United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
J. ROSENSTENGEL CHIEF U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE.
5, 2000, Robert Nelson Howell, Jr., pleaded guilty in this
Court to one count of conspiracy to distribute and possess
with the intent to distribute cocaine, crack cocaine, and
marihuana. Howell and the Government stipulated that the
conspiracy continued from 1990 through 1999 and involved over
150 kilograms of cocaine and divers quantities of marihuana.
The parties also agreed, however, that the sentence would
depend only on the quantity of powder cocaine.
United States Probation Office prepared a presentence
investigation report ("PSR") that detailed
Howell's criminal history and the length of the
conspiracy. According to the PSR, Howell was convicted of
conspiracy to distribute cocaine in the United States
District Court for the District of Minnesota in December 1991
and served a term of imprisonment. Howell was released from
incarceration in 1995, but shortly after became re-involved
in the drug conspiracy, which led to the indictment in this
case. The PSR assigned Howell a base offense level of
thirty-eight because his offense involved over 150 kilograms
of cocaine. He received a two-point enhancement for using a
weapon during a robbery that involved drugs, a four-point
enhancement for his leadership role in the conspiracy, and a
two-point decrease for acceptance of responsibility, for a
total offense level of forty-two. The PSR assigned Howell a
criminal history category of V, based on his past offenses.
to the 1998 edition of the Guidelines Manual, the guideline
range for imprisonment was 360 months to life. The PSR
instructed the Court to reduce Howell's sentence to
account for the period of incarceration he served in relation
to the Minnesota conviction, because that offense was part of
the same conspiracy and, thus, relevant conduct. On November
20, 2000, Howell was sentenced to 360 months'
March 4, 2019, Howell filed a motion to reduce sentence under
the First Step Act of 2018. Pub. L. 115-391, 132 Stat. 5194
(2018). The Court referred the matter to the Federal Public
Defender's Office, and Assistant Federal Public Defender
Daniel G. Cronin entered his appearance on Howell's
behalf (Docs. 501 & 502). On April 18, 2019, Mr. Cronin
moved to withdraw as Howell's attorney, explaining Howell
has no meritorious basis for obtaining relief under the First
Step Act because his sentence was based on powder cocaine
(Doc. 503). Howell responded, arguing that because he pleaded
guilty to an offense involving crack cocaine, he is entitled
to relief (Doc. 505). Howell also argues he is entitled to a
reduced sentence because the PSR considered the offenses in
the Minnesota case to be relevant conduct, and the Minnesota
conviction involved crack cocaine. Nelson filed subsequent,
supplemental motions raising substantially the same arguments
(Docs. 506 & 507).
to the enactment of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, federal
drug crime statutes "imposed upon an offender who dealt
in powder cocaine the same sentence it imposed upon an
offender who dealt in one one-hundredth that amount of crack
cocaine." Dorsey v. United States, 567 U.S.
260, 263 (2012). The Fair Sentencing Act aimed to reduce the
crack-to-powder cocaine disparity by increasing the quantity
of crack required to trigger enhanced penalties under 21
U.S.C. § 841. Specifically, the Fair Sentencing Act
raised the amount necessary to trigger the mandatory ten-year
minimum in Section 841(b)(1)(A) from fifty grams to 280
grams, and the mandatory five-year minimum in Section
841(b)(1)(B) from five grams to twenty-eight grams. In 2018,
Congress passed the First Step Act, which makes the Fair
Sentencing Act retroactive to individuals who committed
crack-cocaine offenses prior to the enactment of the Fair
Sentencing Act and whose sentences would be altered by the
lower crack quantities in Section 841. Pub. L. 115-391, 132
Stat. 5194 (2018).
instance, Howell is not entitled to relief under the First
Step Act because his sentence was based only on the quantity
of powder cocaine involved in his offense. Thus, the changes
to the crack quantities in Section 841 have no effect on his
sentence. The fact that he pleaded guilty to an offense
involving crack-cocaine makes no difference; he entered into
a stipulation with the Government that his penalty would be
based solely on the quantity of powder cocaine. Howell also
argues he is entitled to relief because his conviction in
Minnesota was based on both crack and powder cocaine, and
this Court considered the Minnesota case to involve the same
conspiracy. But, again, the Court only considered the powder
cocaine involved in the conspiracy, and his sentence was
eventually reduced to account for the period of incarceration
he served in relation to the Minnesota conviction.
Nonetheless, Howell was convicted in this Court of an offense
involving upwards of 150 kilograms of powder cocaine, which,
alone, would result in the highest possible base offense
level under U.S.S.G. § 2D1.1.
the motions to reduce sentence filed by Robert Nelson Howell,
Jr. (Docs. 499, 506, & 507) are DENIED;
the motion to withdraw as attorney by Daniel G. Cronin (Doc.
503) is GRANTED. Attorney Cronin is
terminated from this case.