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United States v. Jackson

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

December 16, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
ODIS LEE JACKSON, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas

          Before DAVIS, SMITH, and COSTA, Circuit Judges.

          JERRY E. SMITH, Circuit Judge:

         The district court sentenced Odis Lee Jackson to life in prison following his drug conviction in 2003. Since then, Jackson has filed numerous motions seeking a reduced sentence. His latest is under the First Step Act of 2018 ("FSA"), Pub. L. No. 115-391, § 404, 132 Stat. 5194, 5222 (2018). The district court denied the motion but initially failed to provide reasons. On limited remand, the court explained that it exercised its discretion not to resentence. Jackson appeals, and we affirm.

         I.

         A.

         Seventeen years ago, a jury found Jackson guilty of two drug-related counts: possession with intent to distribute fifty grams or more of crack, [1] in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(A)(iii) and 18 U.S.C. § 2; and conspiracy to do the same, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(A)(iii), and 846. The jury was told that, to convict Jackson on each count, his offense had to involve at least fifty grams of crack. This court affirmed on direct appeal. United States v. Jackson, 86 Fed.Appx. 722, 723 (5th Cir. 2004) (per curiam).

         The version of § 841(b)(1)(A)(iii) in effect at the time required that, to trigger a mandatory minimum of ten years' imprisonment and a maximum of life, the offense involve only fifty grams of a substance containing cocaine base. If, however, the defendant had two or more felony drug convictions, the mandatory sentence was life in prison. Id. Jackson had several such convictions, so the government requested a sentencing enhancement under 21 U.S.C. § 851. The court held that it applied and thus handed Jackson his mandatory life sentence plus ten years' supervised release.

         Seven years after Jackson's sentencing, Congress enacted the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, Pub. L. No. 111-220, 124 Stat. 2372 (2010). Section 2 amended § 841(b)(1)(A)(iii) (Jackson's statute of conviction) by increasing the fifty-gram threshold to 280, and it similarly amended § 841(b)(1)(B)(iii) by increasing the threshold quantity from five to twenty-eight grams. See 124 Stat. at 2372. Thus, if Jackson had committed the offense after the Fair Sentencing Act was in effect, the jury's finding of fifty or more grams would have triggered only the more relaxed penalties in § 841(b)(1)(B)(iii) (2000). The Act wasn't retroactive, however, so Jackson couldn't reap the benefit.

         That changed with the passage of the FSA, which gave sentencing courts discretion to "impose a reduced sentence as if section[] 2 . . . of the Fair Sentencing Act . . . were in effect at the time the covered offense was committed." FSA, § 404(b).

         B.

         In April 2019, Jackson moved for resentencing under the FSA. He contended that he was eligible, since his offense was "a violation of a Federal criminal statute, the statutory penalties for which were modified by section 2 or 3 of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010." Id. § 404(a). Noting that the jury had found only that his offense involved fifty grams or more, Jackson maintained that, with the Fair Sentencing Act applied retroactively, he would have been subject only to the penalty provisions of § 841(b)(1)(B)(iii), with its new threshold of twenty-eight grams. See 124 Stat. at 2372. The government opposed resentencing.

         The district court denied the motion but failed to say why. On limited remand, it explained that it had assumed, without deciding, that Jackson had a "covered offense" under section 404(a). Regardless, for three reasons, it exercised its discretion not to reduce the sentence. First, "Jackson's current sentence would still [have] fall[en] within the statutory range provided by 21 U.S.C. § 841 and the [FSA]." Because of Jackson's prior convictions, his statutory penalty range would have been ten years to life, with at least eight years' supervised release. See ยง 841(b)(1)(B)(iii) (2000). His life sentence, then, still fell within the permissible range. Second, ...


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