Friday, April 16th, 2021

Second Circuit holds that the First Step Act provision limiting the sentencing enhancement based on a prior drug offense does not apply retroactively at a First Step Act resentencing.

In 2007, Charles Bryant was convicted of conspiracy to distribute 50 grams or more of crack. Since he had a prior conviction for a felony drug offense, he faced a mandatory minimum term of 240 years. The district court sentenced him to 300 months.

In 2018, § 404(b) of the First Step Act (“FSA”) made Mr. Bryant eligible for a reduced sentence. A separate section of the FSA, § 401(a) limited the application of the sentence enhancement provision to cases where the defendant has a prior conviction for a “serious drug offense.” However, § 401(c) states that § 401(a) applies retroactively only “if a sentence for the offense has not been imposed as of [the] date of enactment.” Therefore, the district court ruled, the new § 401(a) did not apply to Mr. Bryant because he had already been sentenced in 2007. Nevertheless, because his current conviction would be a lesser offense under the Fair Sentencing Act, he was eligible for a reduction. The court resentenced him to 216 months.

On March 26, 2021, the Second Circuit agreed with the district court that the plain language of § 401(c) precluded application of the new § 401(a) at the sentence reduction hearing. A sentence had already been imposed in 2007. The reduction hearing under the FSA was not a new sentencing. Therefore, the heightened threshold for imposition of the sentencing enhancement did not apply retroactively. The Court reiterated that § 401(a) “does not require plenary resentencing.”

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