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United States v. Montanez

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit

May 30, 2013

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Appellee,
v.
EDWIN MONTANEZ, AKA SHA, AKA SHA DIC, AKA SHADIGGA, AKA SHY, KEN KINSEY, JR., AKA BENJI, AKA JADE, KARRIEM WILLIAMS, AKA CALO, LARRY BENTON, AKA WEEZY, AKA LIL WAYNE, AKA SQUEEZY, QUANTAE WRIGHT, AKA LITTLE NOVA, ANDRE ROBINSON, AKA DRE DRE, AKA TEAM, MARC L. STANLEY, AKA IMF, ROBERT MURRAY, AKA KILLA, AKA KILLER, PATRICK BRUMFIELD, AKA P-DOG, MATTHEW BRUMFIELD, AKA AUGUSTUS, AKA STALLION, BOBBY EVERSON, AKA PINO, AKA STYLES, JEFFREY JOHNSON, AKA BLING, Defendants, CLIFTON STITH, AKA TONY, AKA YAYO, ADIB BRANTLEY, AKA SHA BLOOD, Defendants-Appellants.

Argued: March 6, 2013

Appeal from two orders entered on November 16, 2011 by the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York (Mordue, J.), which reduced the Defendants- Appellants' terms of imprisonment under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2), but declined to depart or vary in any respect from the Defendants-Appellants' amended guideline ranges. We hold that U.S.S.G. § 1B1.10(b)(2)(A) prohibited the district court from departing or varying from the Defendants-Appellants' amended guideline ranges, and that the scope of this prohibition included departures under U.S.S.G. § 4A1.3.

Counsel for Appellee: Paul D. Silver (John M. Katko, on the brief), Assistant United States Attorneys, for Richard S. Hartunian, United States Attorney for the Northern District of New York, Albany, NY

Counsel for Defendants-Appellants: James P. Egan (Lisa A. Peebles, on the brief), Federal Public Defender's Office, Syracuse, NY.

Before: Katzmann, Parker, Circuit Judges, and Kuntz, District Judge.[*]

Per Curiam

This case presents two issues: (1) whether U.S.S.G. § 1B1.10(b)(2)(A) constitutes a valid exercise of the United States Sentencing Commission's authority, and thus binds district courts whenever they reduce a defendant's sentence under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2); and (2) whether, even if § 1B1.10(b)(2)(A) binds district courts, it nonetheless permits them to depart from a defendant's amended guideline range under U.S.S.G. § 4A1.3. Defendants-Appellants Adib Brantley and Clifton Stith appeal from two orders entered on November 16, 2011 by the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York (Mordue, J.). In those orders, the district court reduced Brantley's and Stith's terms of imprisonment under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2). Nonetheless, the district court concluded that U.S.S.G. § 1B1.10(b)(2)(A) prohibited it from reducing Brantley's and Stith's sentences "to a term [of imprisonment] that is less than the minimum of the[ir] amended guideline range[s]." Based on this conclusion, the district court declined to grant Brantley's and Stith's request for a departure under U.S.S.G. § 4A1.3, even though it had previously departed under that provision at the Defendants-Appellants' initial sentencings.

On appeal, Brantley and Stith argue that the district court erred in concluding that § 1B1.10(b)(2)(A) prohibited it from further reducing their sentences. First, they contend that § 1B1.10(b)(2)(A) does not bind district courts because the United States Sentencing Commission ("the Commission") exceeded its authority when it enacted that provision. Second, they argue that, even if § 1B1.10(b)(2)(A) binds district courts, it does not prohibit them from departing under U.S.S.G. § 4A1.3 in order to account for the fact that a defendant's "criminal history category substantially over-represents the seriousness" of his past crimes. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm the district court's judgments.

I. Background

On June 4, 2007, Brantley pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to engage in a pattern of racketeering in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1962(d). At his initial sentencing on December 6, 2007, Brantley's guideline range recommended a sentence of 151 to 188 months of imprisonment. Because the district court found that Brantley's criminal history category overstated the seriousness of his past crimes, it granted a downward departure under U.S.S.G. § 4A1.3(b), reducing his range to 121 to 151 months. Considering this range, the district court imposed a sentence of 135 months.

Stith's case has a similar history. On May 16, 2007, he pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to engage in a pattern of racketeering in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1962(d). At his initial sentencing on December 10, 2007, Stith's guideline range was 140 to 175 months of imprisonment. The district court departed from Stith's guideline range under U.S.S.G. § 4A1.3(b), reducing that range to 121 to 151 months. Considering this range, the district court imposed a sentence of 121 months.

In 2010, Congress passed the Fair Sentencing Act ("FSA"), which sought to "restore fairness to Federal cocaine sentencing" by increasing the amounts of crack cocaine a defendant needed to distribute in order to trigger statutory sentencing minimums. Pub. L. No 111-220, §§ 1-2, 124 Stat. 2372, 2372 (2010). The FSA also authorized the Commission to "make such conforming amendments to the Federal sentencing guidelines as the Commission determines necessary to achieve consistency with other guidelines provisions and applicable law." Id. § 8, 124 Stat. at 2374. Acting under this authority, the Commission amended the United States Sentencing Guidelines ("the guidelines") to conform them to the new statutory scheme and to increase the amounts of crack cocaine a defendant needed to distribute in order to incur harsher penalties. U.S.S.G. app. C, amends. 748 & 750 (2011). Effective November 1, 2011, the Commission made the crack-cocaine amendments retroactive, applying them to defendants, such as Brantley and Stith, who had been sentenced before the amendments' enactment. U.S.S.G. app. C, amend. 759 (2011).

When it made the crack-cocaine amendments retroactive, the Commission also amended the guideline provision that governs the extent to which a district court may reduce a defendant's term of imprisonment in response to guideline amendments. Id. Under U.S.S.G. § 1B1.10(b)(2)(A), a district court may not "reduce [a] defendant's term of imprisonment . . . to a term that is less than the minimum of the amended guideline range." In 2010, the sentencing guidelines recognized an exception to § 1B1.10(b)(2)(A) wherever "the original term of imprisonment imposed was less than the term of imprisonment provided by the guideline range applicable to the defendant at the time of sentencing." U.S.S.G. § 1B1.10(b)(2)(B) (2010).[1] In cases to which the exception applied—i.e., where the district court had previously departed from a defendant's guideline range—§ 1B1.10(b)(2)(B) permitted the district court to grant "a reduction comparably less than the amended guideline range." Id. The 2011 amendment narrowed the scope of § 1B1.10(b)(2)(B)'s exception, applying it only where a defendant had initially received a below-guideline sentence because she had provided "substantial assistance to authorities." U.S.S.G. § 1B1.10(b)(2)(B) (2011); see also U.S.S.G. app. C, amend. 759 (2011).

In 2011, Brantley and Stith asked the district court to reduce their terms of imprisonment based on the retroactive amendments to the guidelines. The district court found that, under those amendments, Brantley had an amended guideline range of 110 to 137 months, and Stith had an amended guideline range of 100 to 125 months. On November 16, 2011, the district court reduced Brantley's sentence to 110 months, and Stith's sentence to 100 months. Responding to ...


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