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United States v. Cedric Washington

United States District Court, C.D. Illinois

September 30, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
CEDRIC WASHINGTON, Defendant.

          ORDER AND OPINION

          JAMES E. SHADID, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is now before the Court on Defendant Washington’s Amended Motion (Doc. 97) for Reduced Sentence Under Section 404(b) of the First Step Act, to which the United States has filed a Response (Doc. 98). For the reasons set forth below, Defendant’s Motion (Doc. 97) is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part. Defendant’s sentence is REDUCED to concurrent terms of 322 months on Counts 1 and 2, and Defendant’s term of supervised release on Count 1 is REDUCED from 8 years to 6 years.

         Background

          In 2003, Defendant Washington was charged in a two-count superseding indictment. Count 1 alleged that Washington distributed more than 5 grams of crack cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(B)(iii); Count 2 alleged that Washington distributed crack cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(C). The United States also filed a notice of prior conviction under 21 U.S.C. § 851, resulting in a potential statutory penalty range of 10 years to life on Count 1 and 0 to 30 years on Count 2. Defendant proceeded to a jury trial where he was convicted on both counts.

         The Probation Office prepared a Presentence Report prior to sentencing. Doc. 55. Because Defendant qualified as a career offender and the statutory maximum penalty for Count 1 was life, his offense level was set at 37. Id. at ¶ 42. Given Defendant’s criminal history category of VI, his (then-mandatory) guideline sentencing range was 360 to life. Id. at ¶ 111. At sentencing, Judge McCuskey imposed a 420-month term of imprisonment-60 months higher than the bottom of the guideline range-and an 8-year term of supervised release. Because the statutory maximum for Count 2 was 30 years, Judge McCuskey sentenced Defendant to a concurrent term of 360 months’ imprisonment and 6 years of supervised release on Count 2.

         On August 30, 2019, Defendant filed his Amended Motion to Reduce Sentence, arguing that Defendant is entitled to a reduced sentence under the First Step Act of 2018 (the “First Step Act”). Doc. 97; Pub. L. No. 115-391, 132 Stat. 5194. The United States filed a Response acknowledging that Defendant is eligible for a reduced sentence on Count 1, but asking the Court to exercise its discretion to decline to reduce Defendant’s sentence. Doc. 98. This Order follows.

         Legal Standard

          The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 (“FSA”) amended 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(A) and (b)(1)(B) to increase the amount of crack cocaine a violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a) must involve to trigger mandatory minimums and accompanying statutory maximum sentences. Pub. L. 111– 220, 124 Stat. 2372. Prior to the FSA, an offense involving 50 grams or more of crack cocaine triggered a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence, while an offense involving 5 grams triggered a 5-year mandatory minimum. Section 2 of the FSA amended § 841(b)(1)(A)(iii) by striking 50 grams and inserting 280 grams. It also amended § 841(b)(1)(B)(iii) by striking 5 grams from § 841(b)(1)(B)(iii) and inserting 28 grams. The FSA did not apply retroactively to defendants sentenced prior to August 3, 2010.

         Section 404 of the First Step Act makes those changes retroactive. Section 404(a) defines a covered offense as 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. Section 404(b) then states “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.” Pub. L. No. 115-391, 132 Stat. 5194.

         Discussion

          In his Motion, Defendant argues he is eligible for a reduced sentence under the First Step Act. First, Defendant explains the 420-month sentence imposed on Count 1 is a “covered offense” under the Act because it was committed before August 3, 2010, and the statutory penalties under § 841(b)(1)(B) were modified by section 2 of the Fair Sentencing Act. Doc. 97, at 4. If the Fair Sentencing Act had been in place at the time Defendant was sentenced, the statutory maximum penalty for Count 1 would have been 30 years, rather than life. Because the career offender guideline ties the base offense level to the statutory maximum penalty, Defendant’s base offense level at the time he was sentenced was 37; with the Fair Sentencing Act’s lower statutory maximum of 30 years, the base offense level would have been three levels lower at 34. See U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1(b). Thus, had the Fair Sentencing Act been in place at the time of Defendant’s sentencing, his guideline range on Count 1 would have been 262 to 327 months of imprisonment, rather than 360 months to life. Up to this point, the parties are in agreement.

         The parties disagree on the effect of the sentence imposed on Count 2. Defendant argues that the original guideline range of 360 months to life was attributable entirely to Count 1, a covered offense. But for the higher offense level resulting from Count 1, Defendant would have faced a guideline range of 262 to 327 months on Count 2, because the statutory maximum sentence for an § 841(b)(1)(C) offense was (and still is) 30 years. Therefore, Defendant argues that the Court should reduce the overall 420-month sentence to 262 months. Doc. 97, at 6–7.

         The United States disagrees. In its view, had the Fair Sentencing Act been in effect at the time of Defendant’s sentencing, he would not have faced a mandatory minimum guideline range of 360 months to life; however, “[t]he penalties and sentencing guideline calculations for Count 2 … would have been the same.” Doc. 98, at 4. In other words, the United States argues, because the statutory penalties for § 841(b)(1)(C) remained unaffected by the Fair Sentencing Act, a § 841(b)(1)(C) offense is not a “covered offense” under the First Step Act, and therefore the Court should not modify Defendant’s sentence on Count 2. Id.

         The United States’ position is incorrect. While the statutory penalties for an offense under § 841(b)(1)(C) remain unchanged following the Fair Sentencing Act, Defendant’s guideline range for Count 2 would not have been the same had the Act been in place at the time of Defendant’s sentencing. Rather, if the Fair Sentencing Act had been in place at the time Defendant was sentenced, the statutory maximum penalty for Count 1 would have been 30 years, rather than life; Defendant’s offense level would have been 34, rather than 37; and ...


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