c)(1)(C) agreed-upon time" to which it and defendant . Houston agreed, "which is a sentence of 168 months." Tr. of Feb. 28, 2012 Sentencing at 3:16-19 (emphasis added). The Government thus acknowledged, on the record, that the agreed sentence was in accord with the Sentencing Guidelines. Furthermore, defendant's counsel correctly noted, on the record, that "168 months is the low end of the [Guidelines] range." Id. at 5:05-06. The Government did not dispute this assertion. See Id. The Court imposed the agreed-upon sentence of 168 ...

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