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United States v. Christie

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit

November 15, 2013

UNITED STATES of America, Appellee,
v.
Neron CHRISTIE, aka Country, Defendant-Appellant, Ava Bright, Alphonso Nelson, Defendants.

Argued: Oct. 9, 2013.

Page 192

John W. Brewer, Storch Amini & Munves PC, New York, NY, for Appellant.

Edward A. Imperatore, Assistant United States Attorney, (Justin S. Weddle, Assistant United States Attorney, on the brief), for Preet Bharara, United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, New York, NY, for Appellee.

Before: LYNCH, CHIN, and DRONEY, Circuit Judges.

DRONEY, Circuit Judge:

Neron Christie (" Christie" ) appeals from an order of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Jones, J. ), entered January 4, 2013, denying Christie's motion for a sentence reduction pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2). Because the district court did not provide a sufficient explanation of its decision not to reduce Christie's sentence despite his eligibility for such a reduction, we vacate the district court's order and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

BACKGROUND

In 2002 and 2003, Neron Christie participated in conspiracies to distribute cocaine base (" crack cocaine" ) in the New York City area. Christie also sold several firearms, including a 12-gauge shotgun, an Intratec Tec-9 semiautomatic pistol, and a .40 caliber pistol.

On September 15, 2003, Christie pled guilty to drug offenses under 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(A) and 846, as well as firearms offenses under 18 U.S.C. § 922(a)(1)(A) and (g). In the written plea agreement, Christie stipulated to an applicable drug quantity of at least 150 grams

Page 193

but less than 500 grams of cocaine base, and a base offense level of 34 pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 2D1.1(c)(3). The parties also stipulated to a " grouping analysis" under U.S.S.G. § 3D1.4 and a three-level reduction for acceptance of responsibility under U.S.S.G. § 3E1.1. The parties agreed that Christie's adjusted offense level was 31 and that he belonged in Criminal History Category V. This yielded an advisory range of 168 to 210 months' imprisonment under the United States Sentencing Guidelines (the " Guidelines" ). The Pre-Sentence Report subsequently prepared by the Probation Office largely tracked the parties' Guidelines calculation in the plea agreement, except that it concluded that Christie belonged in Criminal History Category VI.

On March 12, 2004, United States District Judge Barbara Jones sentenced Christie to 168 months' imprisonment, to be followed by 60 months' supervised release. The statement of reasons in the judgment reported that the court " adopt[ed] the factual finding[s] and guideline application in the presentence report except ... [that] the court has determined that a criminal history category of V (rather than VI) is appropriate." Christie's sentence of 168 months thus was at the bottom of his Guidelines range of 168 to 210 months.

On November 10, 2008, Christie filed a motion pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2) to have his sentence reduced in light of the 2007 Amendments to the Sentencing Guidelines that lowered the penalties applicable to crack cocaine offenses. On April 8, 2010, the district court granted Christie's motion and reduced his sentence to 151 months' imprisonment, which again represented the low end of his new Guidelines range of 151-188 months.

On January 30, 2012, Christie filed a second motion under § 3582(c)(2) for a further sentence reduction in light of the 2011 Amendments to the Sentencing Guidelines lowering the penalties for crack cocaine offenses. In a letter to the district court, defense counsel urged the court to reduce Christie's sentence to a term of 120 months' imprisonment. The letter relied heavily on a memorandum dated November 29, 2011 from the Probation Office to the district court (the " 2011 Probation Memo" ), which found Christie to be eligible for a sentence reduction based on his new amended Guidelines range of 120-150 months. In reaching this conclusion, the 2011 Probation Memo noted that the drug weight involved in Christie's offense, i.e. 150-500 grams of cocaine base, straddled three offense levels under the amended Guidelines, but " the lowest level was applied." [1] Thus, the 2011 Probation Memo found that Christie's base offense level was 28, which was the level applicable to offenses involving 112-196 grams of cocaine base under the 2011 Amendments. See U.S.S.G. § 2D1.1(c)(6). After two levels were added under the " grouping analysis" of § 3D1.4 and three levels were subtracted for acceptance of responsibility under § 3E1.1, the 2011 Probation Memo concluded that Christie's new adjusted offense level was ...


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