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United States v. Holman

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

October 18, 2016

United States of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,
Becky Holman, Defendant-Appellant.

          Argued September 21, 2016

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. No. 12-CR-217 - C.N. Clevert, Jr., Judge.

          Before Flaum, Kanne, and Williams, Circuit Judges.

          Flaum, Circuit Judge.

         Becky Holman pled guilty to conspiracy to distribute heroin and was initially sentenced to thirty-six months in prison. She appealed, and for reasons unrelated to this appeal, we vacated Holman's sentence and remanded for resentencing. On remand, the district court sentenced Holman to thirty-three months' imprisonment. Holman now appeals, arguing that the district court procedurally erred at resentencing by lengthening her prison term to promote rehabilitation from her heroin addiction. For the reasons that follow, we affirm the district court's sentence.

         I. Background

         Becky Holman began using heroin to manage pain associated with rheumatoid arthritis. She became addicted, and financed her addiction by dealing in a conspiracy that operated in rural central Wisconsin from 2011 to 2012.

         In April 2012, Amalia Henschel died of a heroin overdose. In the course of investigating that death, Wisconsin law enforcement discovered Holman's heroin distribution ring and found that one of Holman's co-conspirators had provided Henschel with heroin on the day she died. Several members of the conspiracy identified Holman as a regular participant. On July 28, 2012, law-enforcement agents conducted a controlled purchase of heroin from Holman. Holman was arrested and charged with participating in a drug conspiracy involving one kilogram or more of a mixture containing heroin, which caused a death. See 21 U.S.C. §§ 846, 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(A), (b)(1)(C). The government later dropped the caus-ing-death element from § 841(b)(1)(A).

         On February 19, 2014, Holman pled guilty to one count of conspiring to distribute heroin. See 21 U.S.C. §§ 846, 841(a)(1), 841(b)(1)(C). At her first sentencing hearing on September 10, 2014, the district court accounted for downward adjustments under the "safety valve" provision of U.S.S.G. § 5C1.2 and for acceptance of responsibility pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 3El.l(a). The court then calculated Holman's final Guidelines sentencing range as fifty-seven to seventy-one months. The district court considered probation inadequate, but found that the Guidelines range was higher than necessary, and sentenced Holman to thirty-six months' imprisonment. The court stated, among other things, that "the critical thing in this case is the fact that this conspiracy is one that ultimately resulted in the death of someone. I should say someone who was taking heroin supplied by this conspiracy died....And so the Court sees your offense as serious."

         Holman appealed her sentence to this court, and while that appeal was pending, the district court conducted sentencing proceedings for the co-conspirator who had supplied Henschel with heroin on the day she died. In April 2015, at the conclusion of those proceedings, the district court found the government's evidence insufficient to prove that the coconspirator's heroin actually caused Henschel's overdose. As a result, on June 23, 2015, this Court vacated Holman's judgment of conviction and remanded for resentencing, so that the district court could re-determine Holman's sentence without consideration of the death.

         At resentencing on October 14, 2015, the district court explained that it would not consider the death in determining Holman's sentence. The government asked the district court to again impose a thirty-six-month sentence, and Holman asked for probation. Holman noted, among other things, that her addiction resulted from her attempts to alleviate "chronic pain, " and that she had entered a drug treatment program in September 2012 and had not relapsed since that time. She also stated that her incarceration thus far had been at a medical center that did not meet her needs, and asked that "if there's any need for incarceration, ... that the Court indicate that she be housed at a grade-five facility which ... is more consistent with her illness."

         The district court considered in turn many of the factors in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a). It explained that conspiring to distribute heroin is "undoubtedly ... a serious offense/' and that there remained "a need for general deterrence so that others involved in the crime of distributing heroin might think twice." The court also considered "the needs of the public/' and the need to keep heroin "out of the hands of [potential users]." The court then addressed the defendant's drug problem, stating:

At this stage, ... [t]he Court is not satisfied that Ms. Holman has undergone sufficient treatment for her drug problem.
[Defense counsel] has noted that in his view the Bureau of Prisons by virtue of its placement of Ms. Holman in a level-four facility where little attention was given to her drug problem until sometime in August of this year, consequently, it would-it does seem to me prudent that Ms. Holman receive further treatment and/or counseling so that she can continue with her life unencumbered by a drug addiction. And certainly Ms. Holman needs the tools to cope with the potential of relapse after she is finished with her obligations in this case.

         Finally, the district court considered the applicable Guidelines range-fifty-seven to seventy-one months' imprisonment-and the sentences of Holman's co-defendants, which ranged from time served to 124 months. The court also noted:

[A] small reduction in the sentence that was previously imposed is warranted, in part, because Ms. Holman was eligible for safety valve consideration and is ...

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