Friday, February 23rd, 2018

New Opinion on When a § 3582(c) Guidelines Recalculation Leaves a Defendant’s Sentencing Range Unchanged

Yesterday, the Second Circuit held that a Guidelines recalculation pursuant to a motion to reduce a sentence must account for Guidelines’ grouping rules that, when applied, leave the defendant’s amended Guidelines range unchanged. See United States v. Carosella, No. 17-896 (2d Cir. 2018) (per curiam) (Walker, Lynch, Chin), opinion available here. Unfortunately, this holding  may affect a number of cases where a defendant seeks a sentencing reduction under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c) in light of the 2014 changes to the Guidelines’ sentencing levels for drug offenses.

Mr. Carosella was convicted and sentenced in 2011 to three concurrent, 120-month terms of imprisonment for (1) conspiracy to distribute cocaine base and heroin, (2) conspiracy to commit armed robbery, and (3) conspiracy to burglarize pharmacies. In 2016, he moved to reduce his sentence pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c), because Amendment 782 to the Guidelines lowered the base offense level for his drug convictions by two levels. The district court determined that his amended Guidelines range, though recalculated to reflect this lowered offense level, would remain the same as the original range.

The reason for the unchanged Guidelines range is how the grouping rules in Chapter 3, Part D of the Guidelines applied in light of the reduced sentencing level for the drug offenses. When he was previously sentenced, the difference between the offense level for his drug convictions (Group 1) and for his burglary convictions (Groups 3, 4, and 5) was so great that the latter groups were disregarded. See U.S.S.G. § 3D1.4(c) (“Disregard any Group that is 9 or more levels less serious than the Group with the highest offense level.”).  Now that the sentencing level for his most serious group was lowered, this provision did not apply and the district court accordingly assigned one-half units to each of the burglary groups. This increase in the total adjusted offense level offset the two-level reduction of the offense level for the drug charges.

The Second Circuit held that the district court was correct to apply the grouping rules to assign more weight to the burglary convictions than they previously received. This result, it concluded, was required by the Sentencing Commission’s policy statement that a sentencing reduction is not authorized if “‘an amendment [to the Guidelines range] . . . is applicable to the defendant but 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.'” United States v. Williams, 551 F.3d 182, 186 (2d Cir. 2009) (quoting U.S.S.G. § 1B1.10 cmt. 1(A)).

Mr. Carosella argued that this interpretation of the policy statement conflicted with U.S.S.G. § 1B1.10(b)(1)’s requirement that district courts “shall leave all other guideline application decisions unaffected” when determining whether a sentencing reduction is warranted under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2).  The panel rejected this argument, concluding that the district court’s original grouping calculation was not a “guideline application decision,” but rather a “mechanical application of the grouping rules.”  Slip op. at 9.  Because U.S.S.G. § 1B1.10(b)(1) “unambigously does not support Carosella’s interpretation,” the panel declined to apply the rule of lenity.

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Categories: 3582(c)(2), sentencing
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