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United States of America v. Lawrence Johnson

October 10, 2012


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


Lawrence Johnson moves for a modification of his sentence pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2) in light of Amendment 750 to the United States Sentencing Guidelines ("Guidelines" or "U.S.S.G."). See ECF No. 280. For the reasons explained below, the motion is granted. Johnson's prison sentence is hereby reduced to 324 months.


Johnson is currently serving a sentence of life in prison, imposed on May 5, 2000, for conspiring to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute cocaine, cocaine base, and marijuana within 1,000 feet of a public elementary school.*fn1 The evidence at trial established that from approximately 1993 to 1995, when he was in his early twenties, Johnson sold numerous guns to members of a drug dealing operation based on Beach 26th Street (the "Beach 26th Street ring") in the Far Rockaway section of Queens, New York. Johnson would purchase the guns at flea markets in the Tri-City area (comprising areas near the border of Tennessee and Virginia), where he lived, and drive the guns up to New York, where he would sell them for cash and cocaine, sometimes to members of the Beach 26th Street ring. Johnson would then return to the Tri-City area and sell the cocaine. Profits from Johnson's Tri-City drug sales were not shared with the Beach 26th Street ring, and profits from the Beach 26th Street ring were not shared with Johnson. Although Beach 26th Street was a one-block-long, dead-end street notorious for drug dealing, in September 1996, a public elementary school opened nearby, located roughly 489 feet away from Beach 26th Street. The Beach 26th Street ring continued dealing drugs on Beach 26th Street until the arrests of its high-level members in April 1998. By the time of Johnson's arrest in May 1998, he had stopped selling guns to the Beach 26th Street ring and had attended college and opened his own clothing store.*fn2

Johnson was convicted after trial of all counts against him. His (then-mandatory) Guidelines range at the time of sentencing was life, which was based on a total offense level of 44 and a Criminal History Category of II. Johnson's total offense level was calculated as follows: His base offense level was 38 (the highest provided for in the drug-quantity table), based on the court's finding that Johnson was responsible for the sale of more than 1.5 kilograms of crack cocaine. See U.S.S.G. § 2D1.1 (2000); Sentencing Tr. at 40.*fn3 Added to the base offense level were (1) a two-level enhancement pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 2D1.2(a)(1) for distribution of narcotics near a school;*fn4 (2) a two-level enhancement pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 2D1.1(b)(1) for possession of a firearm during and in relation to the drug trafficking conspiracy; and (3) a two-level enhancement pursuant to § 3C1.1 for obstruction of justice based on Johnson's false testimony at trial.

In 2011, the United States Sentencing Commission adopted Amendment 750 to the Guidelines Manual, which reduced the base offense levels applicable to most crack cocaine offenses. See U.S.S.G., App. C, Amend. 750 (eff. Nov. 1, 2011) (amending, inter alia, the drug quantity table in U.S.S.G. § 2D1.1(c)); see also id. Amend. 759 (making Amendment 750 applicable retroactively). Now, a defendant must be responsible for the sale of at least 8.4 kilograms of crack cocaine to trigger a base offense level of 38 -- the highest level provided for in the drug quantity table. See U.S.S.G. § 2D1.1(c). A quantity between 2.8 and 8.4 kilograms yields a base offense level of 36, and a quantity between 840 grams and 2.8 kilograms translates into a base offense level of 34. Id. Thus, the threshold quantity required to trigger a base offense level of 38 when Johnson was originally sentenced -- 1.5 kilograms -- now produces a base offense level of only 34. Id.


A. The Governing Legal Standards

1. The Court's Power To Reduce a Previously Imposed Term of Imprisonment

18 U.S.C. § 3582(c) prohibits a court from modifying a term of imprisonment after it has been imposed except, inter alia, that 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 pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 994(o), upon motion of the defendant or the Director of the Bureau of Prisons, or on its own motion, the court may reduce the term of imprisonment, after considering the factors set forth in section 3553(a) to the extent that they are applicable, if such a reduction is consistent with applicable policy statements issued by the Sentencing Commission.

18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2); see also United States v. Rivera, 662 F.3d 166, 170 (2d Cir. 2011) ("Section 3582(c)(2) grants courts the authority to reduce sentences only if doing so is consistent with the Commission's applicable policy statements.").

The Sentencing Commission's "applicable policy statement[]" appears in U.S.S.G. § 1B1.10(a), which provides that where "the guideline range applicable to [a defendant serving a term of imprisonment] has subsequently been lowered as a result of an amendment to the Guidelines Manual listed in subsection (c) below,*fn5 the court may reduce the defendant's term of imprisonment as provided by 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2)." The same subsection is explicit, however, that "[a] reduction in the defendant's term of imprisonment is not consistent with this policy statement and therefore is not authorized under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2) if . . . [the Guidelines amendment] does not have the effect of lowering the defendant's applicable guideline range." U.S.S.G. § 1B1.10(a)(2)(B) (emphasis added); accord Rivera, 662 F.3d at 171 ("[E]ligibility for a sentence reduction 'under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2) is triggered only by an amendment listed in subsection (c) [of § 1B1.10] that lowers the applicable guideline range.'" (quoting U.S.S.G. § 1B1.10 cmt. n.1(A)) (alterations in original)).

The Guidelines further make clear that in determining whether Amendment 750 has the effect of lowering Johnson's applicable guideline range, the court must "substitute only [Amendment 750] for the corresponding guideline provisions that were applied when the defendant was sentenced and shall leave all other guideline application decisions unaffected." U.S.S.G. ยง 1B1.10(b)(1). In other words, a defendant is eligible to have his sentence reduced only if the amended guideline produces a lower sentencing range than did the corresponding guideline under which he was sentenced, holding constant all other guideline application decisions made at the time of sentencing. This restriction on my ability to modify a sentence is mandatory, as ...

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