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United States v. Smith

United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit

July 20, 2018

United States of America, Appellee
v.
Robert Smith, Appellant

          Argued October 11, 2017

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (No. 1:10-cr-00051)

          Tony Axam Jr., Assistant Federal Public Defender, argued the cause for appellant. With him on the briefs was A.J. Kramer, Federal Public Defender.

          Michael E. McGovern, Assistant U.S. Attorney, argued the cause for appellee. With him on the brief were Channing D. Phillips, U.S. Attorney, and Elizabeth Trosman, Chrisellen R. Kolb, Anthony Scarpelli, and Barry Wiegand, Assistant U.S. Attorneys.

          Before: Kavanaugh [*] and Millett, Circuit Judges, and Williams, Senior Circuit Judge.

          OPINION

          Millett, Circuit Judge

         Robert Smith pled guilty under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(c)(1)(C) to a criminal conspiracy and was sentenced to 156 months of imprisonment, a sentence that fell within the recommended Sentencing Guidelines range. Later, the United States Sentencing Commission lowered that range and made its amendment retroactive. Smith then moved for a corresponding reduction in his sentence. The district court ruled that a reduced sentence was both legally unavailable and unwarranted. Because, under circuit and recent Supreme Court precedent, Smith was eligible for a sentence reduction, we reverse and remand for the district court to more fully explain its decision to deny relief.

         I

         A

         The United States Sentencing Guidelines establish a non-binding framework for determining criminal sentences in federal prosecutions. As relevant here, at the time of Smith's sentencing, Section 2D1.1(c) set the starting point of the sentencing calculation-the "base level"-at 32 for offenses like Smith's that involve at least one but less than three kilograms of PCP. Factoring in his criminal history and a downward departure for his guilty plea, Smith faced a recommended Guidelines range of 140 to 175 months of imprisonment. Following a plea agreement, the district court sentenced him to 156 months, the middle of the recommended Guidelines range and the sentence upon which the parties had agreed.

         Three years later, the Sentencing Commission amended Section 2D1.1(c) by reducing that particular offense to a base level of 30, which would carry a recommended sentencing range of 120 to 150 months of imprisonment. See U.S.S.G. § 2D1.1(c) and Supp. to App'x C, Amend. 782 ("Amendment 782") (Nov. 1, 2014). That Amendment applies retroactively to already-imposed sentences like Smith's. Id. at Supp. to App'x C, Amend. 788, at pp. 86-87; see Hughes v. United States, 138 S.Ct. 1765, 1774 (2018).

         Under federal law, if a defendant's term of imprisonment was "based on a sentencing range that has subsequently been lowered by the Sentencing Commission," the sentencing court "may reduce the term of imprisonment[.]" 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2). The decision whether to do so must be based on the sentencing factors set forth in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a), and any reduction must be "consistent with applicable policy statements issued by the Sentencing Commission," 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2).

         Section 3553(a), in turn, requires courts to consider a variety of factors in imposing a sentence or in resentencing, including:

(1) the nature and circumstances of the offense and the history and characteristics of the defendant;
(2) the need for the sentence imposed-
(A) to reflect the seriousness of the offense, to promote respect for the law, and to provide just punishment for the offense;
(B) to afford adequate deterrence to criminal conduct;
(C) to protect the public from further crimes of the defendant; and
(D) to provide the defendant with needed educational or vocational training, medical care, or other correctional treatment in the most effective manner;
(3) the kinds of sentences available;
(4) the kinds of sentence and the sentencing range ...

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