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United States of America v. Michael Brown

December 12, 2011

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
MICHAEL BROWN,
DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Matsumoto, United States District Judge:

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

On March 12, 2009, defendant Michael Brown ("defendant") was found guilty by a jury of Counts 1, 3, 4, 5, and 6 of an eleven-count, third superseding indictment. (See ECF No. 328, Jury Verdict as to Michael Brown, dated 3/12/2009; ECF No. 241, Superseding Indictment (S-3), filed 2/9/2009.) On September 10, 2009, defendant was sentenced to, inter alia, 120 months in custody. (See ECF No. 445, Transcript of Sentence, dated 9/10/2009 ("Tr."), at 50.) On January 14, 2011, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed defendant's conviction. See United States v. Armstrong, 406 F. App'x 500 (2d Cir. 2011). By motion filed November 1, 2011, defendant seeks a reduction of his sentence, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c), in light of Amendment 750 to the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines Manual and the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010. (ECF No. 589, Pro Se Petitioner's Petition for a Reduction of His Sentence, filed 11/2/2011.) For the reasons set forth below, defendant's motion is denied.

BACKGROUND

On March 12, 2009, defendant was convicted after a jury trial of conspiring to possess fifty grams or more of cocaine base, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 846 and 841(a)(1), three counts of possessing five or more grams of cocaine base in or near a school, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 860(a) and 841(a)(1), and one count of possessing a firearm in furtherance of the drug conspiracy, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c). (See ECF No. 328, Jury Verdict as to Michael Brown, dated 3/12/2009; ECF No. 241, Superseding Indictment, filed 2/9/2009.)

At the sentencing hearing held on September 10, 2009, the court reviewed the evidence presented at trial and made individualized findings of fact as to the scope of the conspiracy that was reasonably foreseeable to defendant. (See ECF No. 445, Tr. at 23-29.) Based on the evidence at trial, the court found by a preponderance of the evidence that "it was reasonably foreseeable to Mr. Brown that the conspiracy of which he was convicted dealt crack in amounts between 400 to 500 grams." (Id. at 29, 33.) Based on that quantity of cocaine base, the court calculated defendant's base offense level as 32, pursuant to sections 2D1.1(a) and 2D1.1(c)(4) of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines Manual ("Guidelines" or "U.S.S.G.") in effect at the time of sentencing. (Id. at 33.) See U.S.S.G. §§ 2D1.1(a) and 2D1.1(c)(4) (2008) (providing for base offense level of 32 for an offense involving at least 150 grams but less than 500 grams of cocaine base). After the multiple count calculation, the court found that defendant's total combined offense level was 32. (ECF No. 445, Tr. at 37.) In addition, the court calculated defendant's criminal history category as IV. (Id. at 38.) With a total offense level of 32 and a criminal history category of IV, defendant's custodial Guidelines range was 168 to 210 months. (Id. at 39.) See U.S.S.G. Sentencing Table. After considering the sentencing factors set forth in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a), however, the court found that a sentence below the advisory Guidelines range would serve the goals of sentencing, and instead imposed a sentence of 120 months' imprisonment. (ECF No. 445, Tr. at 49-50.) The court noted that this sentence was consistent with 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(A)(iii), which at the time of defendant's crime and sentencing provided for a mandatory ten-year minimum term of imprisonment for offenses involving 50 grams or more of a mixture or substance containing cocaine base.*fn1 (Id. at 38, 49.)

On November 1, 2011, defendant filed a motion seeking a reduction of his sentence, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c), in light of Amendment 750 to the Guidelines and the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010. (ECF No. 589, Pro Se Petitioner's Petition for a Reduction of His Sentence, filed 11/2/2011.)*fn2 The government opposed defendant's motion by letter dated November 10, 2011. (ECF No. 591, Response in Opposition, filed 11/11/2011.) On November 17, 2011, the court held oral argument. (See Minute Entry, dated 11/17/2011.) Defendant filed a reply in support of his motion on November 28, 2011. (ECF No. 598, Pro Se Petitioner's Reply to the Government's Response, filed 11/28/2011 ("Def. Reply"), at 2, 5.) The Probation Department opposed defendant's motion in a Second Addendum to the Presentence Report, dated December 2, 2011. On December 8, 2011, defendant filed a motion for leave to supplement his reply. (ECF No. 600, Pro Se Petitioner's Motion For Leave To Supplement His Previously Filed Reply to the Government's Response, filed 12/8/2011.)*fn3

APPLICATION

Title 18 U.S.C. section 3582(c)(2) provides, in relevant part, that a court may modify a sentence to reduce the term of imprisonment "in the case of a defendant who has been sentenced to a term of imprisonment based on a sentencing range that has subsequently been lowered by the Sentencing Commission . . . ." A reduction is warranted only when "such a reduction is consistent with applicable policy statements issued by the Sentencing Commission." 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2).

As an initial matter, defendant is not eligible for relief under 28 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2) because his sentence was not "based on a sentencing range that has subsequently been lowered by the Sentencing Commission," id., but instead was based on the statutory mandatory minimum sentence pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(A). See United States v. Williams, 551 F.3d 182, 185-86 (2d Cir. 2009) (denying motion for modification of sentence where the sentence was based on a mandatory minimum pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)); United States v. Rivas, No. 04-CR-0802-02, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 96253, at *1-2 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 23, 2011) (same); see also United States v. Torres, 391 F. App'x 903, 905 (2d Cir. 2010) (denying motion under § 3582(c)(2) where defendant had been sentenced to the mandatory minimum, notwithstanding a retroactive amendment to Sentencing Guidelines relating to crack cocaine offenses); United States v. Burkett, No. 03-CR-909, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 20920, at *4-5 (E.D.N.Y. Mar. 2, 2011) (same). This conclusion is supported by the commentary to Guidelines section 1B1.10, which provides that "[a] reduction in the defendant's term of imprisonment is not authorized under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2) and is not consistent with this policy statement . . . [if] the amendment does not have the effect of lowering the defendant's applicable guideline range because of the operation of another guideline or statutory provision (e.g., a statutory minimum term of imprisonment)."

U.S.S.G. § 1B1.10 cmt. n.1(A) (emphasis added). Thus, defendant's motion for a reduction in sentence must be denied.

Further, even if defendant had not been sentenced to the mandatory minimum term of imprisonment, he would not be entitled to a reduction in sentence pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c) because Amendment 750 to the Guidelines does not change the Guidelines range applicable to defendant. Section 1B1.10 of the Guidelines sets forth the amendments that the Sentencing Commission has determined may be applied retroactively. It states, in relevant part:

If a defendant is serving a term of imprisonment, and the guideline range applicable to that defendant has subsequently been lowered as a result of an amendment to the Guidelines Manual listed in [U.S.S.G. § 1B1.10(c)], the court may reduce the defendant's term of imprisonment as provided by 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2).

Id. § 1B1.10(a)(1). "In determining whether, and to what extent, a reduction in the defendant's term of imprisonment under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2) and [U.S.S.G. § 1B1.10] is warranted, the court shall determine the amended guideline range that would have been applicable to the defendant if the amendments to the guidelines listed in subsection (c) had been in effect at the time the defendant was sentenced." Id. § 1B1.10(b)(1). If none of the amendments listed in section 1B1.10(c) applies to the defendant, however, a reduction in sentence is not authorized. Id. § 1B1.10(a)(2)(A).

At issue here is Amendment 750 to the Guidelines, which amended the offense levels applicable to offenses involving cocaine base and became retroactive as of November 1, 2011. See id. § 1B1.10(c) (2011) (listing Amendment 750 as a covered amendment that applies retroactively). Relevant here is the following change provided by Amendment 750: Under the earlier Guidelines in effect at the time of defendant's sentencing, a base offense level of 32 applied to offenses involving "at least 150 G but less than 500 G of Cocaine Base. Id. § 2D1.1(c)(4) (2008). Under the Guidelines effective as of November 1, ...


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