Sunday, August 30th, 2009

Out Of Range

United States v. Main, No. 08-4088-cr (2d Cir. August 27, 2009) (Walker, Wallace, CJJ)

Christopher Main pled guilty to a crack cocaine offense pursuant to a Rule 11(c)(1)(C) agreement that stipulated to maximum sentence of 96 months, which was below the 120 to 150-month guideline range, and provided a “carve-out” for Main to seek a downward departure. The district court accepted the plea agreement, granted Main a modest departure and sentenced him to 84 months’ imprisonment.

Three years later, Main moved for a sentence reduction under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2) and U.S.S.G. § 1B1.10 because the Sentencing Commission had retroactively ameliorated the guideline covering crack offenses. The district court denied the motion, and the circuit affirmed.

Under the statute, a defendant is eligible for a sentence reduction only where the original sentence was “based on a sentencing range” that the Sentencing Commission has subsequently lowered. Here, however, Main’s sentence was “based on” the terms of his plea agreement, which stipulated to a sentence that was lower than that recommended by the guidelines. Under Rule 11(c)(1)(C), once the court accepted the agreement, it was bound to impose the agreed-upon sentence. Main’s sentence was therefore not “based on” the range recommended by the guideline for crack cocaine offenses.

The court rejected Main’s arguments that because his plea agreement provided for a sentencing cap, not a particular sentence, and permitted him to seek a downward departure, the sentencing guidelines still “played a role in determining his sentence.” Section 2D1.1, the particular guideline that the Sentencing Commission subsequently modified, played “no role in the sentence that Main received.”

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