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United States v. Phillips

United States District Court, N.D. Ohio, Eastern Division

December 16, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
LACHON PHILLIPS, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          CHRISTOPHER A. BOYKO JUDGE

         This matter comes before the Court on the Motion (Doc. 43) of Defendant Lachon Phillips to Reduce his Sentence Under Section 404 of the First Step Act. For the following reasons, the Motion is GRANTED, in part and DENIED, in part.

         I. Background Facts

         On June 7, 2007, Defendant pleaded guilty to Count One, Possession of Cocaine Base (Crack) with Intent to Distribute, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(A). In his Plea Agreement, Defendant admitted to possessing with the intent to distribute approximately 365.3 grams of crack. (Doc. 24, PageID: 59). On September 13, 2007, the Court sentenced Defendant to 235 months imprisonment and 10 years supervised release. (Doc. 26).

         On December 21, 2018, President Trump signed into law the First Step Act of 2018.[1]Section 404 of the First Step Act “applies retroactively the Fair Sentencing act of 2010 which reduced mandatory minimum penalties for crack cocaine offenses.”[2]

         On March 21, 2019, [3] Defendant filed a Motion seeking relief under the First Step Act. (Doc. 42). The Government filed its Opposition on April 3, 2019. (Doc. 44). Defendant filed a Supplement to his Motion on October 7, 2019. (Doc. 45).

         II. Law and Analysis

         A. Standard of Review

         Generally, federal courts may not modify an individual's term of imprisonment. 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c). An exception to this general rule is contained in 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(B). Under this Section, a court may “modify an imposed term of imprisonment to the extent otherwise permitted by statute…” Id. at § 3582(c)(1)(B). The First Step Act of 2018 is such a statute that permits the modification of an individual's term of imprisonment.[4]

         “A court that imposed a sentence for a ‘covered offense' may…impose a reduced sentence as if sections 2 and 3 of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010…were in effect at the time the covered offense was committed.” First Step Act of 2018, PL 115-391, Dec. 21, 2018, 132 Stat. 5194 (hereafter “First Step Act”), § 404(b) (internal citations omitted). A “covered offense” means “a violation of a Federal criminal statute, the statutory penalties for which were modified by section 2 or 3 of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010…that was committed before August 3, 2010.” Id. at § 404(a) (internal citations omitted).

         There are a few limitations before a court may reduce a sentence under the First Step Act. Specifically, a court cannot reduce a sentence (1) if the court previously reduced defendant's sentence under the Fair Sentencing Act; or (2) if a defendant previously moved under the First Step Act and a court denied the defendant's motion on the merits. Id. at § 404(c). Further, a court's decision to reduce a sentence is discretionary. Id. (“Nothing in this section shall be construed to require a court to reduce any sentence pursuant to this section”).

         B. Eligibility Under the First Step Act

         The parties disagree whether Defendant is eligible for relief under the First Step Act. The Government argues that Defendant would face the same statutory punishment if the Court applied the revised Fair Sentencing Act range to Defendant's crimes. This is because Defendant admitted in his Plea Agreement to possessing at least 365.3 grams of crack.

         Defendant counters and cites the same Plea Agreement where the parties stipulated that Defendant's offense involved a range of 150-500 grams of crack. Defendant also cites the Indictment which charged Defendant with possession of 50 grams or more of crack. Given Congressional intent, the rule of lenity and the focus on statutory penalties as opposed to individual conduct, Defendant argues the Court should look at the lower weight of crack and apply the Fair Sentencing Act penalties. Doing so would reduce Defendant's ...


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