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United States v. Ruffin

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Southern Division

March 28, 2018




         This cause is before the court on the mandate of the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit entered on March 28, 2018. (Doc. # 161.) The Eleventh Circuit vacated the district court's order denying Defendant's 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2) motion for a sentence reduction based on Amendment 782 to the Sentencing Guidelines and remanded for this court “to consider whether, and to what extent, to reduce Ruffin's sentence.” (Doc. # 160, at 3.) For the reasons that follow, Ruffin's motion is due to be granted, and his sentence will be reduced from 96 months to 83 months.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On June 12, 2007, Ruffin was sentenced on a conviction for possession with intent to distribute cocaine base. Ruffin's conviction exposed him to a statutory sentencing range of not less than five years and not more than forty years. See 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(B). Ruffin's guideline range was 100 to 125 months based upon a total offense level of 27 and a criminal history category of IV. At Ruffin's sentencing hearing, the court granted the Government's motion for a one-level downward departure under U.S.S.G. § 5K1.1 based upon the substantial assistance provided by Ruffin. To calculate the departure, the court reduced the total offense level from 27 to 26, which resulted in a sentencing range of 92 to 115 months. The court sentenced Ruffin to 96 months' imprisonment.

         After Ruffin's sentence became final, the Sentencing Commission promulgated Amendment 782. Effective November 1, 2014, Amendment 782 reduced by two levels the base offense levels for most drug quantities in U.S.S.G. § 2D1.1. See U.S.S.G. Manual, supp. app. C, amend. 782 at 64-74, amend. 788, at 86-88 (Nov. 1, 2014). Amendment 788, by including Amendment 782 on the list of amendments in U.S.S.G. § 1B1.10(d), made Amendment 782 retroactive so as to lower sentences of qualifying previously sentenced inmates, but delayed for one year the release of eligible offenders.[1]


         “Federal courts are forbidden, as a general matter, to modify a term of imprisonment once it has been imposed, but the rule of finality is subject to a few narrow exceptions.” Freeman v. United States, 564 U.S. 522, 526 (2011) (internal citation and quotation marks omitted). Section 3582(c)(2) supplies one of those narrow exceptions and gives the district court discretion to modify a sentence if the following three prerequisites are met: (1) The defendant “has been sentenced to a term of imprisonment based on a sentencing range that has subsequently been lowered by the Sentencing Commission pursuant to 28 U.S.C. [§] 994(o)”; (2) “a reduction is consistent with applicable policy statements issued by the Sentencing Commission”; and (3) the relevant factors set out in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) demonstrate that the defendant is entitled to relief. § 3582(c)(2); see United States v. C.D., 848 F.3d 1286, 1289 (10th Cir. 2017) (“Section 3582(c)(2) plainly tells us a defendant must overcome three distinct hurdles before he may obtain a sentence reduction thereunder.”). As these requirements portend, a reduction of a sentence under § 3582(c)(2) “does not constitute a de novo resentencing.” United States v. Bravo, 203 F.3d 778, 781 (11th Cir. 2000).

         The Supreme Court of the United States has condensed the § 3582(c)(2) inquiry into two steps. Step one examines a defendant's eligibility for a sentence reduction, and, where eligibility is met, the extent of the reduction authorized. “At step one, § 3582(c)(2) requires the court to follow the Commission's instructions in § 1B1.10 to determine the prisoner's eligibility for a sentence modification and the extent of the reduction.” Dillon v. United States, 560 U.S. 817, 827 (2010). The court calculates the impact of the applicable guideline amendment on the sentencing range and leaves intact all other original sentencing findings. The guideline amendment must lower the “applicable guideline range, ” which is “the guideline range that corresponds to the offense level and criminal history category determined pursuant to § 1B1.1(a), which is determined before consideration of any departure provision in the Guidelines Manual or any variance.” U.S.S.G. § 1B1.10, comment. (n.1(A)).

         Section 1B1.10 also dictates the extent of the reduction permitted. Generally, a § 3582(c)(2) authorized reduction cannot dip below the amended guideline range, but where the original sentence was below the guideline range, § 1B1.10 permits a “comparable” reduction below the amended guideline range. Id. § 1B1.10(b)(2)(B); see also Dillon, 560 U.S. at 827. “At step two of the inquiry, § 3582(c)(2) instructs a court to consider any applicable § 3553(a) factors and determine whether, in its discretion, the reduction authorized by reference to the policies relevant at step one is warranted in whole or in part under the particular circumstances of the case.” Dillon, 560 U.S. at 827.

         The discussion is divided into three parts. Ruffin's eligibility for a sentence reduction under § 3582(c)(2) is established in the first part. The second part assesses the extent of a reduction authorized by § 1B1.10. Finally, in the third part, the § 3553(a) factors are considered on the issue of whether a reduction is warranted.

         A. Ruffin is eligible for a sentence reduction.

         Section 3582(c)(2) authorizes a sentence reduction where the court originally set the term of imprisonment “based on a sentencing range that has subsequently been lowered by the Sentencing Commission.” § 3582(c)(2). The Eleventh Circuit concluded that Ruffin is eligible for a sentence reduction:

The parties agree that after Amendment 782, Ruffin's base offense level would be 26, rather than 28. See U.S.S.D. § 2D1.1(c)(7) (2014). Holding constant the district court's other guidelines calculations made at the original sentencing, Ruffin's total offense level would be 25, and, with a criminal history category of IV, the resulting advisory guidelines range would be 84 to 105 months' imprisonment. See U.S.S.G. ch. 5, pt. A, Sentencing Table (2014). In other words, it is undisputed that Amendment 782 has the effect of lowering ...

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