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Buffington v. United States

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

April 12, 2017



          Harry D. Leinenweber, Judge United States District Court.

         Petitioner Calvin Buffington's (“Buffington”) Motion for Relief under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2) [ECF No. 1] is denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case raises the question of what to do when a defendant's Presentence Investigation Report (“PSR”) adopted by the Court in sentencing turns out to be internally inconsistent. The answer matters for Buffington because, if one drug quantity from the PSR is used as the factual basis for his original sentence, then he is eligible for a sentence reduction under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2). But if another, irreconcilably different drug quantity from the same report is used, then his sentence must stand as is.

         To begin near the beginning, in 2011, this Court sentenced Buffington to a prison term of 238 months for his role in running a wholesale drug distribution ring. See, United States v. Buffington, No. 07-CR-00410, ECF No. 1006 (Judgment) (N.D. Ill. Mar. 18, 2011). Evidence before the Court established that Buffington was the leader of the enterprise and that his scheme sucked in the people closest to him, all of whom were charged and sentenced as participants in the organization. Buffington's co-conspirators included his mother, who raised him and his siblings in difficult circumstances; his brother, whom Buffington knew to be a crack addict; his cousins; a girlfriend, a college buddy, and various others. (Among the uncharged individuals were the mothers of Buffington's three children, whom the Government said Buffington used to funnel the illicit funds of his criminal enterprise.)

         The enterprise itself was no “dime bags on a corner” operation. Buffington and his cohorts dealt in wholesale quantities of drugs, running a trafficking organization that lasted for years. During the life of the enterprise, Buffington - and others at his direction - stored, packaged, processed, restocked, moved, sold, and otherwise distributed cocaine and heroin across state lines from Chicago to Detroit.

         The exact amount of drugs for which Buffington was responsible is important for the present Motion. During the sentencing hearing, however, the Court did not commit to any particular drug quantity. The closest the Court came to stating a numerical value was when it said, right before imposing sentence, that “the nature and circumstances of the offense” were “very, very, very serious, ” “involving perhaps up to 1, 000 kilograms of cocaine.” See, Buffington, No. 07-CR-00410, ECF No. 1074 (S. Tr.) at 52:13-18. Earlier in the proceeding, the Court stated that it had received the PSR and asked the parties if they thought the report was accurate. Neither Buffington nor the Government disputed the drug quantities found in the report. Both agreed that based on the amounts involved, Buffington's base offense level was 38.

         The PSR, however, contained three different sets of numbers as to the drug quantities. First, the report broke down in detail the amount of drugs that Buffington received from his known suppliers during the period stretching from 2003 to 2007. This summed up to 978 kilograms (kg) of cocaine and 3 kg of heroin. As converted to a common unit, 978 kg of cocaine and 3 kg of heroin equaled 198, 600 kg of marijuana. See, 18 U.S.C. App. § 2D1.1, Drug Equivalency Tables (stipulating that 1 gram (g) cocaine = 200 g marijuana and 1 g heroin = 1 kg marijuana). Second, and irreconcilable with the first set of numbers, the PSR stated that Buffington's offense level was 38 “because the amount of controlled substances involved in the offense for which the defendant is accountable is approximately 364 kilograms of cocaine and 1, 800 grams of heroin.” Buffington v. United States, 16-CV-08632, ECF Nos. 1 at 3-4 (Motion) & ECF No. 8 (Gov't Resp.) at 3. Third, the PSR stated that “these controlled substances are equivalent to 180, 411 kilograms of marijuana.” Id. But neither pair of numbers that the PSR mentioned computed to 180, 411 kg of marijuana. As noted, 978 kg of cocaine and 3 kg of heroin were equivalent to 198, 600 kg of marijuana. At the same conversion rate, 364 kg of cocaine and 1, 800 g of heroin equaled 74, 600 kg of marijuana.

         Despite the discrepancies, the parties made no objection to the drug quantities reported. This probably was due to the fact that under the then-prevailing Sentencing Guidelines, any amount of cocaine over 150 kg would put a defendant at an offense level of 38. See, 18 U.S.C. app. § 2D1.1, Drug Quantity Table (2011). Thus, the smaller reported amount of 364 kg of cocaine alone would make Buffington a level 38 offender, the base level at which he was sentenced. (To be precise, Buffington was sentenced at a final-computed offense level of 39. This is because on a base level of 38, Buffington got a four-level increase for being the leader in a criminal activity involving five or more persons and a three-level decrease for accepting responsibility. Because these adjustments are not relevant for the current motion, the Court focuses on the base level.) In the Statement of Reasons issued after the sentencing hearing, the Court checked the box indicating that it adopted the PSR in full without change.

         Due to a change to the Sentencing Guidelines, the discrepancies in the drug quantities found in the PSR now matter. In 2014, the Sentencing Commission promulgated Amendment 782, since then made retroactively applicable, that served to lower the offense levels for certain drug crimes. The amendment accomplished this by raising the threshold drug quantity that an offender needs to be sentenced at a particular level. Now, a person must be responsible for at least 450 kg of cocaine to be a level 38 offender, whereas a person responsible for less than 450 kg of cocaine but more than 150 kg is a level 36 offender. See, 18 U.S.C. app. § 2D1.1, Drug Quantity Table.

         Buffington thus argues that, if sentenced today, he would be a level 36 offender, and not a level 38. On this basis alone, he presses for a 28-month reduction in his sentence. The argument, however, hinges on Buffington being “credited” with the lowest of the three drug quantities that the PSR reported. Only if this quantity (364 kg of cocaine and 1, 800 g of heroin) is used would Buffington be a level 36 offender. Buffington's base offense level would remain unchanged at 38 if either of the two other quantities (978 kg of cocaine and 3 kg of heroin; or 180, 411 kg of marijuana) is adopted instead.

         For the reasons detailed below, the Court finds that Amendment 782 had no effect in lowering Buffington's guideline range. Accordingly, the Court is not authorized to grant Buffington a sentence reduction. Furthermore, even if it had the authority, the Court would exercise its discretion and deny Buffington the 28-month reduction in sentence he seeks. Succinctly put, Buffington has not supplied the Court with any reason to lessen his punishment since it first sentenced him.

         II. ...

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