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United States v. Wright

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

July 18, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
RODERICK WRIGHT, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Rubén Castillo Judge, United States District Court

         Before the Court is Roderick Wright's motion for a reduced sentence under the First Step Act of 2018. (R. 128, Def.'s Mot.) For the reasons that follow, the motion is granted.

         BACKGROUND

         On April 8, 2003, a grand jury returned an indictment charging Roderick Wright (“Wright”) with violations of 21 U.S.C. §§ 846 and 841(a)(1). (R. 1, Indictment.) On January 22, 2004, Wright pleaded guilty to the first count of the indictment, conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute in excess of 50 grams of crack cocaine. (R. 55, Plea Agreement.) As part of his plea, Wright admitted his participation in certain drug transactions that involved approximately 286 grams of crack cocaine. (Id. at 2-4.) Wright also admitted, as relevant conduct, facilitating the sale of more than 500 grams but less than 1.5 kilograms of crack cocaine in the years leading up to the period of the charged conspiracy. (Id. at 4-5.)

         On June 29, 2005, Wright was sentenced to a term of 292 months' imprisonment, which was the bottom of the then-mandatory Guidelines range. (R. 76, Judgment.) At sentencing, Judge Coar adopted the calculations in the presentence report-namely, that Wright's offense level was 38, with a three-point reduction to 35 for acceptance of responsibility, and that his criminal history was VI, which had yielded a sentencing range of 292 to 365 months. (R. 106, Sentencing Tr. at 12, 16-18.) In 2009, Wright moved for a reduction in his sentence based on Amendment 711 to the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines, which had reduced his base offense level by two levels. (R. 92 and 96, Def's 18 U.S.C. § 3582 Mot.) The Government did not oppose Wright's motion. (R. 98, Gov't Resp. Def's 18 U.S.C. § 3582 Mot.) The offense level under the career offender guideline (34 after acceptance of responsibility) was now higher than the revised offense level under Chapters Two and Three, so Wright's total offense level became 34. See U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1(b). Judge Coar reduced Wright's sentence to 262 months' imprisonment, again the bottom end of the revised Guidelines range. (R. 100, May 11, 2009 Order.)

         After Judge Coar retired, Wright's case was reassigned to this Court. Thereafter, Wright moved twice to reduce his sentence under amendments that further reduced the base offense levels for the amount of crack cocaine to which he had admitted. (R. 109, 110, 120, Def.'s Reduction Mots.) The Government opposed both motions on the basis of Wright's career offender status, and both motions were denied. (R. 113, Jan. 28, 2014 Order; R. 127, Feb. 7, 2017 Order.).

         Wright now moves this Court for a reduced sentence under Section 404 of the First Step Act of 2018, Pub. L. No. 115-391, 132 Stat. 5194 (2018) (“the First Step Act”), and Sections 2 and 3 of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, Pub. L. No. 111-220, 124 Stat. 2372 (2010) (“the Fair Sentencing Act”). Wright requests that the Court reduce his 262-month sentence to a sentence of time served since the low end of the guidelines he says should apply is more than the 194 months' imprisonment that he has already served. (R. 128, Def.'s Mot. at 1-2, 6; R. 132, Def.'s Reply.) The Government opposes the motion on the sole basis that the Fair Sentencing Act would not have reduced the statutory maximum penalty of life that Wright faced because he admitted in his plea agreement that the offense involved more than the revised threshold amount of 280 grams of cocaine base. (R. 131, Gov't Resp. at 6-9.)

         ANALYSIS

         The First Step Act, passed in December 2018, effectively makes the provisions of the Fair Sentencing Act, passed in 2010, retroactive. First Step Act of 2018, Pub. L. No. 115-391, 132 Stat. 5194 (2018). Section 404 of the First Step Act provides in pertinent part:

(a) DEFINITION OF COVERED OFFENSE. In this section, the term “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 (Public Law 111-220; 124 Stat. 2372), that was committed before August 3, 2010.
(b) DEFENDANTS PREVIOUSLY SENTENCED. A court that imposed a sentence for a covered offense may, on motion of the defendant, the Director of the Bureau of Prisons, the attorney for the Government, or the court, impose a reduced sentence as if sections 2 and 3 of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 (Public Law 111-220; 124 Stat. 2372) were in effect at the time the covered offense was committed.

Id. § 404. Thus, under the First Step Act, a defendant who committed a violation before August 3, 2010, and whose sentencing exposure would have been different under the revised quantity thresholds for cocaine base set out in Section 2 of the Fair Sentencing Act may be entitled to a reduced sentence. Id. Relief under the First Step Act is discretionary. Id. § 404(c) (“Nothing in this section shall be construed to require a court to reduce any sentence pursuant to this section.”).

         I. Eligibility

         At the time Wright was convicted and sentenced, the statutory sentence for conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute in excess of 50 grams of crack cocaine was ten years to life. 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(b)(1)(A) (2005). The Fair Sentencing Act raised the amount of crack cocaine that triggered that statutory sentence from 50 grams to 280 grams. Fair Sentencing Act, Pub. L. No. 111-220 §§ 2-3, 124 Stat. 2372. It set the statutory penalty for more than 28 but less than 280 grams of crack cocaine as between five and 40-years' imprisonment. Id. Therefore, Wright argues, the Fair Sentencing Act modified the ...


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