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United States v. Garrett

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

June 25, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
JEFFREY GARRETT, Defendant.

          ORDER

          SARAH EVANS BARKER, JUDGE

         Defendant Jeffrey Garrett, represented by counsel, moves under § 404(b) of the First Step Act of 2018 for a reduction of his sentence from 360 months to 180 months, which if granted would result in his immediate release, as well as a reduction in his supervised release from 10 to 8 years. For the reasons detailed below, the motion [Dkt. 51] is GRANTED IN PART. Defendant's pro se motion for sentence reduction [Dkt. 34] is DENIED AS MOOT.

         Background

          On April 15, 2003, Mr. Garrett was charged by indictment with possession with intent to distribute “50 grams or more” of cocaine base in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(A)(iii) (Count One) and unlawful possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1) (Count Two). The government filed two prior felony informations with the court under 21 U.S.C. § 851 on May 21, 2003 and April 19, 2004, respectively.

         On June 2, 2014, a jury found Defendant guilty of both Counts One and Two. Prior to sentencing, the United States Probation Office prepared a presentence investigation report, calculating Mr. Garrett's initial offense level as 34 based on the drug amount, specifically, 315.35 grams of cocaine base. Because Mr. Garrett was determined to be a career offender under the United States Sentencing Guidelines in effect at the time, the offense level was increased to 37 and his criminal history category was set at level VI. See U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1(b). Based on a total offense level of 37 and a criminal history category of VI, the Sentencing Guidelines reflected a sentence range of 360 months to life. The conviction on Count One subjected him to a statutory mandatory minimum life sentence based upon the § 851 enhancement.

         On November 3, 2004, Mr. Garrett was sentenced on Count One to life imprisonment with an additional ten years on supervised release and a mandatory consecutive sentence of 60 months on Count Two. On January 18, 2017, Mr. Garrett's sentence was commuted by President Obama to a total of 360 months.

         On March 27, 2017, Mr. Garrett filed a pro se motion seeking a reduction of his sentence under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2). On June 4, 2019, Mr. Garrett, by counsel, filed the instant motion for a reduced sentence under 404(b) of the First Step Act of 2018, seeking a drop from the 360 months to 180 months. He also seeks a reduction in his supervised release from 10 to 8 years. He has at this point served a total of approximately 192 months.

         Legal Analysis

         I. Applicable Law

         In 2010, Congress enacted the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, Pub. L. 111-220, 124 Stat. 2372 (2010), to address sentencing disparities between cocaine base (crack) offenses and powder cocaine offenses resulting from irrational and “unjustified race-based differences” in federal sentencing between those types of cases. Dorsey v. United States, 567 U.S. 260, 268-69 (2012). As relevant here, section 2 of the Fair Sentencing Act reduced the penalties for offenses involving cocaine base by increasing the threshold drug quantities required to trigger mandatory minimum sentences under 21 U.S.C. § 841(b).

         For example, prior to the enactment of the Fair Sentencing Act, 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(A)(iii), under which Mr. Garret was sentenced, provided for a sentencing range of 10 years to life, if the offense involved “50 grams or more” of cocaine base with possible enhancement to 20 years to life if there was a prior felony drug conviction, or mandatory life if there were two prior felony drug convictions. Under current law, to fall within this sentencing range, the offense must involve “280 grams or more” of cocaine base. § 841(b)(1)(A)(iii) (2011). For offenses involving “28 grams or more, ” but less than 280 grams of cocaine base, 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(B)(iii) provides for a sentencing range of 5 to 40 years, with a possible enhancement to 10 years to life where there has been a prior felony drug conviction. Again, as relevant here, before enactment of the Fair Sentencing Act, a career offender such as Mr. Garrett, who was convicted of possessing more than 50 grams of cocaine base, faced a mandatory minimum sentence of life imprisonment. With the new statute, when a career offender is convicted of possessing between 28 and 280 grams of cocaine base, the mandatory minimum sentence is 10 years.

         In 2018, Congress enacted the First Step Act making the Fair Sentencing Act's cocaine base sentencing ranges retroactively applicable to those convicted of qualifying crimes prior to 2010. Under the First Step Act, “[a] court that imposed a sentence for a covered offense may … impose a 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. 115-391, 132 Stat. 5194, § 404(b) (2018). A “covered offense” is one whose penalties were modified by the Fair Sentencing Act but was committed prior to August 3, 2010. Id. § 404(a). Congress also imposed the following two limitations on relief, neither of which applies here; relief is not available (1) if the defendant's sentence was already imposed or reduced under the Fair Sentencing Act; and (2) if a court has already rejected the defendant's motion under the First Step Act. Id. § 404(c).

         II. Discussion

         In response to Defendant's motion, the government first argues that Mr. Garrett is not eligible for a sentence reduction under § 404 of the First Step Act because his sentence was commuted by President Obama, which means that he is “no longer serving a sentence mandated by statutory penalties that were modified by the Fair Sentencing Act, but rather a reduced sentence substituted by the President.” Dkt. 53 at 6. The government acknowledges, however, that a clear majority of district courts who have considered this issue have determined that a presidential commutation does not render a defendant ineligible for § 404 relief, chiefly because “the commutation shorten[s] an existing sentence, it [does] not impose a new sentence that would place it outside the reach of the First Step Act.” United States v. Dodd, 372 F.Supp.3d 795, 798-99 (S.D. Iowa 2019) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted); accord United States v. Razz, __ F.Supp.3d __, 2019 WL 2204068, at *7 (S.D. Fla. May 22, 2019); United States v. Biggs, No. 05 CR 316, 2019 WL 2120226, at *1-2 (N.D. Ill. May 15, 2019); United States v. Pugh, No. 5:95 CR 145, 2019 WL 1331684, at *2-3 (N.D. Ohio Mar. 25, 2019); United States v. Walker, No. 1:94-CR-5, 2019 WL 1226856, at *2 (N.D. Ohio Mar. 15, 2019). Holding otherwise, to wit, “that a presidentially-commuted sentence constitutes a new, ‘presidentially-imposed' sentence, ” would violate the separation of powers doctrine. Razz, 2019 WL 2204068 at *7; accord Pugh, 2019 WL 1331684, at *2 ...


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