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United States v. Brown

United States District Court, N.D. Ohio

November 20, 2019




         Defendant Kenneth Lee Brown, Jr., moves to reduce his sentence under section 404 of the First Step Act.[1] The Government opposes.[2]

         Upon review, the Court will reduce Defendant's sentence from 262 months-the former mandatory minimum under the sentencing guidelines-to 240 months-the present mandatory minimum under the statute.

         I. Background

         On July 5, 2000, the United States indicted Brown with two counts: (1) possession of ammunition by a convicted felon and (2) possession with intent to distribute more than fifty grams of crack cocaine.[3] On August 25, 2000, Defendant pleaded guilty to both counts.[4]

         In his plea agreement, Brown admitted that he “possessed . . . 365.9 grams of ‘crack' cocaine with the intent to sell, deliver or distribute it to another person or persons.”[5]Brown also admitted that he was a career offender for sentencing purposes.[6]

         On November 9, 2000, the Court sentenced Brown.[7] At the time of the sentencing, Brown's drug offense carried a 20-year mandatory minimum imprisonment term.[8] As a career offender, Brown had a 37 base offense level that this Court reduced to 34 because of Brown's acceptance of responsibility. Brown's criminal history was category VI, which resulted in a 262-327 months Sentencing Guidelines range. The Court sentenced Brown to 262-months imprisonment and 10 years of supervised release.[9]

         In 2010, Congress enacted the Fair Sentencing Act to reduce crack penalties.[10] Specifically, the Act raised the threshold crack quantities needed to trigger Controlled Substances Act enhanced penalties. Before 2010, a conviction that involved 50 grams or more of crack was punishable by imprisonment of at least 10 years and as much as life.[11] After the Fair Sentencing Act, the minimum drug quantity to trigger the ten-year mandatory minimum increased to 280 grams.

         In 2018, Congress enacted section 404 of the First Step Act which made the Fair Sentencing Act's crack sentencing range modifications retroactive.[12]

         On May 31, 2019, Brown moved pro se for relief under section 404 of the First Step Act.[13] The Government opposed;[14] Brown replied.[15]

         On October 8, 2019, the Court first considered Brown's motion.[16] The Court concluded that Brown is eligible for a sentence reduction, but before deciding whether to resentence Brown, the Court required the Parties to submit further briefing on how the 18 U.S.C. § 3553 factors apply to Defendant.[17] The Parties complied.[18]

         II. Discussion

         Review under the First Step Act is a two-step process.[19] Courts first determine eligibility for relief. If a defendant is eligible, courts then determine whether to exercise their discretion to reduce the defendant's sentence.

         Having already found Defendant eligible for a sentence reduction in its previous order, [20] the Court must determine whether to exercise its discretion to reduce the Defendant's sentence consistent with statutory limits, non-binding guideline considerations, and the 18 U.S.C. § 3553 factors.[21]

         A. Statutory Limits and the Non-Binding Guideline Considerations

         Section 404 permits “a reduced sentence as if sections 2 and 3 of the [Fair Sentencing Act] were in effect at the time the covered offense was committed.”[22]Accordingly, the Court starts by determining how Brown's sentence would be affected if the Fair Sentencing Act's section 2 had been “in effect at the time the covered offense was committed.”[23]

         In 2000, an individual with a prior felony drug-offense conviction found guilty of distributing 50 grams or more of crack in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(A) faced a 20-year mandatory minimum prison term.[24] Section 2 of the Fair Sentencing Act increased the § 841(b)(1)(A) mandatory minimum threshold quantity from 50 to 280 grams. In his plea, Brown admitted to possessing a crack quantity of 365.9 grams-above the threshold quantity for each iteration of the statute-so his statutory mandatory minimum sentence is the same: 20 years.

         Brown's sentencing range under the current guidelines remains unchanged, as well. At the time of his sentencing, the Parties agreed that his career-offender classification raised his offense level to 37.[25] With a three-level reduction for acceptance of responsibility, the Court found a total offense level of 34.[26] In 2000, a total offense level of 34, combined with Defendant's criminal history level of VI, required the Court to give him a sentence of 262-327 months. If sentenced today, Defendant's total offense level would still be 34, [27]and, given his criminal history, his sentencing range would still be 262-327 months.

         However, since 2000, the Supreme Court has held that the sentencing guidelines are no longer mandatory.[28] Therefore, while the Court is bound to follow the statutory minimum sentence of 240 months, it need not follow the sentencing guidelines' minimum of 262 months.

         In determining whether to reduce Defendant's sentence from the sentencing guidelines' minimum to the statutory minimum, the court will ...

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