Congratulations to the Federal Defenders in New Haven for obtaining a vacatur and remand of a district judge’s refusal to grant a defendant’s motion for a reduction of sentence under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2). In this summary order, the Circuit concluded that the district judge’s explanation for the summary denial of the motion was not sufficient for meaningful appellate review, even under an abuse- of-discretion standard.
Mazza had been convicted and sentenced in 2011 for a marijuana conspiracy: for conspiring to manufacture and possess with intent to distribute over 1000 marijuana plants. The district court sentenced Mazza to 168 months in prison, which was the top of the Sentencing Guidelines range (of 135-168 months) as calculated at the 2011 sentencing.
But under a subsequent retroactive amendment to the Guidelines — Amendment 782, reducing by 2 levels the base offense levels for drug offenses — Mazza’s range would be 108 to 135 months. The Probation Office filed a presentence report addendum and concluded that Mazza was eligible for a sentence reduction under § 3582(c)(2). The addendum also described 6 prison disciplinary infractions Mazza had received, which were: “possessing a hazardous tool, being in an unauthorized area, assaulting without injury, and phone abuse (on three occasions).”
In moving for a sentence reduction, Mazza requested a reduction to 108 months, although he did not dispute the 6 disciplinary infractions. The district court summarily denied the motion. It said it was applying the sentencing factors of 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a). And it then stated, without more: “The defendant’s behavior in prison demonstrates a continued need to protect the public and a lack of respect for the law.”
The Circuit concluded that the district court’s brief explanation made meaningful appellate review of its decision impossible. The Circuit stated that a defendant’s “post-sentencing behavior can be a proper and sufficient basis on which to deny a sentence reduction.” But it added: “Here, however, the record is not sufficiently developed for us to engage in a meaningful appellate review of whether Mazza’s post-sentencing conduct could support the district court’s decision.” The Circuit remanded “for additional fact finding with respect to the nature and potential seriousness of Mazza’s disciplinary infractions in prison.”