Appeal from a December 21, 2011, judgment of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Richard M. Berman, J.) sentencing defendant to 54 months' imprisonment for possession of controlled substances while an inmate of a federal prison. Defendant contends that the district court's above-guidelines sentence was substantively unreasonable.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gerard E. Lynch, Circuit Judge
Argued: December 19, 2012
Before: CALABRESI, LYNCH, and CHIN, Circuit Judges.
The district court's sentence was substantively reasonable in light of the particular facts of defendant's case.
This case requires us to decide whether a significantly above-guidelines sentence may be imposed in view of earlier sentencing leniency that turns out, after the fact, to have been unjustified. We conclude that above-guidelines sentences must be justified by reference to specific reasons that place the case outside the run of ordinary cases, and that the further the sentence departs from the typical sentence imposed for the conduct of conviction, the greater the justification that is required. In the particular circumstances of this case, we conclude that defendant's sentence was reasonable.
I. Douglas's 2009 Arrest and Prosecution
From 2006 to 2009, Cameron Douglas distributed methamphetamine and cocaine on behalf of suppliers in California. During that time, he was addicted to heroin and relied on the proceeds of his illegal activity to satisfy his habit. Douglas was arrested for his part in the distribution ring on July 28, 2009. After his arrest, he was taken to a hospital and treated for heroin intoxication before being taken to prison. Shortly after his arrest, Douglas agreed to cooperate with the government by testifying against his suppliers, Eduardo and David Escalera. After he agreed to cooperate, Douglas was released from custody and placed under house arrest. While on home detention, he convinced his girlfriend, Kelly Sott, to bring him heroin hidden inside an electric toothbrush. When the heroin was found, Douglas's bail was revoked and he was remanded to the Metropolitan Correctional Center ("MCC") in New York.
Douglas pled guilty to a two-count superseding information on January 27, 2010. The information charged him with conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 846 and 841(b)(1)(A), which carried a ten-year mandatory minimum sentence, and with misdemeanor possession of heroin, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 844 and 18 U.S.C. § 3147, for the incident that occurred while he was on pretrial release. Because the government believed that the Escaleras might have left the country when news of Douglas's arrest was made public by an online publication, the prosecutors agreed to allow Douglas to be sentenced before he testified against his suppliers.
The guidelines sentencing range for Douglas's conduct was 151 to 188 months' imprisonment. In his sentencing memorandum, Douglas described his struggles with drug addiction and his privileged but troubled upbringing. In view of his addiction, Douglas asked the court to impose a sentence of time served or, alternatively, a sentence of forty-two months' imprisonment, which would have allowed Douglas to enter the Bureau of Prisons ("BOP") Residential Drug Abuse Program ("RDAP") immediately.*fn1
The government characterized Douglas's cooperation as "tremendously valuable" and stated its intention to file a motion pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3553(e) and U.S.S.G. § 5K1.1 to authorize the district court to depart downward ...